15.6 C
New York
Sunday, May 19, 2024

Facebook Changed the World, but Was It for the Better?

Facebook started in 2004 as a simple network for connecting students at Harvard University. At the time, nobody could have predicted that it would grow to become the largest social network in the world, with 2.5 billion active monthly users, or that it would wield such tremendous influence over our lives, our politics, and our concept of free speech on the web.

The progression of events between the Facebook of then and the Facebook of today is catalogued with great detail in Steven Levy’s new book, Facebook: The Inside Story. It’s the product of four years of reporting, including a series of exclusive interviews with Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg. Levy, an editor-at-large at WIRED, joins the show this week to talk about Facebook’s past, present, and future.

Show Notes

Read an excerpt from Steven Levy’s book here.


Steven recommends Scrivener. Lauren recommends Peloton. Mike recommends the NYT Cooking app, which is now available on Android.

Steven Levy is on Twitter @StevenLevy Lauren Goode is @LaurenGoode. Michael Calore is @snackfight. Bling the main hotline at @GadgetLab. The show is produced by Boone Ashworth (@booneashworth). Our consulting executive producer is Alex Kapelman (@alexkapelman). Our theme music is by Solar Keys.

How to Listen

You can always listen to this week's podcast through the audio player on this page, but if you want to subscribe for free to get every episode, here's how:

If you're on an iPhone or iPad, open the app called Podcasts, or just tap this link. You can also download an app like Overcast or Pocket Casts, and search for Gadget Lab. If you use Android, you can find us in the Google Play Music app just by tapping here. We’re on Spotify too. And in case you really need it, here's the RSS feed.


Michael Calore: Hello!

Lauren Goode: Thanks so much for being here, Mike.

MC: I'm here every week.

LG: Thanks for being here. I'm thrilled.

SL: It's falling apart already. Unbelievable.

[Intro theme music]

LG: Hi everyone. Welcome to Gadget Lab. I'm Lauren Goode, a senior writer at WIRED, and I'm here with my Gadget Lab cohost, WIRED senior editor, Michael Calore.

MC: Hello.

LG: Hello. And today we are also joined by WIRED editor at large, Steven Levy. Steven, thank you so much for being here.

SL: Well thanks. Thanks for finally letting me in this podcast room.

LG: Yeah, we hear that a lot from our colleagues at WIRED. They remember, with great detail, the last time they were on the show. Such as when Brian Barrett comes back on, he's like, "It's been 17 months since I was on this show." But that's true. This is that we always want to have our colleagues on this show, and we're so happy that you're here. And when was the last time you were on the show, by the way?

SL: The late 50s.

LG: Okay. When we were very, very early to podcasting. I mean, we were doing podcasts back when some people weren't even listening to terrestrial radio. Okay, Steven, let's get right to it. You are here because you wrote a book. It's called Facebook: The Inside Story. I have it right here in front of me. Folks, this is a tome. I don't know if you just heard that thud on the table, but this is like, you could lift weights with this thing. You spent years on this book, Steven, and you had a fair amount of access to people like Mark Zuckerberg, and other executives like Cheryl Sandberg in the process. It's a fantastic book. What compelled you to start writing this book when you did?

SL: So, I could even pinpoint the date. It was August 27th, 2015 when Mark Zuckerberg wrote on his feed, he put a story up, saying a billion people had been on Facebook the day before. And this wasn't how many people signed up for the services. It's like a billion people, in 24 hours, have been on Facebook. And I thought about that. Had that ever happened before? Like the World Cup gets a billion people, but that's not an interactive network, where someone could post something, and in theory you can get to everybody. And all the people's individual networks were intertwined there. So, I'd known that his ambitions were huge, and that Facebook was doing very well, but the reality of it made me think, "Wow, this is something new. How do I tell this story? I've got to tell this story. This is my story." And to tell who did it, how they did it, and what it means.

LG: And you had written a book about Google previously. Talk a little bit about that experience, and how it compared to your writing of the Facebook story?

SL: Yeah. My previous book was called In the Plex, it was about Google. And the process was similar in that I went to them, and said, "I want to write a book, give me access to your people. You don't get to say anything about the contents. You'll see it when it's done." And, I thought it would be pretty much a similar process. I would write this, I would try to put together a narrative of the story of Google, where people would be able to understand Google after they read the book. And the story, almost like a novel, would have a climax, and would have tension, and the tension in this story, the Google story, was its experience in China, where it went through this moral dilemma. And I thought, "This'll be something similar."

And Facebook, maybe their moral dilemma might be this program they had called internet.org, where they spread around the world, and did something. It was kind of unfair to competitors, where they would give away free data if you use Facebook, and if you were competing with Facebook, people would pay for your data. So, Facebook would basically get a head start all over the world. As it turned out, internet.org was the least of Facebook's worries during the course of this book, because it took actually a year for me to start researching after that post, because I had convince Facebook to do it, and get my affairs in order.

The first thing I did was I went to Africa, with Mark Zuckerberg, to Nigeria. He was treated like a hero. I later realized this was peak Facebook. Things were going so great. Everyone loved Mark Zuckerberg. Though Facebook had had his issues, it was still pretty popular. And then the election came in November of 2016, and the bit flipped. Everything changed, and for the next three years, and to the current day, but when I was doing the book, Facebook was in hot water, deservedly so. So the book really became an exercise into saying, "Here's what happened to Facebook." And I'm going back in the past to tell you how this happened, what went wrong, and why it went wrong, down to pinpointing individual incidents where Facebook went down the path to perdition.

MC: Well, you actually go all the way back in the book, which I really appreciated, because by getting into where Facebook came from, and how it was created, and the environment in which it was created, gives us a lot of context about why the product was so important to people. So, you illustrate pretty clearly in the book that the idea of building a social network was not a new idea. There were things that came before, like Six Degrees, and…

SL: Friendster.

MC: Friendster, and MySpace, and things that people were actually engaging in. It was during the period when friend was moving from a noun to a verb. Right? So, all those other social networks fizzled. None of them took off. What was it in particular about Facebook that allowed it to not only thrive, but to completely dominate?

SL: I think that the roots of it really, were that Facebook at first, did not try to connect everyone in the world. It was a college network, and it was something that Mark Zuckerberg in particular, wanted to see happen. The most successful products are often things that people build for themselves. So, he was a college student, he understood the way college students interact with each other, and he was building project, after project, in his sophomore year, not going to classes much. And a lot of them had to do with providing utility for the college experience. One of his earlier programs was something that, when you looked at a class, you would be able to see what friends of yours had signed up for the class, so you could hang out with them in the class, steal their notes, other kinds of stuff.

And, for The Facebook, which is what it was called when it was launched in February, 2004, it was a way that people could learn more about each other, and maybe find other people in their college community, that they wanted to get to know better, and find out what was up with them. So, if your friend had a bunch of other friends that you wanted to get in touch with, learn more about them, you could use that.

Because he was able to fix the dials, and be really effective in building this initial network, he had a headstart, I believe, in making a product that people would want to use when he extended it out to the world at large. So I think that the idea that it was constrained at first, led to its success, and being unconstrained, and unleashed upon the world later on.

MC: I have always argued that the like button is the most important instrument in Facebook's journey.

SL: I'm glad you said that, because I devoted quite a lot of space to the like button.

MC: You really did. So, I want to talk about it a little bit, but first, I want you to tell the story of how it came to be. Because it didn't just appear, it sort of stumbled into existence.

SL: Right. The like button started when a couple of Facebook's engineers wanted a more expressive way to quickly comment on a post. Instead of saying, maybe writing a whole comment, you could go in one little flick, whether you approved of it or not. And, Facebook at first didn't like this idea. Zuckerberg didn't like this idea, because he felt that if you have the ability to respond to something with one click, you wouldn't make a comment.

SL: So, various people had taken over the project, and tried to push it. It had different names at first, and finally settled on like. And it wasn't until they were able to run an experiment, and prove that when you release the like button, and, because they did it in a couple of countries, comments would actually go up, because it was a good signal that the post should be circulated more. It gave it a higher ranking in people's newsfeed.

But I think the real significance came when they spread the like button out, past Facebook's boundaries, onto the web. They got millions, and millions of people with websites, and businesses, to put the like button on their pages, and that gave Facebook this data of who was doing what on the web, and basically Facebook became throughout the world, and that really was a signal to Facebook that their business model eventually will be built around that data. So, I really think that was the start of the big data cascade that would come to signify what Facebook was in a business sense. And, also in a sense where they got into some trouble later on.

LG: It's really interesting to think about algorithms, now. The word algorithms has become such a part of our vernacular, to the point where people kind of hand wave at it, or some people joke about not really knowing what it means. But it's this idea that all these data signals are creating these algorithms that inform the things that we see, and experience on the internet. And this was really one of the earliest, most consumer friendly versions of those signals. Just constantly telling Facebook what you're into, and how that's ultimately going to impact your experience on the web.

SL: And it's also going to tell a lot about yourself. So I talk about how a researcher, not at a Facebook, outside of Facebook, determined that, with I think 15 likes, if you see someone's likes, for 15 likes, you'll know as much about them as you know someone you know casually. And 30 likes, you'll know them as much as no one of your real friends. With a hundred likes. You'll know him really, as much as you know someone really well. A hundred likes, you'll be on a power level with that, and with 300 likes, Facebook will know as much about you, as you know your spouse.

MC: This is the a personality test guys, right? Stillman and Kosinski?

SL: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Boy, you're up to it. Yeah. So Stillman, yeah. David Stillman, and Michael Kosinski. Wasn't it Stillwell?

MC: Oh yeah, right. Stillwell.

SL: Stillwell, yeah.

MC: Thank you, yes, Stillwell.

SL: And Michael Kosinski were these researchers at Cambridge University, which turns out to be a center for a lot of activity around this, because their colleague, a guy named Aleksandr Kogan, was the person who got Cambridge Analytica involved in the whole story. And he tried to bring in Kosinski and Stillwell into his project. They didn't like it, in part because Cambridge Analytica wasn't going to pay them enough money, and Kosinski later turned out, this hadn't been reported before, to be the person who dropped the dime on the whole project, and first told The Guardian that this thing was going on.

MC: Wow.

LG: Another massively important development in Facebook's history was newsfeed, and in the book you talk about how in one of your earliest meetings with Zuckerberg, if not the first meeting you had with him, he was noodling this. This was in the works, but they did not mention it to you.

SL: No. Well he hardly mentioned anything in our first meeting. I met him in 2006.

LG: Yeah, he was a fresh faced, young entrepreneur.

SL: It was March, 2006. Yeah. I thought… I was writing a story about what was called Web 2.0 at the time, where user generated content was starting to appear on the web, and heard about this company, that was really successful in the college market. The companies that we were focusing on in this Newsweek story were MySpace, YouTube and Flickr. But, I thought that it would be good to talk to him, and get a couple of quotes from him, and I arranged to meet him at this conference, and have lunch together.

I pitched him a few softball questions, and he didn't say anything. He just stared at me. It was very unnerving. I wondered whether he was having an episode, or he didn't like me, or what was going on. It took a while before I was able to eke out even some cursory answers to my questions. And then I later learned, during the course of researching this book, that at the time, that I couldn't get a conversation from him, he was fiercely writing in this notebook, and he was in total flow, redesigning Facebook to be this global force.

And he had a couple of products he was designing, in this notebook, that sometimes he'd share a couple of pages with his employees. And one of them was newsfeed, it was called feed at the time. And, it was transformative to the product. It's the thing that we look at when we open up Facebook now, that stream of things that comes from people you know, and all too often from people you don't know, who somehow connected to you in the networking, or sharing something that got a lot of engagement. And, it's the source of a lot of Facebook's success, and a lot of his troubles.

LG: Speaking of those troubles, we're going to take a quick break, and when we come back, we're going to talk about what happens when the world's largest social network, really, in the history of humanity, the largest human network, gets into some hot water. We'll be right back.


LG: Welcome back to Gadget Lab. We're here with our WIRED colleague, Steven Levy, who has just penned a book, Facebook: the Inside Story. Steven, there is a distinct shift that happens in the book, sometime around chapter 14, which is part three of the book. Prior to that, we read a lot about Facebook's growth. It's strategizing, Game of Thrones type maneuvering, Zuckerberg being savvy enough to buy up companies like WhatsApp, and Oculus, and Instagram. And then, there's the 2016 election. How much responsibility do you think Facebook has for everything that went down in the 2016 US presidential election?

SL: Well, everything that went down encompasses a lot, but Facebook did have responsibility for allowing a lot of false information to circulate on its platform. It also had a responsibility for making sure that the law wasn't violated by foreign powers coming in, and running a disinformation campaign on its platform. And both of those things are things that Facebook, I think, could have stopped, and it should have stopped. The first part, the false information, AKA fake news, it was called to its attention pretty widely. The phenomenon was called to its attention well before the election.

But, during the last few weeks of the election in particular, people were complaining about it. Obama himself, when he was campaigning for Hillary, was talking about all the false news, and attacks on Hillary happening on Facebook. He called out Facebook, but Facebook made a conscious decision to do nothing about it.

LG: Well, and that's exactly it though. It seems as though Facebook, along with Twitter, along with many other platforms, although none of course have the scale of Facebook, for a long time have sort of hid behind this idea that they are not media companies. That it's, if you want to get legal, it's Section 230 right? Which most people don't want to get into, but anyway, it's this whole idea, right? That they are platforms, they serve up content, but they're not necessarily responsible for being editors around the content that bubbles up on the network. And yet, it seems as though Facebook really didn't fully understand that, or chose not to embrace a certain level of responsibility.

SL: Well they chose not to. And I talk about a meeting where it was discussed, it was called the Sheryl Meeting, actually. But Sheryl, from the accounts that I heard of this meeting, she was on the call, and listening, but let her policy people take the lead. And one in particular, a fellow named Joel Kaplan, he was the head of their Washington office, a lifelong Republican, said that we should lay off. It would be like putting our thumbs on the scale, to take down this fake stuff, when in fact it was a tilted playing field that Facebook was running, and putting the thumb on the scale could have leveled the scale by taking out phony news.

LG: And there are plenty of other instances outside of the US, by the way, where Facebook's influence has really swayed public opinion, and in ways that have been quite damaging to society.

SL: Well, it swayed public opinion, but it also caused riots and deaths.

LG: Exactly.

SL: And the places I talk about, are Myanmar, and the Philippines, and this happened before 2016, and Facebook had full warning. When Facebook went international, they followed their unofficial model motto of Move Fast, and Break Things was part of that motto at one point. It was a reckless move, because they were wanting to grow very quickly. They would go into countries where people weren't used to getting all this information injected into their phones, and they didn't know how to handle that. They didn't know how to assess it. And people abused the platform.

And Facebook, in the early stages of this, they crowdsourced the translation. And in some cases, there was no one at Facebook who could even read the language that the people were writing the posts on. In Myanmar, they had riots that led to deaths, around 2012, and it wasn't until 2015 that they even translated their rule book, of what content is acceptable on the platform.

LG: That's right. And this is just Facebook we're talking about. Too, Facebook, as I mentioned earlier, now owns WhatsApp. We've seen disinformation spread on WhatsApp as well, in ways that have been incredibly harmful to people. I guess I'm wondering, well two things. One, could something like the misinformation that was spread during the 2016 have been prevented had there been people inside Facebook who were just aware enough to have thought about this far enough in advance? And second, I'm wondering, because we talked about how you had access to people like Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl, what you took away from having those conversations with them, in terms of their responsibility over these issues?

SL: Well, in the first part, the answer is really bigger. The answer is not so much to look at things beginning 2015, and during 2016 itself and saying, "How could Facebook have minimized this?" And they certainly could have, because they knew about it, and they could have done the things that they wound up doing afterwards, which has cut down, to some degree the spread of fake news. There, I said it.

And so, but the bigger picture is, Facebook became the kind of platform where this stuff could thrive by a number of decisions it made earlier in its history. And that's sort of the process of what happened, that I really tried to document in the book. For instance, in 2008, and 2009, Mark Zuckerberg was obsessed with Twitter. He saw that as competition. He tried to buy it, and when they said no, he put some of the elements of Twitter, it's the viral nature of it, and the real time nature of it, and the idea that it spreads a lot of news, into the newsfeed. And it changed the character of the newsfeed during those years.

SL: It used to be, it was mainly about stuff that happened from your social network, and they let in more. So, the newsfeed as we know it now, is a friend of a friend, or someone even you don't know at all, puts up a post, and someone else who you know comments on it, or even a friend of yours comments on it, it winds up in your newsfeed. So you get drawn into a crazy discussion, where your things are shared with you, that don't have anything to do with your social life, or the people you know. But it's like a political discussion, that it's shown to you because some crazy post got a lot of engagement.

So, the kind of platform Facebook became, led to these problems, and it's not so easy to fix, if you look at it and say, "Wow, it's 2016, how do we stop this?" They could have done more, but the whole problem was a result of shifts made in the newsfeed years before.

LG: And in terms of your opinions of Mark and Sheryl, having spent so much time with them throughout the reporting of this book, do you feel like they've learned from what happened in 2016 and beyond? Do you feel that they take responsibility?

SL: Well, they've learned that, "Wow, it was a mistake to let this stuff circulate like this." But, Mark told me early on, in our trip to Nigeria, that, "Facebook has this engineering mentality, and that's the way we work." And I think that's the way they've dealt with this problem. They said, "Hmm, we have this, these problems here, fake news, how do we go get this pushed down?" So they've done a number of measures to minimize it, but the basic platform is still the same. The things that allowed it to appear, and thrive, are still there, and they're doing after the fact patches to try to keep it down.

In order to really be effective, you'd have to fundamentally rethink the platform, or shift your focus to other products that Facebook is doing, which I think they're also starting to do now. So if you want to really look at a longterm solution, you might want to look beyond the newsfeed, into what Mark calls a privacy focused vision, and to bring in more of Instagram, and WhatsApp, and Messenger into the center of Facebook, where they're not going to have these problems so much, because they're going to encrypt the content.

MC: Well, speaking of vision, Facebook has famously not had a great track record launching hardware. There was the failed effort to launch the phone. There was the Facebook Portal device which came out about a year ago, which is a video chat device that puts a camera, that Facebook controls, in people's homes and obviously had some pushback from the more privacy minded Facebook users out there. What is your assessment of Facebook as a hardware company, both in the past and in the future?

SL: Well, I wrote a lot about this phone that they were building. It actually got pretty far. It had an Intel chip, and Yves Bahar, the famous designer created it. He did have a problem that he sort of skated by, which was left-handed people couldn't really couldn't use the phone in his design.

LG: No big deal.

MC: No big deal.

SL: The phone's code name, I love this, was Ghostface Killa, and they eventually scrapped that idea, and decided to do a less ambitious version, on mapping an operating system in a phone by HTC. For different reasons, the Portal didn't work so much. Some of the reviews were saying, "Actually this isn't a bad product but we don't trust Facebook." That's the last place you'd want to buy something that puts a camera in your home in, right?

MC: Yeah. That was the consensus on it. Excellent technology, but just why does this have to connect to Facebook?

SL: But they did buy a hardware company, Oculus, and if you look at it, they haven't done a bad job of refining that virtual reality headset. It's mostly used for games. It's still too soon for that to happen. They have to wind up funding, not only their hardware effort, but they pay the game developers to make the games. Most of them. They have this thing called Oculus Studios that funds people to make games, because they can't possibly sell enough games to offset the huge cost of making a really great virtual reality game.

The guy in charge now, their hardware division, is this fellow named Andrew Bosworth, known universally throughout the Facebook world as Bos, a very trusted Lieutenant. And, he was the person who they called in to build their mobile ads when that whole sector was in crisis. They hadn't figured out how to crack it earlier on. And, he's a smart guy, and I think they'll keep at it for a while.

So, you'll see more hardware efforts coming out of Facebook, and they were putting huge money into research, particularly in VR and AR, that might find their way in there. And so, Facebook's going to be a big player in this big industry wide battle to who's going to create the eyeglasses for alternate realities.

MC: Right.

LG: But left-handed people won't be able to wear the eyeglasses?

MC: Left eyed people.

LG: That's right.

SL: Yeah.

MC: Steven, do you think that Facebook at this point is too big to fail?

SL: I think that Facebook, with it's is close to three billion people now, it's too big to go away, but, like all tech companies, it's vulnerable when the next paradigm shift happens. When the next big thing comes along. They had a near death experience with mobile, I wrote about. And the reason why Zuckerberg bought Oculus, was he thought, "Maybe this is the next mobile. We're not going to get cut short. As a matter of fact, we're going to be ahead of everyone else if this happens."

Now they're putting money into brain machine interface stuff, right? So that'll maybe augment the virtual reality stuff, but maybe it'll be something else. Maybe when we don't carry around our phones, but just put those little implants in our heads, Facebook will be there. Isn't that exciting?

MC: It's kind of terrifying. Like you, and like a lot of people, I have a MySpace profile. I have a Friendster profile, I have an Orkut profile. I can't log into any of those. I can't access any of the information that I've uploaded there. I'm sure there's some possible scenario in the future, where Facebook as an entity will cease to exist, and all of our data that we've uploaded will go somewhere. Maybe it will go into a holding company. Maybe somebody else will come along and buy it, a company that doesn't exist yet. This may happen in a hundred years.

LG: I'm sorry to interrupt, but do you mean Facebook, big blue, the Facebook app we log into today? Or do you mean Facebook and all of its holdings? Like WhatsApp and Instagram?

MC: I mean if you look at my WhatsApp chat history, everything that I've ever uploaded to Instagram, and every comment that I've made, every band that I've liked, every recipe that I've liked, and all of my friend to friend data on Facebook is held in this great store. And what happens when Facebook goes away, and all that data is still out there for three billion people?

SL: Well, it's up for grabs, right? Someone could buy it. It belongs to Facebook. So Facebook will say, "We never sell your data to other companies." And that is true, but in a narrow sense, only because sometimes advertisers can figure out things about your data, if they target something very specific.

LG: Right. It may not be sold. It doesn't mean it's not shared.

SL: Right. Well, if they say, "I'm looking for someone who lives in the Noe Valley of San Francisco, who likes Thelonious Monk, who only wears sandals." Right? They could figure that out and target an ad to you. And if you respond to the ad, they know, "Oh, this person fits our criteria." So that can slip out there. So, that's sort of a backdoor into the data. But, in terms of the store, the data, you mentioned the WhatsApp, compared to the big blue, when Facebook bought WhatsApp, it promised the users that it wouldn't merge their information with its big data cache that it has on you from your activities on the other things. And they violated that. They got a big fine for that.

And the WhatsApp founders were appalled, but it's all in one store now. So what you do on WhatsApp is collected, along with all your Facebook activity, and Instagram activity. So, it is a very valuable store of information. We were appalled when 87 million profiles fell into the hands of this company called Cambridge Analytica. And if Facebook, at some point, goes away, and very few companies live to be a hundred years old or whatever, whoever buys the company would have access to that data.

LG: Jeff Bezos is going to buy it. By the way, total speculation. You did not hear it first on Gadget Lab. But, I mean, it's got to be, right?

SL: Yeah, again, to be sure, that's not going to happen very soon.

LG: Right.

MC: He's going to buy it for himself as a present for his a 150th birthday.

LG: That's right. Exactly. When he's living on a different planet.

SL: And they'll have to send it to him on planet Jupiter, or something.

LG: Exactly. Yeah. We're on the same page there. No, but I think Mike brings up a really good question. Every so often there's a wave of chatter of people saying, "I'm deleting my Facebook." But I think that's a very privileged position for a lot of people, because in certain markets, and certain countries, Facebook is synonymous with the internet. That is how they stay connected, is how they get local information. For other people, it's just this social media thing that sometimes feels really invasive, and annoying. And so I think it's the latter group who will say, "I'm just going to delete my Facebook." But, do you envision a world in which, en masse, people ever really truly get off of Facebook apps?

SL: I don't think it would happen of people, masses of people deciding, "I'm going to delete Facebook." And to delete Facebook. You don't just take it off your phone. You've got to go through a whole process to get it off their servers.

MC: It takes weeks.

SL: Yeah, but, if it does go, it will be because people start using something else, and they'll let their Facebook activities, maybe the activities of the other stuff, fade away, and they won't use it anymore. They'll use something else. And, Mark Zuckerberg is terrified of this, because of his experience with mobile. He knows that companies are not forever, and he has to keep doing new things. And this is this tension he's had the past few years, because in one hand his top priority has to be winning back trust, which is a heavy lift, considering all the things that have happened. But also he knows that he has to keep moving into new areas, and keep exploring what's going to work for Facebook in the future.

We even had a conversation specifically about that not long after Cambridge Analytica, where he was going to address a developer's conference. This F8 Conference, and he said, "Well, I'll spend the first 15 minutes of my keynote saying how I'm going to win back trust, and all the things we're going to do to help our reputation. And the second 15 minutes, I'm going to say all of the new things we want to do. Hey, we're going to introduce a dating program. A dating feature, isn't that great?"

And I said, "Well, actually I see a problem there. You really think this is the time to do it, just after Cambridge Analytica?" And he said, "Well, Facebook's always had dating lurking in the background, and blah, blah, blah." And then a few minutes later, he circled back. He said, "Do you really think that's going to be a problem?" I said, "Mark, people don't trust Facebook. You're going to know [inaudible 00:31:31] their dating information?" And he just kind of nodded, and gave me that Sauron's gaze a little, and introduced the product.

LG: Oh, there you go. And now Barry Diller looks at buying Facebook. No, I'm just kidding. He probably doesn't have enough money for that. All right, Steven, this has been a really, really enlightening conversation. Thanks very much. We're going to take a quick break, and when we come back we're going to do our recommendations, and Steven is going to stick around for that, so stay tuned.


LG: All right, Steven, since you're our guest, you go first. What's your recommendation for the Gadget Lab audience this week?

SL: Well, when I started to do the actual writing of Facebook: the Inside Story, actually, as I started doing the researching, I decided to abandon Microsoft Word, and use a different product. Everyone was telling me about this word processor writing tool called Scrivener. It costs a fraction of what word costs. It's faster, it's better, and it's project oriented, so there's even a way that you could say, "I'm writing a nonfiction book." And it allows you to write in chapters, and bring in all your research. You could go to screenplay mode, and write a screenplay, and it's a very fast, fantastic word processor. You don't have to pay a monthly subscription. It works even when the internet is down, and it turned out to be of great use to me in writing this book, and I'm stuck with it.

LG: And how much does it cost?

SL: 50 bucks.

LG: All right, there we go. Well, that is indeed a fraction of Word. Also, I'll have everybody know that when we were chatting about this earlier, as Steven said, "Oh I wrote the book on Scrivener." And I, for a moment I thought he actually wrote a book on it, because he's written so many books about tech companies. He has not yet written a book on Scrivener, but I'm guessing 2021, that's your next project?

SL: Yeah, I was talking. My next book, yeah, I'm going to interview hundreds of people at Scrivener.

LG: Exactly. If you can find that. Okay, thank you for that recommendation.

SL: The Russian incursion into Scrivener.

LG: Right, Lazy Bear, deep into Scrivener, yeah. Okay.

SL: The climax of my book.

MC: Write it in Cyrillic.

SL: They do handle Cyrillic, yeah.

LG: What's your recommendation?

MC: My recommendation is the New York Times cooking app, which is now on Android. It came out in October, and I downloaded it right away, and it had all kinds of bugs, and it crashed immediately on my phone, and I hated the experience. But, they have updated it, they have fixed a lot of the bugs and it now works. I have it on two different devices, and it works the same on both devices, and I can not recommend it highly enough. There are fantastic recipes in there that go back decades into the New York Times library, and it's also a really good community for sharing recipes, bookmarking things. So, that is my recommendation. You do have to be a New York Times subscriber in order to have unfettered access to the New York Times library of recipes within the cooking app.

SL: Is it an extra charge?

MC: No. So if you subscribe to the publication, you also get access to crosswords, and cooking.

LG: That's how they get you.

MC: That's how they get you.

LG: Yeah, you want that carrots confit recipe, you've got to read the news.

MC: That's right. So, recommend both of those things, but in particular the cooking thing.

LG: Right, exactly. Just all kinds of servings of vegetables. Your news vegetables, your cooking vegetables, I don't know.

MC: Yeah, if you're a Times subscriber, and you're on an Android device, get the cooking app. It's awesome.

LG: Okay, that's a good recommendation.

MC: What is yours?

LG: My recommendation is not a new product. I'm recommending Peloton.

MC: What?

LG: Yeah, Peloton. Not new at all. So, I want to say two or three years ago now, I don't remember, probably about three years ago, I wrote a feature for the Verge, back when I was working there, at that publication, about Peloton. Really enjoyed working on it. It was my first time trying it, and I talked to this woman who had transformed her life. She'd sold everything she owned to buy the Peloton bike, and then she was so inspired by it, she became an instructor. She used to drive from upstate New York down to the company's New York City studios to take classes in person.

Anyway, I had so much fun. I talked to Steve Martocci from Splice, also a big Peloton fan, and so I tried it myself for a couple months, and I really liked it. And I recently traveled, and at the hotel I was staying at, they had a Peloton, and so I tried it again, and I just think… And I also should mention, I have a broken toe right now. So I'm limited in what I can do. I have to wear soft sneakers, and I could fit my foot into the cage of the Peloton bike, and it didn't hurt. And so I tried it again, logged into my old account. I had took a couple of classes, and I was thinking, "This is really great, it's really great."

And, this is not to make light of the coronavirus whatsoever, but people are now working from home a lot, or being quarantined, or having self-imposed quarantines, we've written WIRED.com a lot about the coronavirus, and some stories about working from home, working remotely. And so it kind of is part of that broader trend of what do you do when you're home, and you have to access everything you need from home, or nearby.

SL: Have you got one in your home now?

LG: No, no I haven't. And I've thought about it though. I have thought about it, but it is expensive.

SL: You have an apartment with a beautiful vista? Like in the advertisement?

LG: No, I feel like I need more succulents, and multi thousand dollar rugs before I like invest.

MC: And a Vitamix, and a jar of turmeric.

LG: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And I need to rise at four in the morning, looking completely put together, in my elegant workout gear, and my perfect ponytail, bound on down to the bike. No, I mean, I don't. I don't have that kind of setup. But I could, I guess I could get a Peloton at this point, but I just haven't. But I liked it. I liked going to a hotel, and seeing it, and I would like to try it more, I think. Anyway, Peloton, what can I say?

MC: Solid recommendation.

LG: Yeah.

MC: Okay.

LG: All right. That is our show. It's been a great show. We went a little bit longer than usual, but I think it was totally worthwhile, because we got to hear so many great insights from Steven. Thank you, Steven, for joining us to talk about your book.

SL: It was my pleasure. I really enjoyed being on this podcast.

LG: And tell people where they can find your book, and where they can hear you speak in the next couple of weeks?

SL: Okay, well, they could find any bookstore, or any place that sells books online. Indie bookstores are always wonderful. You can go there. But if you're self quarantined, you could bring it in there, and what a good way to spend a couple of weeks, right? Reading this book. I'm going to be in Berkeley on Friday, the sixth.

LG: The day we're publishing this podcast. Yep.

SL: Yep. On the sixth. If there's a South by Southwest, I'm going to be there on Monday the 16th, at five o'clock. I'll be at the New Orleans Book Fest. I'll be at the Harvard Bookstore March 13th.

MC: So that'll be awkward.

SL: Oh, well yeah, Larry Lessig is interviewing me.

MC: Oh my goodness.

LG: Oh, interesting.

SL: So that'll be interesting. I hope he doesn't sue me.

LG: All right, well you've got a very busy book tour, so we appreciate it. Mike is still laughing. I'm like, "Oh, this is not funny." All right, you've got a very busy book tour, so we appreciate you taking the time to hang with your pals here at WIRED. So, thank you, and thanks to all of you for listening. If you have feedback, you can find us all on Twitter. Just check the show notes. This show is produced by Boone Ashworth. Our consulting executive producer is Alex Kapelman. Goodbye for now, and we'll be back next week.

[Outro theme music]

Related Articles

Latest Articles