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Facebook wants to populate the wilderness, tame the howling mob and turn the lonely, antisocial world of random chance into a friendly world, a serendipitous world. You'll be working and living inside a network of people, and you'll never have to be alone again. The Internet, and the whole world, will feel more like a family, or a college dorm, or an office where your co-workers are also your best friends.
Facebook occupies two Palo Alto office buildings that are a few minutes apart. On the outside, they're brutalist concrete bunkers. On the inside, they're decorated in a quirky, postindustrial Silicon Valley style you might call Flourishing Start-Up Chic high ceilings, concrete floors, steel beams, lots of windows. There's a giant chessboard, and the word hack has been doodled and graffitied everywhere. The halls are littered with RipStiks, those two-wheeled skateboards that you move by wiggling, which Zuckerberg doesn't ride. (He tried once and fell off; that was enough.)
Silicon Valley companies squabble incessantly and viciously over personnel. Employees change hands like poker chips, and right now Facebook has the best hand at the table. Everyone at Facebook was a star somewhere else: Taylor, for example, led the team that created maybe you've heard of it? Google Maps. You don't get a lot of shy, retiring types at Facebook. These are the kinds of power nerds to whom the movies don't do justice: fast-talking, user-friendly, laser-focused and radiating the kind of confidence that gives you a sunburn. Sorkin did a much better job of representing Facebook when he wrote The West Wing.
Facebook employees get treated well three free, good meals a day; unlimited snacks; free dry cleaning but make no mistake: the main attraction is Zuckerberg's vision. All the key engineers tell the same conversion story. "I was like, I'm not interested. I'm working on a serious problem. Facebook is a complete waste of time," says Chris Cox, Facebook's vice president of product, who was doing a master's in artificial intelligence at Stanford at the time. "And the interview completely changed my mind. I saw the vision. I came in, and I saw it on a whiteboard."
The company is on its seventh headquarters in almost as many years. It keeps outgrowing its offices, and pretty soon it will outgrow these. Zuckerberg is scouting for a Microsoft-style campus for Facebook. This is because, in addition to adding a lot of users, Facebook is starting to make a lot of money. The users are Zuckerberg's contribution, but the money is largely attributable to Sheryl Sandberg.
Coiffed, elegant and terrifyingly smart, Sandberg, 41, arrived at Facebook in early 2008. Before that, she ran Google's ad business, and before that, she was Lawrence Summers' chief of staff at the Treasury Department. She spent her time talking to Bono about curing leprosy. Now she is the first meeting Zuckerberg takes on Monday morning and the last on Friday afternoon. "I never thought I'd work in a private company," she says. "But from the outside in D.C., you watched what was going on out here, and it really felt like it was changing the world. And I always wanted to work in places that felt like they were going to have an impact on the world."
For all its technological, social and philosophical complexity, Facebook has only one major source of revenue: advertising. Before Sandberg arrived, Zuckerberg grew that part of the business slowly. He refused to sell banner ads. He felt that overly obtrusive ads would compromise the personal feel of the site, so he confined them to little rectangles on one side of the page.
Facebook still doesn't sell banner ads. But Sandberg has been able to attract a roster of A-list advertisers, such as Nike, Vitaminwater and Louis Vuitton, by pointing out things they hadn't noticed about Facebook, like how much it knows about its users. Google can serve ads to you on the basis of educated guesses about who you are and what you're interested in, which are based in turn on your search history. Facebook doesn't have to guess. It knows exactly who you are and what you're interested in, because you told it. So if Nike wants its ads shown only to people ages 19 to 26 who live in Arizona and like Nickelback, Facebook can make that happen. In the world of targeted advertising, Facebook has a high-powered sniper rifle.
It also has social. Facebook users have the option, should they choose to exercise it, to "like" certain advertisements. When you anoint an ad in this fashion, it moves out of its assigned place at the edge of the page and into your News Feed and therefore into the News Feeds of your friends. Suddenly the advertisement has a social context. It is presented to your friends, by you, carrying your personal endorsement. For marketers, this is a holy grail. "What marketers have always been looking for is trying to get you to sell things to your friends," Sandberg says. "And that's what you do on Facebook."
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