Facebook makes a big show of pointing out it’s hacker origins, and talking about how that is the company’s true competitive advantage.
But with the recent screw-up regarding changing every users visible email to an @facebook.com, which THEN changed the email addresses for contacts on the phone of every user that had Facebook contact sync enabled via the FB mobile app, one thing has become clear.
Facebook can’t be a startup anymore. It’s too big, too sprawling, and, most importantly, doesn’t have the luxury of having teams make self-directed decisions in isolation.
Every interview with Facebook’s teams talks about how often they push out updates, technical innovation, and the hacker culture. Which is great. But a key element of hacker culture is a lack of fear, when it comes to breaking things. That works great, when you do one thing, or even a few things, very well.
But Facebook is trying to do everything, all at once. And it’s clear that there isn’t really a good enough way of keeping track, because this was an obvious, avoidable problem.
Contact Sync only shares the visible information you have access to, for your friends, and saves it to your device. This is a well-established feature, and users have gotten used to it. Legislating an across the board change to that visible information, without even giving users notice, would necessarily have the impact it did.
And since 1) no one called this out, or 2) no one realized it was a serious issue, I have to assume that this is either a failure of management, or a failure of communication between teams.
When I see a situation like this, where great work is still being done, talent is obviously there, but huge, avoidable issues like this crop up, I have to assume it’s because it gets harder for the right hand to know when the left hand is doing, at scale.
Which is why companies introduce layers of management, approval processes, scheduled updates, and other stuff that I am certain most Facebook employees consider ‘bullshit that other (lame?) companies deal with’.
This is the real secret behind why massive multinational conglomerates don’t act like startups - because in the biggest leagues of business? It doesn’t actually work all that well.