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Techfest Day 1: Facebook’s director of engineering on its ‘culture of disruption’

Change at Facebook is often rapid, disruptive and not always appealing to users, but that is the only constant.
Hindustan Times | By Bhavya Dore, Mumbai
UPDATED ON JAN 04, 2013 01:50 AM IST

Change at Facebook is often rapid, disruptive and not always appealing to users, but that is the only constant.

Director of engineering at the social networking giant, Jocelyn Goldfein, addressed a large crowd at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay on Thursday, dwelling largely on the evolution of the website's most popular and landmark feature: newsfeed.

She was speaking at Techfest, IITB's annual technological festival.

Newsfeed-- the aggregation of activities and updates in a user's homepage was improved and re-launched several times, with 122 design mock-ups, a peak engineering team of 25 and three major prototypes.

Every revamp of newsfeed had to negotiate three underlying tensions: determinism (emphasis on chronology in the newsfeed) versus magic, fresh versus stale and consumption (of information) versus interaction.

"Newsfeed is the emotional core of facebook and means different things to different people," said Goldfein.

She continued, "Newsfeed is the single most popular website feature that has existed, it takes a certain hubris or arrogance to contemplate changing that."

Facebook has consistently tested, launched and refined new features since its inception, stemming from its "culture of disruption", and in the process often drawing hostile reactions from users.

"At one billion users we are never going to please all the users all the time," admitted Goldfein, of the massively popular site started off in 2004 in a Harvard dorm room by Mark Zuckerberg.

She said however, that change is the byword at the company.

"The only thing constant at Facebook is change, and it will change again," she said.

She later went on, "We will not remain static, we will not be irrelevant.

"We are constantly responding to how you use the site," she added.

Facebook's more recent features have included a revamped newsfeed with a side ticker updated in live time, syndicating to content outside of Facebook and every profile in the format of a "timeline".

"We're not afraid of trying something new even when we are enjoying a terrific product," she said.

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