MENLO PARK, Calif. – By 2030, Facebook aims to have 5 billion of the world’s 7 billion humans connected to its social network, a 3.5-billion jump that could be accomplished in part by deploying autonomous planes.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg made the comments Monday during an event at the company’s new Frank Gehry-designed headquarters designed to celebrate Facebook’s 12th anniversary Thursday, which it has dubbed Friends Day.
Facebook also introduced a new way of measuring its global spread: as users doubled from 2011 to 1.5 billion, the degrees of separation between each user has shrunk from 4 to 3.5 degrees today.
“We want to finish connecting everyone, we’re going to do it in partnership with governments and different companies all over the world,” Zuckerberg said, pointing to a large wall photo of a boomerang-shaped plane Facebook has developed dubbed Aquila. “It’s solar-powered, and it’ll just fly around a city and beam down Internet access. It’s, like, pretty crazy, right?”
Zuckerberg has been talking about connecting the rest of the world for a few years now. And while the notion of Internet for all might sound like a winner, some watchdog groups and telcom competitors are concerned that Facebook’s Wi-Fi vision — called Free Basics and now running in 25 countries — is aimed largely at funneling new consumers to its mushrooming service.
In India, regulators shut down Facebook’s service after critics warned that the social giant was violating “net neutrality” by providing a service that could tailor access to sites depending on its own business needs, more a walled garden than public utility. Zuckerberg has contested this view. A ruling is expected soon.
The 31-year-old billionaire also addressed the topic of peer-to-peer payment platform between Facebook users as something the company was not pursuing, yet. “We feel while we understand communications a bit, payments is a little further remote for us,” he said. “But we will get there over time, or someone will.”
Zuckerberg also talked about the coming virtual reality wave, which his company made a big bet on when it purchased headset maker Oculus Rift for $ 2 billion.
“You can convey emotions through text, and photos, and videos get (you) closer, but actually being able to feel like you are there is going to be amazingly powerful when the medium becomes mature,” he said.
Oculus is launching its $ 600 VR headset later this year, which will compete with similar upscale offerings from Sony and HTC Vive. “We’re reaching this period where video is going to be primary thing we use on the Internet, because of the emotional weight of it,” said Zuckerberg.
The theme of the Monday session was to pull the spotlight away from Facebook’s business machinations – the company blew through earnings expectations last week, hitting $ 5 billion in quarterly revenue and prompting a 12% stock jump – and retrain it on the softer side of the social web giant.
Although the company started as a platform to stay in touch with classmates and friends, its business strategy now includes shrewd partnerships with the likes of Uber, whose rides can now be hailed from within Facebook’s 800-million-user Messenger app.
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, reflected on her late husband, Dave Goldberg, and other matters in a meeting with 18 Facebook users who came to the company’s headquarters to help celebrate the social network’s 12th anniversary. (Photo: Martin E. Klimek, USA TODAY)
“The funny thing about working in a company like this is that surprisingly little of what the world talks about is actually the meaningful stuff that we care about,” said Zuckerberg. “I mean, (connecting people) is why we do what we do. It’s not because we’re trying to sell ads or something. Well, (COO) Sheryl (Sandberg) might have a different answer.”
In his first public appearance since returning from paternity leave, Zuckerberg (father to two-month-old daughter Max with wife Priscilla Chan) spent 40 minutes meeting a with 18 Facebook users whose stories executives identified as being exemplary of the $ 330-billion market cap company’s mission.
These included two women, one from Ponchatoula, La., and Laneyse Hooks of Washington, D.C., who used Facebook to launch One Refugee Child, which has donated more than 200 strollers to European refugees.
Marie Beechy, left, and Laneyse Hooks attend an event at Facebook to celebrate the company’s 12th anniversary. The two met on Facebook and formed One Refugee Child together, which provides strollers to European refugees. (Photo: Martin E. Klimek, USA TODAY)
The group was brought to Silicon Valley, taken to dinner, given tours of the open-space HQ and sent home with a pair of $ 100 Samsung Gear VR Powered By Oculus VR headset.
The CEO’s visit to the giddy group was preceded by one from Sandberg, who spent an equal amount of time with them, at one point holding a couple’s two-month old baby and another sharing stories about the passing last year of her husband, Survey Monkey CEO Dave Goldberg.
Addressing three Irish women, Sandberg complemented them on their Facebook group GirlCrew, which was born of the trio’s desire to find likeminded women who were interested in going out dancing in Dublin.
“I lost my husband a year ago, and I remember my girlfriend saying that when I felt better, we were going to go out dancing,” Sandberg said. “And about six months later, I did, and it was really important, because it saying that no matter what happened, I could still have fun.”
For Zuckerberg, the company’s 12th anniversary was not just a chance to look ahead, but also back. He seemed surprised – almost – that Facebook had mushroomed from a dorm room project famously depicted in The Social Network to a corporate powerhouse that is likely to play a significant role in the way 21st-century communications play out.
Facebook CEO and cofounder Mark Zuckerberg ® greets visitor Raman Gulati and his three month old daughter Sohana at an event at Facebook headquarters on Menlo Park, CA on Monday, February 1, 2016. (Photo: Photo by Martin E. Klimek, USA TODAY contract photographer)
“One of the biggest questions is simply, why didn’t someone else do it (create Facebook)?” he asked, describing how he and his co-creators celebrated the night The Facebook went live at Harvard by hitting a pizza joint at midnight.
“We though, OK, one day someone will build this sort of thing for the world, but it’s not going to be us,” he said. “There’s Google and Microsoft, with thousands of engineers who have more experience than us and all these resources, so someone is going to build it. But when I reflect on it, I think we cared more, even if we didn’t realize we cared more. We felt that everyone must realize this was a valuable thing that should get built.”
Follow USA TODAY tech reporter Marco della Cava on Twitter @marcodellacava.
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