I’ve read a good chunk of Inside Facebook thanks to Mashable’s free promotion. It’s a great insider’s look into one of the fastest growing social networks by a former senior engineer. The book is fascinating because it captures the author’s experience at the best moment, immediately after the party comes to an end. It’s written by an insider who’s been an outsider from the day he joined as a 30-something engineer that was clueless about the true power of the product he was working on under a boss roughly two thirds his age. To be perfectly blunt, the writing style of the book is a bit amateurish and the author tries to cram too many half-digested lessons in entrepreneurship into the narrative. But perhaps, that’s part of the charm and genuineness of the book, an ordinary engineer at the right place at the right time swept up into one of the most amazing periods in a company’s history. It’s probably the most revealing and best look we’ll ever get of what it was like to be at Facebook in the early days and a story that none of the more key members of the team would not be able to tell because they lack the detached perspective.
To be fair, despite the heavily promotional nature of the site, you can tell that the author still cares deeply about the company he was with. Almost like a jilted lover who wishes well from the bottom of their hearts.
I found a lot of interesting bits in this book and it was a fascinating read. Here are some of the things I walked away with.
The Facebook Founder is fearless
Mark Zuckerberg developed Facebook like no other can. Young, brilliant, and not dumbed down into submission by a college education, Mark put Facebook onto a good start by taking a no holds barred approach from Facebook’s inception. In the early stages he scraped Harvard student data and spammed friends (I use the word spam loosely). He was even brought before Harvard’s administration for these breeches but unlike most, Mark never looked back.
Fast and Loose Coding
The site had over 2.5 million members at the time, and well over a billion pageviews per month. Yet there was no source control and code changes were all made as root.
That pretty much sums up how fearless they were coding the application. Of course, they did later migrate to source control (programs to keep track of changes you make to an application’s source code) but they were also adventurous in moving to PHP5 when it was released. Facebook mainly hired on youth and brilliance rather than experience and qualifications. Facebook also gave them enough space to run free with their ideas and see their code make a dramatic impact on the community.
That’s not to say their code sucked. In fact, it was most likely the opposite. What they lacked in standard source management practices was adequately compensated for by the technical excellence of their engineers.
I think it all comes down to the fact that Facebook was built for the very audience they cater to and by fearless and brilliant engineers who weren’t bogged down by “real world experience” to guide them in what they could or couldn’t do. They went against all textbook notions of how to develop and market a traditional tech startup while staying true to the spirit of truly successful startups before them like Microsoft and Google.
Would I buy this book? I probably would if I didn’t have this promo but a smaller excerpt. The juicy bits were a priceless read and this will be the only book you will get it from for some time to come.
Facebook is really doing some exciting things as evidenced by their personal feeds (which made pageviews sky rocket) and opening their API like no other platform instead of dancing a murky tango with third-party developers like MySpace. Yet at the end of the day it will always be people and only about people on the inside and outside. Facebook certainly has potential to be the social backbone that other social apps launch off of. I can only hope that Facebook continues to attract genuine talent that genuinely care like the author of this book.