Facebook Is a Middle Aged Man

Mark Zuckerberg is holding a very fancy private event today to celebrate his company. But it's not much of a celebration—he kicked it off by going onstage and acting like an optimistic dad. It was the performance of a dull man who's become the leader of a dull company, and is fine with being boring.

Unlike years past, Facebook doesn't seem to be showing off any cool "new features" at this F8 conference—no pretty new ways to look at pretty old pictures of ourselves back when we were pretty, fancy buttons, or anything else we, the people, can really use. Instead, Zuck's big reveals were things like privacy-sparing anonymous login for apps, and a handful of things having to do with the cloud and advertising. Most of the "new stuff about Facebook" would require some googling for people who use Facebook to understand, and even then, they wouldn't care.

That's fine. The F8 conference is aimed at people who create stuff that plugs into Facebook, not undergrads and sentimental uncles. It's certainly not aimed at teens.

But what's telling isn't the things Zuckerberg droned on about before his eager engineering peers and bored reporters, but the language he used, the openness with which he gave a boring ppresentation. It was an earnestly boring presentation. It was—if this is possible—an emphatically boring presentation.

Zuckerberg, only half joking, revealed the company's new corporate motto:"Move fast with stable infrastructure," replacing "Move fast and break things," which could at least be generously misinterpreted as iconoclastic. Zuck went on about the importance of stability. That's true, I guess, but not the sort of thing you talk about on stage after making a lot of people wait in line to hear it.

So, what does the CEO of company that adores stability above all else talk about for the rest of a keynote?

Zuckerberg described Facebook's online advertisements as "beautiful and relevant."

He remarked upon the occasion of his 30th birthday, which is almost here.

He noted, "one thing you didn't hear [from him] is some exciting new direction or product from us." Then he moved on.

He closed by saying he wants Facebook "to build a culture of loving the people we serve."

The only thing missing was a plate of apple slices and warm milk. The entire thing was so mundane and avuncular that Zuckerberg was willing to tell Wired's Steven Levy the whole thing in advance, via interview.

Highlights include:

WIRED: At previous F8 developer conference, you have launched big products for your consumers, but this time, you're focusing on developer tools. Why?

ZUCKERBERG: This is really about our platform growing up.

[...]

ZUCKERBERG: We've changed our internal motto from "Move fast and break things" to "Move fast with stable infrastructure."

WIRED: It doesn't have the same ring to it.

ZUCKERBERG: It doesn't, which I think is partially why it hasn't caught on externally.

[...]

WIRED: Is this the beginning of Facebook's middle age?

ZUCKERBERG: I don't think so. You have to be stable in order to get to the next level. All the best platforms are.

But middle age is precisely what Facebook is entering: an uneventful, satisfied plateau. The company is a decade old, trades publicly, and has proliferated to the point that horny cyber-youths scoff at it as stuffy and lame.

We shouldn't be surprised by any of this. Mark Zuckerberg has always possessed the charisma of a ceiling tile.

But we need to be real with ourselves: Facebook is boring. Shit, Apple is pretty boring these days, too. That's fine. It's all fine—the magic of this stuff wears off. We're the same species that was once dazzled by wireless jazz beamed via radio transmitter and the miracle of transcontinental phone lines. Facebook (and Google, and Apple, and Microsoft, and...) is now another AT&T. Facebook is now just a very large utility, an inevitable fate for anything giant and technical—it's been unofficially boring for a couple years, at least.

That's fine! Maybe people once fretted about roads and handsaws losing their sheen many ages ago, who knows. The sooner everyone shakes off the Silicon Valley mythology that demands more excitement, more innovation, endless invention, the sooner we can try being content. It's very fine to be a large, boring, money-making company—those are the ones that stand the test of time.

I'd like to propose an even newer Facebook motto to supplant "Move fast with stable infrastructure," and that is Facebook: A good website to use. It's realistic, practical, and will stop us from feeling disappointed about software business conferences.