On Wednesday morning, the campus of Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi (IIT) was abuzz with activity. Students made a beeline to the Dogra Hall, which soon was packed to the gills. After all, it’s not every day that Mark Zuckerberg comes to town.
The Facebook Inc. founder and chief executive on Wednesday hosted his first Town Hall in India at one of the most prestigious engineering institutes in the heart of the national capital. About 900 students and 200 dignitaries attended the Q&A session where Zuckerberg fielded a number of questions from students on topics ranging from Facebook’s Free Basics programme and net neutrality to his visit to the Taj Mahal in Agra and even any Eureka moments he had.
The first question addressed to Zuckerberg was about his keen interest in India. “India is the world’s biggest democracy. Here one billion people do not have access to Internet so we want to connect everyone… It ties in with Facebook’s mission of connecting people to the Internet… We care very deeply about serving these people and getting the next billion people online,” said Zuckerberg.
With 130 million users, India is the second largest user-base for Facebook after the US, he added. Globally, Facebook has 1.3 billion users.
On the controversial net neutrality issue, Zuckerberg was expectedly diplomatic and polite, striking the right chord with the audience when he unequivocally declared that “Facebook and Internet.org support net neutrality 100%. We support net neutrality and are doing a lot in terms of regulation and are building an open platform like the Free Basics (the Internet.org program has been rebranded as Free Basics) that can be used without filtering any content”.
“Those pushing for net neutrality have access to the net already. Facebook has a moral responsibility to see that the rules that benefit us should not be twisted by the operators. We need regulation to prevent content from hurting people. But, at the same time, students getting free access to the Internet is good, we want that. Fishermen in a village having free access to the net to sell—that’s good. Around the world regulation is for blocking things that hurt people and that’s how it should be. Zero-rating is necessary to ensure that we are able to connect everyone to the Internet,” he added.
Asked about how he plans to connect those who don’t have access to the Internet in India, Zuckerberg spoke about the efforts made by his Internet.org programme.
A Facebook-led initiative, Internet.org, or Free Basics as it is now called, brings together technology leaders, non-profits and local communities to connect two-thirds of the world that doesn’t have Internet access.
“Internet.org is live in more than 24 countries and 15 million people now have access to the Internet now thanks to this programme,” said Zuckerberg at the townhall.
He went on to talk about the three As—availability, affordability and awareness—and how they are the three big barriers in India that need to be taken care of. He said that as a company Facebook would like to ensure that Internet is available to everyone and affordable. Facebook is also focusing on their apps that uses less data and therefore makes it more affordable.
On Internet awareness, Zuckerberg said the Free Basics programme was useful as people get access to basic information related to education, health, job listings and Wikipedia. “Once this awareness is created, they would be willing to pay for it,” he said.
For Facebook, Zuckerberg said, health and science are also focus areas. “We are shifting our resources to cure long-term diseases. This way we can make a big dent, if not in our lives, then at least in the lives of our kids.”
Another interesting question at the townhall was what if Zuckerberg were gifted with some supernatural powers, how would he use it? “Through Occulus (virtual reality technology), we can build superpowers for people so that they can be teleported. Imagine putting on a headset and playing ping-pong with someone in another location (through teleporting). You can then play underwater or in space or even anti-gravity. Go anywhere in the world you want using technology,” he said.
Did he have any Eureka moment when he founded Facebook? Zuckerberg replied in the negative saying that he did not have any revelation that Facebook would be awesome. “It’s the media that likes to trivialize it (the success of a company), but it’s not like that at all.”
He went on to talk about how the idea of Facebook emerged when he started off by building something he cared about and built it for his college community. At that time, he thought that one day it would be awesome if someone builds it for the world.
“We kept going along the way, we did not have any resources and people thought that social media was a fad. Nobody thought it would make any money. But we kept going…there’s no logic. People say that I built Facebook, Steve Jobs built Apple, but that’s not true. No one person can do that. It’s all about team work. There are days when I don’t know what to do next and that is when the team is important,” he said.
Talking about the elements of an ideal start-up, the Facebook founder said, “These days the culture is to start a company before you know what you are going to do. It is important to have an idea you care about and then work towards that.”
Zuckerberg was surprisingly candid when asked if there was any decision he regretted and if he had made mistakes. “Oh, I have made tonnes of mistakes. Product mistakes, tech mistakes in trying to build Facebook, but that is the way you learn, through trial and error. You need to focus on the good that you do that helps you plough through the mistakes. We have a lot to learn trying to do new stuff in improving the world.”
On his visit to Taj Mahal, Zuckerberg said he thought it was even more beautiful than the pictures he’d seen. “I go to different countries and most of my time is spent inside conference rooms and they look the same all over the world. So I really enjoyed visiting the monument of love.”
When asked if he was recognized at the Taj, he replied that a young girl tried to take his picture, slipped off the sidewalk and fell into a bush.
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