Let's be honest: none of us was expecting Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's landmark ABC World News interview with Diane Sawyer on Wednesday night--coincided with the Palo Alto, Calif.-based social-networking giant's announcement of 500 million active users around the world--to drop any serious bombs.
Not only is Zuckerberg notoriously, even proudly noncolorful, he's also proven remarkably astute in his ability to stay quite stoic in the face of press interrogation. He's not one of those over-the-top CEOs who likes to throw wild claims around and talk big about himself publicly. When he was grilled onstage at the D conference this spring, the news wasn't what he said, it was the fact that he got really nervous and started sweating.
Oh, and that he wore a funny sweatshirt.
ABC's PR team sent out a press blast in the minutes before "World News" aired, containing some of Zuckerberg's most newsworthy quotations from the piece. Indeed, it was the first time that anybody got him on the record remarking about the recent lawsuit on behalf of a New York man who says that he's entitled to 84 percent of Facebook and the fact that a Facebook lawyer said that the company was "unsure" whether Zuckerberg had ever signed a contract with the man in question.
"If we said that we were unsure, I think that was likely taken out of context, because I think we were quite sure that we did not sign a contract that says that they have any right to ownership over Facebook," the 26-year-old Zuckerberg said to Sawyer.
Beyond that, there wouldn't have been much that was surprising to, say, anyone who picked up David Kirkpatrick's "The Facebook Effect," which contains an astonishing amount of detail about Facebook's formation as told by Zuckerberg. More than anything, this was a primer for people who may know Facebook only as the place where they share their backyard barbecue photos and tend to their virtual aquariums, and don't know much about the people behind it.
In her introductory remarks to ABC World News Sawyer called Zuckerberg "elusive" and "the force behind a revolution" and its 500 million member milestone "something historic," all of which is true. ABC correspondent Bill Weir spoke beforehand about how Facebook now amasses eight new users per second, and that its cultural power is rivaling Google despite that it has one-twentieth the size of its staff. And Sawyer explained its current challenges, like the University of Michigan survey that said Facebook earned "the kind of sour marks usually given to airlines or the IRS."
So, Zuckerberg's juicy commentary, or lack thereof? I'll pass over the general Facebook companyspeak of "there's this incredible movement on the Internet toward people being empowered to share what they want" and "when you give everyone a voice and give people power the system usually ends up in a really good place." Because that's just not all that notable.
Well, Sawyer asked him what it's like to be a billionaire. Zuckerberg said, "I'm not. The company is a private company, so I don't really have access to any money like that." Sawyer then asked him about a previous comment he'd allegedly said about wanting to own a jet. "I don't think I ever said that," was Zuckerberg's response. He declined to talk about just how much he earns and what kind of a stake he has in Facebook. "That's the advantage of being a private company," he said with an uncomfortable chuckle.
He's awfully good at understatement.
Did he screw things up? Would he have done things differently a second time around? "I started this site when I was 19. I didn't know much about business," Zuckerberg said. "The things that you learn along the way are what makes you who you are...I would have done a lot of things differently. I hope that instead of making the mistakes that I made, I would have made different mistakes." And he said that "we've made mistakes for sure" with regard to user privacy, one of the company's ongoing hot-button issues.
Sawyer asked him, "Do you hate interviews?" Zuckerberg laughed, and said, "I like that you just said that with a completely straight face."
"ABC World News" then switched over to a couple of quick hits about the breaching whale that smacked into a sailboat in South Africa and then the bride-to-be who's "freaking out" because she's getting married in the same town on the same day as Chelsea Clinton and is concerned that all the security will mean her guests won't be able to get there. I wonder what her Facebook status has been saying.
And then it was back to Facebook's corporate culture, its cafeteria of free food, Guitar Hero lounges, and laundry service. Zuckerberg, it turns out, lives right down the street! "It's pretty simple," he said of his living arrangements. "It's a pretty small house. The most important thing for me is to be within walking distance of the office."
Wait! But in the very last line there was a shocking bit of news! Sawyer was asking Zuckerberg about the impending (and unauthorized) Facebook biopic "The Social Network"--whether he'd seen the trailer ("Someone showed me part of it") and whether he'd see the movie itself, which doesn't portray him particularly kindly ("I don't think so"), and then she asked him what he thought of Jesse Eisenberg, the actor who plays him i the movie.
"I've never met him, but he seems like a nice guy," Zuckerberg said of Eisenberg. "Actually, his cousin works here. His cousin is a designer here and we have meetings all the time...It's a small world." Whoa. Awkward.
And then "ABC World News" cut to the next show in the TV lineup, game show "Jeopardy." Which, come to think about it, is a TV show on which I would rather have seen Zuckerberg make an appearance.