19 July 2016

Vanity Fair: “How Mark Zuckerberg Led Facebook’s War to Crush Google Plus”

Google Plus was Google finally taking note of Facebook and confronting the company head-on, rather than via cloak-and-dagger recruitment shenanigans and catty disses at tech conferences. It hit Facebook like a bomb. Zuck took it as an existential threat comparable to the Soviets’ placing nukes in Cuba in 1962. Google Plus was the great enemy’s sally into our own hemisphere, and it gripped Zuck like nothing else. He declared “Lockdown”, the first and only one during my time there. As was duly explained to the more recent employees, Lockdown was a state of war that dated to Facebook’s earliest days, when no one could leave the building while the company confronted some threat, either competitive or technical.

Antonio García Martínez

Flashy title, but the article itself describes very little about this so-called ‘war’ other than Mark Zuckerberg calling a high-priority, all-staff meeting. I guess the minutes from this gathering were pretty concise: ‘we’ll just sit back and watch Google shoot itself in the foot’.

Mark Zuckerberg Facebook Chartago quote
Left, a poster with a charge from Zuckerberg targeting Google (a quotation from Cato the Elder that translates as Carthage must be destroyed). Right, an exhortation to all.

The stories about the organizational culture at Facebook are a lot more interesting though, and frankly somewhat dismaying. Personally I don’t think I could work in a place that takes itself that seriously.

At Facebook, your start date was celebrated by the company the way evangelicals celebrate the day they were baptized and found Jesus, or the way new American citizens celebrate the day they took their oath in front of the flag. This event was called (really) your Faceversary, and every colleague would rush to congratulate you on Facebook (of course), just as normal people did for one another on their birthdays. Often the company or your colleagues would order you a garish surprise bouquet for your desk, with one of those huge Mylar balloons in the shape of a 2 or whatever. When someone left Facebook (usually around when the balloons said 4 or 5), everyone would treat it as a death, as if you were leaving the current plane of existence and going to another one (though it wasn’t assumed this next plane would be better than the current one). The tombstone of your Facebook death was a photo posted on Facebook of your weathered and worn corporate ID. It was customary to include a weepy suicide note/self-written epitaph, and the post would garner hundreds of likes and comments inside a minute.

Facebook is full of true believers who really, really, really are not doing it for the money, and really, really will not stop until every man, woman, and child on earth is staring into a blue-bannered window with a Facebook logo. Which, if you think about it, is much scarier than simple greed. The greedy man can always be bought at some price, and his behavior is predictable. But the true zealot? He can’t be had at any price, and there’s no telling what his mad visions will have him and his followers do.

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