Employee: We track everything. Every photo you view, every person you’re tagged with, every wall-post you make, and so forth.
Rumpus: So maybe you know about this, maybe you don’t. There’s a paradox with international expansion, because obviously all internet companies aspire to a worldwide market, but as service enters countries without great infrastructure, such as 3rd-world countries, the companies have to provide the infrastructure and the countries don’t actually produce any (or much) ad revenue.
Employee: I don’t know anything about that, actually. The one comment I would make about that, is that we’ve definitely tried to continue expanding to 3rd- world countries. Take Iran — well, Iran is not a 3rd world country — but when the Iranian elections came up, and then the disputes, we found out they were using Facebook as a tool to organize themselves and expose their qualms and discontent with the government. So publicly we translated the entire site into Farsi within 36 hours. It was our second right-to-left language, which was actually really difficult for us. Literally the entire site is flipped in a mirror. The fact that we did it in thirty-six hours — they hired twenty some-odd translators, and engineers worked around the clock to get it rolled out — was pretty fucking phenomenal. We had at least three times as many user registrations per day the first day it was out, and it has been growing. So we’re definitely still serious about foreign outreach. And the thing is, we have such a gigantic market share in the larger sections of Europe, in Australia, in Mexico, in the States and Canada, and that’s where 99.9% of our ad revenue is and probably will be always — or at least will be the next five, ten years. So the fact that we’re breaching into these other markets mostly means just allowing family and friends to connect even more deeply, which is really our ultimate goal.
Rumpus: What’s the creepiest Facebook interaction you have had?
Employee: Well, the weirdest one I’ve ever seen was one I was able to investigate, one of the situations which required me to log into other accounts. This guy had emailed my friend at school a very very odd message, pertaining to the name ‘Caitlin,’ which is her name, and ‘poop.’ It was literally one of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen: a two-page message about the name ‘Caitlin’ and its semantic relation to ‘poop.’ We found out that he had actually sent it to the first two hundred Caitlins he found on Facebook search.
Rumpus: That’s weird.
Employee: Really weird. Out of nowhere, no reasoning. He started sending it twenty times a day, to different Caitlins, for three weeks or so.
Rumpus: What’s the most bizarre?
Employee: I found a fake account created from Berkeley that used the profile picture and information from the brother of one of my very good friends. We looked up the guy who created the original profile, and he had never ever heard of him, never ever met him, obviously had never seen him. But this guy had evidently added him as a friend, and sadly he accepted it, but literally stole all of this guy’s information, created a fake account, and was communicating with himself from the fake account. He was writing on his wall and posting back to the “other person’s” wall. We found out the guy actually had about fifteen fake accounts that he created, stealing other users’ pictures and information to create the accounts, and was actually communicating back and forth with himself. Just to try to make himself appear cool, I guess?
Rumpus: That’s a really sad display of humanity.
Employee: Yeah. That is the most bizarre encounter that comes to mind. Those two are the big instances I’ve seen that made me say, “What the hell is going on?”
Rumpus: So tell me about the engineers.
Employee: They’re weird, and smart as balls. For example, this guy right now is single-handedly rewriting, essentially, the entire site. Our site is coded, I’d say, 90% in PHP. All the front end — everything you see — is generated via a language called PHP. He is creating HPHP, Hyper-PHP, which means he’s literally rewriting the entire language. There’s this distinction in coding between a scripted language and a compiled language. PHP is an example of a scripted language. The computer or browser reads the program like a script, from top to bottom, and executes it in that order: anything you declare at the bottom cannot be referenced at the top. But with a compiled language, the program you write is compiled into an executable file. It doesn’t have to read the program from beginning to end in order to execute commands. It’s much faster that way. So this engineer is converting the site from one that runs on a scripted language to one that runs on a compiled language. However, if you went to go talk to him about basketball, you would probably have the most awkward conversation you’d have with a human being in your entire life. You just can’t talk to these people on a normal level. If you wanted to talk about basketball, talk about graph theory. Then he’d get it. And there’s a lot of people like that. But by golly, they can do their jobs.
Rumpus: So what will be the net effect of running the site on Hyper PHP?
Employee: We’re going to reduce our CPU usage on our servers by 80%, so practically, users will just see this as a faster site. Pages will load in one fifth of the time that they used to.
Rumpus: When’s it coming out?
Employee: When it’s done. Next couple of months, ideally.
Rumpus: So where do these geeks come from?
Employee: I would say at least 70% of Facebook engineers are from Harvard and Stanford.
Rumpus: Wow. I know Zuckerberg went Harvard, what’s the Stanford connection? I mean other than just Palo Alto.
Employee: I don’t think there’s any question that Stanford is the number one CS department in the world.
Rumpus: Stanford engineers invented Silicon Valley.
Employee: They did.
Rumpus: How has the recent move affected the company?
Employee: Facebook just moved offices to Stanford Research Park, which is where the original HP was started. Before it was kind of sprawled out. We had seven or eight offices downtown.
Rumpus: Any changes in atmosphere after the move?
Employee: It was just nice to have everyone in one office. Before, any meetings that happened were inconvenient for most people. I mean, engineering was split up into three offices. It was a pain. Now there’s more unity, more ease of communication. Everything feels more internal. It’s super-friendly. I think the coolest thing about the work environment is the trust. They don’t care what, where, how, when, as long as you get your shit done. If you want to work at a bar, the ball game, a park, the roof, they don’t give a fuck. Just get your shit done. Hence I was able to ditch work, come have two pitchers with you, and I will literally be able to go back and get my work done. And it goes a long way. Because I know I can get these things done. I know I’m going to have to go back. And I may be there until ten or eleven tonight.
Rumpus: I’m sorry we drank all these beers.
Employee: It’s the trust deal. We’re able to do that. We don’t have to worry. We can put our personal lives first, as long as we get our work done.