Mark Zuckerberg’s decade of love

May 1, 2014, 12:04 AM UTC
Justin Sullivan / Getty

Mark Zuckerberg made hacker culture mainstream. Now he’s ready to move beyond it. “It’s helped us grow,” he told an audience of several hundred developers on Wednesday at Facebook’s F8 developer conference in San Francisco. “But it’s really focused on us.”

The emphasis for the next 10 years? Says Zuckerberg, “We want to love the people we serve.”

Maybe it’s because he turns 30 in a few weeks, or because Facebook (FB) turned 10 earlier this year. Or maybe it’s because his college-inspired idea for a social network has grown into a global Internet behemoth with 1.3 billion monthly active users and $7.9 billion in sales. Zuckerberg has changed. He is more poised and relaxed before his audience, with a humor that feels, for the first time, natural. And he has lost his youthful arrogance.

His presentation this year stands in sharp contrast to the last F8, held in the fall of 2011, which offered as much spectacle as service. Zuckerberg invited Saturday Night Live star Andy Samberg to poke fun at him, then unveiled Timeline and Open Graph, two products targeting audiences much broader than the herds of backpacking toting developers packed into the conference center.

Reflective of Facebook’s culture, Zuckerberg’s tone then was more sermon-on-the-mount than CEO rallying cry. His moves were erratic and sometimes self-centered. Case in point: Zuckerberg called a developers’ conference only when he felt Facebook had something to share — every 18 months or so. The conference was focused only on products and left advertising for sidebar conversations. And in my coverage from the last event, I summarized Facebook’s efforts thusly: “Can Facebook become the Web?”

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A lot has happened in those two years. The company has gone public, and now answers to a much larger group of stakeholders. It has survived a near-death experience: Two years ago, Facebook was nowhere in mobile, its only application clunky and slow. Zuckerberg rushed headlong at the innovator’s dilemma, successfully transforming the Facebook into a “mobile-first” company. Last month, it announced a billion monthly active users on mobile. That’s enough to humble any business leader. And Facebook has turned its attention to making money through its platforms.

This year’s F8 was teeming with announcements about how developers could profit from Facebook’s platforms. More than 100 developers made more than a million dollars last year, one presentation slide boasted.

These new developer tools and advertising products all position Facebook well to continue its growth. But if it is really going to compete with Google (GOOG) and Apple (AAPL) for the future of the Internet, the company must also outgrow its adolescent reputation. Teenagers are, by design, narcissistic. Their internal focus is central to their development. It’s a focus that worked well with Facebook’s hacker ethos, which centered on launching new things quickly without worrying too much about what got broken along the way. But now Zuckerberg wants to help Facebook enter its next stage of development — a stage in which it must cooperate more deeply with users, shareholders, government officals, advertisers, and perhaps most important, developers.

He spent the last decade telling them things. He wants to spend the next decade listening.