When I arrived at the conference, a Facebooker tried to hand me a bag. I didn’t want a bag. For 15 years, people at registration desks had been handing me canvas tote bags full of useless papers and schedules that I typically only carried as far as the nearest trash can. I preferred my schedules on apps. It was the age of the app, after all. But just as I said no, I actually looked at the bag, dangling from the helpful wrist of the helpful lady: a bright yellow Fjallraven Swedish hipster backpack. At the time, when you Googled Swedish Hipster Backpack, this Fjallraven was the first result. I’d seen these bags all over Portland and Brooklyn, but had never had one of my own. They felt a bit young, and I was getting older. But it was a very nice bag. I reconsidered. I said yes.
I mean, if Facebook wanted to buy us all $100 backpacks, who was I to say no? Money was flowing from the air vents down in Menlo Park: $2.5 billion just that first quarter alone. A fortune in ads. Click click click. So much money you could hardly smell the brown bullshit through that green aroma. And besides, compared with Zuck’s media training and charisma lessons, the backpack probably cost next to nothing. He was good, and so convincing that his personality almost seemed real. At any moment now, I kept expecting him to have an actual emotion.Mark took the stage. His moment. Facebook’s leader was almost 30, and it was easy to see that he was a man now. His training had paid off. He was confident and poised and showed no signs of the awkwardness or petulance of his youth. He was amazing. A great speaker. A true CEO. And as he talked about What Facebook Was Doing, it was hard not to draw comparisons with its competition–assuming you thought it had any competition.
One day before F8, Twitter (possibly the closest thing Facebook had to a cousin) posted laughable growth numbers, leading The Atlantic to publish a eulogy for it that very morning. The week before that, Vic Gundotra, the man Google had tapped to lead its own social network, left the company–presumably forced out. Satya Nadella was suddenly and at last Microsoft’s new CEO, still unproven and tasked with turning around a lumbering giant. The newly-minted Big Companies weren’t faring much better. Nobody really knew what the hell was happening with the Box IPO; many considered Dropbox’s latest board member to be a war criminal. Even at mighty Apple, iPad sales were down, and Steve Jobs was still dead. And over it all loomed the question of The Bubble. Nothing seemed certain. Who cares!
Facebook was still shooting, and still knocking down targets. Everything was right. Nothing was wrong. The company was so confident it didn’t even bother to roll out any new products at its developer festthat day.
Deborah Liu, Facebook’s Person Who Makes Facebook Make Everybody Money, pounced on the stage and began with a lament. Facebook, she said, had long been the top app on both iOS and Android, but couldn’t cash in on mobile. “We had to figure it out,” she explained, eyes big, eyes sincere. And they did! Ads for apps within its own app ads would bring mountains of app ad money, generated by clicks. Or taps? Click. Click. Click. Tap tap tap here’s an app app app. Enjoy your new newsfeed.
Nevermind that much of Facebook’s advertising comes from venture-backed apps, and that if the app bubble pops, Facebook’s money machine could seize up–just as it had happened to magazines a decade before. Today wasn’t a day for cards to fall.
No. Instead, Liu told developers how Facebook’s new mobile ad platform would let anyone run Facebook-network ads from inside their own apps–ads for apps inside your app. “Beautiful ads,” she promised. “Relevant ads.” Pretty, pretty ads. Pretty pretty ads for pretty pretty apps. “I click and I buy,” she said, and back in those days, we did too.
We sauntered on to the press room and ate sushi and roast beef. I saw kale salad on the menu but never tried it. Instead I left to wander the exhibits and see what Facebook wanted to show me. The line to try out Oculus stretched more than 75 people-long, far past the oversized LEGO furniture. At its front, young men in masks with haircuts from one-eyed barbers ducked and weaved in their chairs, peering around nonexistent corners at the future.
Downstairs, Internet.org was literally changing the world, exposing millions of previously internet-starved subsistence farmers to the magic of Facebook.
And the world was there to be changed: countless countries in attendance. I talked to people from Italy (press), France (developer), the Ukraine (Facebook), Israel (press), India (Facebook) and Denmark (developer). In fairness, the guys from Denmark, India, and the Ukraine already lived in the Bay Area. But still, here they were.
Ahhhhhh, there was just so much goddamned money. Money everywhere. $19 billion for What’sApp? Sure. Another $2 billion for Oculus? Why the hell not. The ads had done their thing. And Facebook, generously, wanted to share the wealth.
One day the party would have to end. And the in-app ads for apps backed by angels and venture would wither. The big circle of money would flatten out and thud to a halt and the people on the surface would go soaring off, launched into the void like kozmo.com. San Francisco would empty out and we would all be so melancholy, even though we were finally able to afford apartments again.
But not on that Wednesday. Not when Facebook was the only company doing it right. The company on top of the heap, mature but still young and confident and never more beautiful. On that day it was 90 degrees and sunny in San Francisco, but a cool breeze blew in from the ocean. And as I walked down to Ocean Beach at the end of that day to watch the sun sink into the Pacific ocean, I pulled a craft-brewed IPA from my yellow hipster backpack and drank it right there. There were hundreds or maybe even thousands of people all lounging on the normally sparse and windy shore. It really was a beautiful day.
Source: wired.com BY MAT HONAN