Mark Zuckerberg: Just call him Mr. Controversy

The sprightly and fast-talking Facebook chief has a penchant for the contentious.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Mark Zuckerberg is good at stirring up controversy. Turns out, he prefers it that way.

The Facebook CEO, donning his characteristic hoody and an ever-present goofy laugh, was interviewed Wednesday by Michael Arrington at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco. Zuckerberg was the sprightly and fast-talking character we've come to expect in public appearances, but this time he came across as decidedly open, markedly candid, and unabashedly unapologetic.

Even if he did, as usual, lack a depth of emotion beyond jubilance for his company's mission to connect the world's 7 billion people , Zuckerberg, like the 1.15 billion who use his social network each month, exposed some of his true colors.

"I'm of the belief that values are only useful when they're controversial," he said.

The Facebook executive's penchant for the contentious came in a moment of honesty as he described why his company embraces a culture of moving fast. "It gets us into tons of trouble," he admitted of the "move fast" mentality behind half-baked product releases like Facebook Home or release-early-but-roll-out-slowly improvements like the new News Feed.

"'Move fast' is good because it's something that people can actually disagree with," he said.

By people, our Mr. Controversy most certainly means Wall Street, a group that always prefers the polished over the nonperfected and, at first, doubted the young, set-in-his-ways, nontraditional CEO and questioned Facebook's ability to grow revenue. The market is ignoring its distaste for Facebook's " Hacker Way ," of which "move fast" is a core tenet, for the time being, but that's not to say Zuckerberg's debatable management style won't one day again clash with investors and bankers who just want earnings.

Intentional or otherwise, Zuckerberg seems to embrace controversy whenever he can. Wednesday, he admitted that the company's Home Android software suite wasn't a winning success, but he's not backing down away from the project. Quite the contrary.

"I still fully believe that this is going to be something that a lot of people want over time," he said. "Getting content delivered to your home screen and being ambiently aware of what's going on is, I think, a very valuable thing."

It's as if Zuckerberg is convinced that by pushing Home down our throats, we'll one day decide that, oh wait, it tastes pretty good after all. We don't know that we want his vision of a people-centric smartphone, just like we didn't know we wanted a more open and connected world powered by Facebook, which, as Zuckerberg likely appreciates, is still a hotly debated subject matter.

And disagree though we might with Zuckerberg's views or missions, the policy of embracing controversial values has worked out rather well for him. Wall Street has come around and 699 million people now use Facebook every day. Perhaps it's time for a bigger, bolder controversy.

"We want to, over the next five or 10 years, really take on a road map to try to understand everything in the world, semantically, and kind of map everything out," he said.

 

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