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Jan 10

A conversation with an anonymous Facebook employee

This conversation transcript has some pretty fasinating details about some inner workings at Facebook. Looks like we are the beneficiaries of this potential breach of a couple of NDAs.

The amount of data and metadata they generate is mindboggling (essentially logging every click). And hugely scary from a privacy and security perspective. Imagine the datamining you could do on that data.

Some choice quotes:

Rumpus: When you say “click on somebody’s profile,” you mean you save our viewing history?

Employee: That’s right. How do you think we know who your best friends are? But that’s public knowledge; we’ve explicitly stated that we record that. If you look in your type-ahead search, and you press “A,” or just one letter, a list of your best friends shows up. It’s no longer organized alphabetically, but by the person you interact with most, your “best friends,” or at least those whom we have concluded you are best friends with.

Rumpus: In other words, the person you stalk the most.

Employee: No, it’s more than just that. It’s also messages, file posts, photos you’re tagged in with them, as well as your viewing of their profile and all of that. Essentially, we judge how good of a friend they are to you.

Employee: No, not in our office. Absolutely not. We have four data centers around the world. There’s one in Santa Clara, one in San Francisco, one in New York and one in London. And in each of those, there are approximately five to eight thousand servers. Each co-location of our servers has essentially the same data on it.

Employee: We track everything. Every photo you view, every person you’re tagged with, every wall-post you make, and so forth.

Employee: … The one comment I would make about that, is that we’ve definitely tried to continue expanding to 3rd- world countries. Take Iran — well, Iran is not a 3rd world country — but when the Iranian elections came up, and then the disputes, we found out they were using Facebook as a tool to organize themselves and expose their qualms and discontent with the government. So publicly we translated the entire site into Farsi within 36 hours. It was our second right-to-left language, which was actually really difficult for us. Literally the entire site is flipped in a mirror. The fact that we did it in thirty-six hours — they hired twenty some-odd translators, and engineers worked around the clock to get it rolled out — was pretty fucking phenomenal. We had at least three times as many user registrations per day the first day it was out, and it has been growing. So we’re definitely still serious about foreign outreach. And the thing is, we have such a gigantic market share in the larger sections of Europe, in Australia, in Mexico, in the States and Canada, and that’s where 99.9% of our ad revenue is and probably will be always — or at least will be the next five, ten years. So the fact that we’re breaching into these other markets mostly means just allowing family and friends to connect even more deeply, which is really our ultimate goal.

Rumpus: So tell me about the engineers.

Employee: They’re weird, and smart as balls. For example, this guy right now is single-handedly rewriting, essentially, the entire site. Our site is coded, I’d say, 90% in PHP. All the front end — everything you see — is generated via a language called PHP. He is creating HPHP, Hyper-PHP [a compiled language form of PHP], which means he’s literally rewriting the entire language.

Rumpus: Any changes in atmosphere after the move?

Employee: It was just nice to have everyone in one office. Before, any meetings that happened were inconvenient for most people. I mean, engineering was split up into three offices. It was a pain. Now there’s more unity, more ease of communication. Everything feels more internal. It’s super-friendly. I think the coolest thing about the work environment is the trust. They don’t care what, where, how, when, as long as you get your shit done. If you want to work at a bar, the ball game, a park, the roof, they don’t give a fuck. Just get your shit done. Hence I was able to ditch work, come have two pitchers with you, and I will literally be able to go back and get my work done. And it goes a long way. Because I know I can get these things done. I know I’m going to have to go back. And I may be there until ten or eleven tonight.

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