I finally got a chance to watch video of the Mark Zuckerberg Q&A style keynote from SxSW. His interviewer, Sarah Lacy of BusinessWeek, has been almost uniformly excoriated for her performance. We are led to believe that the audience turned on her quickly, ridiculing her on Twitter, walking out of the keynote, and heckling from their chairs.
The Firestorm of Criticism
Candidly, I didn’t think it was even half as bad as a number of well-respected bloggers and commentators seem to believe. (Not surprisingly, Jeff Jarvis offers one of the most well-considered critiques.) The most common criticisms about Lacy seem to have been that she interrupted too much, focused attention on herself, acted too “flirty,” and didn’t ask questions of interest to the audience (specifically she focused on business more than technical aspects of Facebook).
The Reality as I Watched It
Lacy’s interruptions frequently added value to the interview. Zuckerberg was meandering his way through a story about Colombian guerilla fighters when she interjected a question about whether he ever thought Facebook would be used for that when he created the company. It was a good effort to get him back on track. Many saw it as an attempt for her to step on his story, but I saw it as her attempt to fill her role of keeping the Q&A lively and interesting.
Remember that the reason why someone like Zuckerberg gives a keynote in Q&A format is because he isn’t comfortable giving a solo speech. The interactivity is designed to overcome the deficiencies that he likely recognizes in himself. Perhaps she was a bit too conversational at times, but it appeared to me that she was trying to loosen him up and get him to forget the audience in front of him.
She did err in making the announcement of a French language version of Facebook rather than bringing it out in a question. That’s an easy mistake to make since the two had spoken prior to the keynote in an attempt to figure out what the discussion would focus on. Should she have been more careful? Of course.
Was it a mortal sin? Hardly.
As to the mix of questions, it seemed like she took a reasonable approach to the discussion. Sure, the audience was full of creative types, but the business philosophy behind a company as important (at least as of today) as Facebook should be of interest. Designers and developers who ignore the business realities do so at their own risk.
At no point did I sense that Zuckerberg seemed uncomfortable with Lacy’s interview style. He seemed relatively relaxed, at least as compared to his reputation. The few occasions where he seemed to “give it” to Lacy, it struck me more as an attempt on his part to be flippant and conversational himself, rather than an effort to express outrage or discontent.
I should also note that the audience did not seem as agitated as the coverage led me to believe. There were occasional shouts from the crowd, but nothing that would overtly signal to the people on the stage that the audience was extremely restless and discontented. That suggests either the outrage has been exaggerated or the crowd controlled its animosity well.
The Disconnect With Reality
Throughout, Lacy seemed respectful of Zuckerberg and Facebook, something that I didn’t sense from the Twitter and blog coverage. She was aware of the hostility from the audience over Beacon and attempted to get Zuckerberg to discuss it and have the crowd listen before they reacted.
Beware the Mob
This is simply the latest incident where the social media mob rushed to judgment and sucked many of us in along the way. Until I finally had a chance to watch the video, I was left with the impression that the Q&A had, in fact, been an utter disaster. Fortunately, social media brought us the video to dispel that notion.
The best and worst thing about the blogosphere and Twittersphere is that everyone is empowered to share an opinion. The more vigorous (or perhaps vicious) the opinion, the more likely it is to get noticed.
As a community, we must all be careful not to rush to join the mob — or believe everything it says. Further, there is a clear need for balance and reason in order to encourage more of the mainstream media, major brands, and average Internet users to join the conversation.
(By the way, kudos to Nick O’Neill for getting the complete video online so those of us not at SxSW could see the reality.)