Much of that discussion focused on Creative Labs, which is tasked with building standalone apps—not all of which will feature Facebook’s branding. “In mobile there’s a big premium on creating single-purpose first-class experiences,” Zuckerberg told the Times’ Farhad Manjoo.
On that front, Facebook’s Messenger app—which, as the name implies, breaks out Facebook’s messaging capability into a standalone interface—quickly proved a success with users, and its new Paper app likewise attracted strong reviews. But Facebook’s foray into mobile hasn’t resulted in an unbroken string of blockbusters: its Home app, which displays Facebook updates on the lock screen (among other features), has failed to gain a significant audience in the year since its release. “With Home, the reception was much slower than we expected. But it was a riskier thing,” Zuckerberg said. “When you install it, it’s really active, and if it does anything that you don’t like, then you’ll uninstall it.”
In addition to building its own software, Facebook has lately gone on an acquisition spree, buying up everything from WhatsApp (a popular messaging service) to Oculus VR (a virtual-reality startup). But Zuckerberg doesn’t seem anxious to plaster these new toys with Facebook branding, preferring to keep them independent subsidiaries. “Here are some sets of experiences that are just better with other identities,” he added. “I think you should expect to see more of that, where apps are going to be tied to different audiences that you can share with.”
He also offered some insight into the issues confronting tech companies as they grow: “Understanding who you serve is always a very important problem, and it only gets harder the more people that you serve.” A combination of “quantitative and qualitative feedback” (as Zuckerberg put it) can help better understand an expanding audience. Or to put it another way: Make sure your backend analytics can digest and analyze information on your customers in a way that allows you to serve them better.
Zuckerberg also asks his managers to travel to an “emerging-market country” to see how people use the Internet, the better to predict how the Web might evolve over the next few years. And therein lies another possible lesson: guiding employees outside their comfort zones can help with strategic thinking, which in turn could pay significant dividends in the long run.