Facebook's Paul Buchheit justifies increasing openness, less privacy

Facebook’s Paul Buchheit, the Gmail creator who coined Google’s “Don’t be evil” slogan and later came to the social network through its FriendFeed acquisition, said he’s found immense value in removing most privacy restrictions to his profile.

His comments come as Facebook has once again overhauled its privacy protections through a new instant personalization program and an ambitious plan to spread its features across the web.

These comments are excerpted from an interview on-stage at the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco today.

He said:

Well, I actually changed my privacy settings to be more public. Only my phone number and email are private because I don’t want random people calling me. But I like the ability to share everything. This has a lot to do with my experiences with FriendFeed.

There are a lot of surprising benefits to sharing everything with the world. There’s serendipity. Sometimes I’ll post a link, and sometimes nothing will happen. But sometimes, someone will recommend a book. It’s hard to predict the value out of those things. The things that have been important to my life have been very unpredictable. By opening ourselves more and allowing for more serendipity and connections, things just tend toward being better.

Buchheit also said the big trend to look out for in the coming few years is an explosion of lightweight forms of social interaction:

“We created the ‘Like’ feature in FriendFeed because I realized that people wanted an easy way to let others know that they saw what their friends posted and appreciated it. Putting in those simple little gestures is very powerful. We made the comments quick and easy. They weren’t like blog comments. It was controversial but we didn’t even allow line breaks. If you pressed return, you wouldn’t get a new line, it would just post. We wanted it to be quick. We think that’s the future of upcoming communication mediums.

Things that become popular foster lightweight, spontaneous, real-time conversations. One of my favorite things to think about — and it surprises me every time — is SMS.

Imagine going back 20 years. Imagine telling people that everyone in the future will carry around tiny telephones in their pockets. But instead of making calls, people will type these tiny little messages and they’ll be charged 15 cents every time.

Why is this so popular? It’s very lightweight. It has the right level of interruption. I don’t have to stop and talk to the person and say “How are you doing today? What’s the weather like?”

We’re going to see more features like these.”

Buchheit said he didn’t have a canned strategy for angel investing. He’s had a few recent successes with Intuit’s acquisition of Mint and Google’s acquisitions of ReMail and AppJet.

“I don’t have any formula. It’s an intuitive process. The thing I always want to know is why. Why do they care? If they’re starting a company because they want to be rich, that’s a bad sign. The companies that are the most influential and most successful are the ones that care about impact and the influence they have on the world. People don’t realize the extent to which Google and Facebook are backed by a vision and mission from the founders. They really care about what they’re doing and you don’t see that on the outside.

Outsiders will say said they did this or that to boost revenue. And a lot of it doesn’t make sense, unless you know their personalities. Google is about information and computers and making things really fast. Facebook is about the sharing and connections. These missions give these companies direction and motivation.”

[Homepage photo: notphilatall]


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