My good neighbor Facebook

A slow news day, but a few items caught my eye about Facebook, my new down-the-street, around-the-block neighbor.

Today’s Financial Times has a full-page news analysis piece on Facebook, “What friends are for,” by David Gelles (p. 7).

With its leadership as an online social network more secure, Mark Zuckerberg’s company aims to build both revenues and an enduring presence on other sites — no easy task, writes David Gelles.

The article identifies “Four big challenges for a site both social and global:”

Money It may be on track to bring in more than $500m . . .  in revenues this year but Facebook is projected to spend more. . . .
Competition  Other companies are racing to build their own services to bring social experiences to the web. . . .  A consortium including MySpace and Google has backed a service that allows users to carry their identities around the web with a single login.
Regulation Facebook is building one of the biggest databases of personal data on the web. It has so far steered clear of battles with regulators but as it expands around the globe that may change. An advisory board to the European Commission last month proposed stricter privacy settings for all social networks to ensure private information is not abused.
Execution Managing its own headlong growth, and adapting and expanding its service without alienating existing users, are Facebook’s most direct challenges. . . ..

About Facebook’s global reach:

Even as he reacts to new threats, Mr Zuckerberg is intent on extending his company’s reach and deepening its connections with its members. In this, at least, he has shown some remarkable results. Facebook’s user numbers are growing quickly – more than half have signed up in the past year. It is available in 50 languages and in just about every country in the world. Perhaps most importantly, Facebook users seem to be addicted. The site, it turns out, is “sticky”. More than 100m users log on to the site at least once a day.

The company is thinking globally but acting locally.  Their new world headquarters is two blocks from my house, and I pass by on frequent neighborhood strolls.  One thing I really like is how someone is always working, or so it seems.  There’s no 8 to 5 rush in and rush out.  When I stoll by at 8:00 p.m., I always see a slow but steady exodus of people, many on bicycles. 

The San Jose Mercury News recently ran a front-page story about Facebook’s new headquarters, “Facebook grows into new home in Palo Alto’s power neighborhood,” by Will Oremus, which includes this information:

Whistling between workstations are Facebookers on skateboard-like gadgets called RipStiks. The workforce, 700 strong in Palo Alto and about 900 worldwide, remains dominated by contemporaries of 25-year-old CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Their exuberance appears to have survived the move.

It’s not all bicycles and RipStiks.  There are a lot of cars and they spill out onto the street and fill an auxilary parking lot that is about 6 or 7 blocks away.  A shuttle bus runs from the company to the auxilary lot, but every single time I’ve seen this shuttle it has been empty of passengers (maybe the rainy season will be different). 

The ever-popular Legal Scholarship Network apparently sees opportunity in Facebook too.  From Gregg Gordon’s (President, Social Science Research Network) 2009 Mid-Year President’s Letter:

In April, we started the SSRNblog ( As we have grown, we realized that not everyone knows our history or has access to news about the latest updates or changes to the website. The SSRNblog comes as a natural outcome of our desire to share information and keep the SSRN Community up to date. Hopefully, it will also enhance our already great connections with our users.

The SSRN Blog will not be a broadcast vehicle. We want to engage you in an ongoing conversation. Readers will get updates regarding SSRN’s eLibrary and services, weekly “Top Five” lists, and announcements of new networks, conferences, and presentations. Our posts will also explore and share our perspective on issues such as Open Access, new publishing models and directions for scholarly research, and the technologies that affect us all.

One of these technologies is social networking. Social networking allows people to connect in real time regardless of geography, or to access information no matter where it is stored. We see a plethora of opportunities for the SSRN Community to use these tools. As a first step, we have joined Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn and are posting updates, announcements, and other items to them regularly. Here is how to find us:




Aardvark’s Answer Machine

Typing a question  into a search engine and getting a specific, relevant answer hasn’t improved much since the 1957 librarian-favorite film Desk Set when EMMARAC (the Electromagnetic Memory and Research Arithmetical Calculator) answered a question about Watusis and the island of Corfu with Rose Hartwick Thorpe’s poem Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight.  Make it a subjective question, e.g., “What  is the best Chinese restaurant in Palo Alto?,” and the results are even less helpful, as noted in a “Digital Domain” article by Randall Stross in today’s New York Times.  The article, “Now All Your Friends Are in the Answer Business,” discusses “Aardvark . . . a Web service that answers users’  questions through their friends and friends-of-friends.”

Often at the reference desk I don’t answer a patron’s question but, instead, seek to find someone who can provide a good answer — I’m more a  switchboard operator than fountain of knowledge.  So Aardvark’s approach of using networks to make the connection between question and human-supplied answer is intriguing.  As the article explains,

A new service offered by Aardvark (, however, provides specific recommendations. Its advice is always current, too, obtained on the fly from those we trust, like friends, but whose collective expertise far exceeds that of the relatively few people we happen to know personally.

Founded in 2007 and based in San Francisco, the company has just completed beta testing of its answer service and opened it to the public last week. It begins with the social network that you’ve established elsewhere. Presently, it requires Facebook; other networks will be added, it says.

. . .

Aardvark may come to be preferred over answer databases and “decision engines” if many people want a speedy answer from a fellow human being.

Facebook’s new headquarters and office arrangement

Yesterday’s Financial Times included an article by Michael Skapinker, “Time to be honest about open-plan offices,” which detailed the mainly negative aspects of working in cubicles; the author opines: “[w]hatever small gains open-plan offices do offer in enhanced communication are, in any event, wiped out by the loss of productivity.”

Two years ago we did a complete renovation of office space here at the law library.  Only three librarians have private offices; everyone else works out of a cubicle.   Visitors often remark, “well, that’s the Silicon Valley way, right?’   I do not sense that there is any loss of productivity; if anything, I think both communication and productivity have increased with our work environment.

And now I’m reading about Facebook’s new headquarters, which takes shared office space to a new level.

Facebook, next week, is moving into a large building in the Stanford Research Park which is just three blocks from my house.  Our neighborhood has a very active residents association and the latest neighborhood newsletter has an article by our research park observer which I’ve excerpted below.  See the bolded sentences for information about the Facebook “open plan” office scheme.

— Facebook will be moving into their new facility at 1601 California Avenue on May 14-15. Their current estimate is 750 employees, over a third of which live in Palo Alto. Another 200 live in San Francisco.  . . .

(1) They will be setting up their own shuttle
service from the University Avenue train station,
and distributing free Go-Passes to employees to
move as many as they can to/from San Francisco by train.
(2) They will encourage biking by those living locally.
(3) They will provide free gas for those that carpool.
(4) They will use valet parking on site to
increase the parking density behind the building, and
(5) They are now searching for parking space
to rent from other tenants along California
Avenue if additional space is needed.


. . . the building includes about 160,000 square feet on two floors. The marketing and administrative staff will occupy the bright spacious top floor; the engineering staff the more cloistered bottom floor. No cubicles. People will work four to a table the size of modest dining room table.The cafeteria is spacious and their new chef will prepare three meals a day for employees, and well as endless snacks, all designed to keep the employees close at hand. Facebook’s growth rate is measured by the week rather than the year. They are advancing into Europe with great speed, and their fastest growth demographic are the oldsters, the grandparents who like to look at the pictures of their grandkids. They are now translated into 40 languages thanks to their members who have kindly provided the translation for free. All they had to do was ask.

. . .



College Terrace Residents’ Association eNews
May 4, 2009