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Facebook at TechCrunch50: Engineers are our lifeblood

Company takes the stage at the start-up pitch event to formally launch its Prototypes feature, as well as to persuade entrepreneurs in the audience to use its Facebook Connect product.

Facebook's Aditya Agarwal shows off its new Prototypes feature at TechCrunch50.
Josh Lowensohn/CNET

SAN FRANCISCO--Facebook took the stage on Tuesday afternoon at the TechCrunch50 conference for a "Developer Garage" event, to highlight just how important its team of engineers is to the company--and to unveil a new feature to let users play around with what they're up to.

Facebook engineering lead Aditya Agarwal unveiled a new offering called "Prototypes," which makes internal projects on the site accessible as applications on its developer platform. "Some of them are going to be buggy," Agarwal said. "Some of them are going to be super polished."

Prototypes, which is sort of like Facebook's version of Google Labs, had accidentally been unveiled in a company Twitter post earlier on Tuesday afternoon. "It's difficult to predict just what Facebook engineers will come up with next," Agarwal said of Prototypes, which has since been elucidated in a post on the company blog.

Many of Facebook's hottest new features were created in late-night employee "hackathons," Facebook Vice President of Engineering Mike Schroepfer told the audience. Its new iPhone app was created by a single engineer (someone from Facebook told me that this employee was actually a summer intern, which makes it even more impressive), its "Facebook Lite" low-bandwidth-friendly site option was created by three engineers, and the brand new status tagging feature was built in a hackathon.

Some of the new prototypes, Agarwal explained, are photo tag searches, desktop notifications, and a way to filter news feed items to see which ones your friends have recently commented on.

Considering TechCrunch50 is an event devoted to new Web start-ups, Facebook also had a pitch for the entrepreneurs behind them: employee Justin Osofsky then came onstage to talk about Facebook Connect and why start-ups ought to implement the universal log-in system. He cited the power of being able to share information on such a massive network, the advantages of not requiring a separate registration process, as well as the proven jumps in page views and traffic that some of the 15,000 sites currently using Facebook Connect have experienced.

At TechCrunch50, Facebook conveniently was able to make the dual announcement that it's cash flow positive and just hit 300 million active users. There are 6 billion minutes spent on the site every day, Schroepfer explained, 1 billion chat messages sent, and 80 billion photos stored on the site (20 billion individual photos, each stored in four different formats).

Within an hour of the site opening up the floodgates to vanity URLs this summer, 1 million had been reserved, Schroepfer explained. He reiterated that the company's engineers were what kept it all afloat.

"The problem with this is, we (were) basically asking 200 million people to show up at the Web site at about exactly the same time," Schroepfer said. "Most people would call this a denial of service attack. We called it a product launch."