Of course there is only one Steve Jobs but as I watched Mark Zucberberg give the keynote address at Facebook’s F8 developer’s conference last week, I couldn’t help but think about the many Jobs keynotes I’ve witnessed through the years.
The timing, the graphics on the screen and even the video at the end looked like Zuckerberg or his handlers paid a lot of attention to Jobs — the master of all tech presenters. And like a Jobs keynote, it began with Zuckerberg talking about the success of existing products, even before introducing new ones.
No “one more thing”
One big difference between the two presenters is that Jobs always waits till the end to introduce the blockbuster product or feature. Jobs typically goes through several interesting but not all that earth shaking items and then says “one more thing,” which is typically the headline story. At F8, Zuckerberg started with Facebook’s new look and later introduced some interesting but far less important apps and partnerships such as the ability to stream and share music via Spotify or allow non-US users to share their Netflix picks on Facebook. Unlike a Jobs presentation that builds towards a crescendo, Zucberberg’s was like a freight train losing steam as it pulled into the station.
Unlike Jobs, but like Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates before him, Zuckerberg started out his keynote with a bit of celebrity charged self-deprecating humor. Similar to numerous Microsoft keynotes, Zuckerberg was preceded on stage by a famous comic. In this case it was Saturday Night Live’s Andy Samberg, playing Zuck the way he does on TV. To me the humor fell a bit flat, except when Samberg mimicked Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Zuckberg in the movie The Social Network. But at least Zuckerberg showed that he has a sense of humor, unlike Jesse Eisenberg’s caricature of him.
Could Zuck be causing “change fatigue”
There are of course big differences between the companies and the products. For one thing, when Apple introduces a new version of a product — including a new operating system like Lion — it doesn’t require users to adapt to major user interface changes. It may offer up a change like the radically different Launchpad application loader that makes OS X look like an iPad, but it doesn’t force these on users. They’re optional. For those who prefer the old way, Lion can easily look like the operating system that preceded it.
When Facebook makes a change, it more or less forces it on its user base, which often results in the type of backlash we’ve already heard from users who were happier with things just the way they were.
To be fair, Facebook is an engineering-driven company that knows that it has to keep up or ahead of the competition to maintain its position. With Google+ breathing down their back, Zuck and company need to continue to innovate. But, just as stagnation leads to death, forcing users to adapt to changes can lead to change fatigue. So far, Facebook has been able to weather the storms created by users unhappy with its many changes, but that may not always be the case.
No Steve Jobs
At the end of the day, Zuckerberg is likely not the next Steve Jobs. Although he shares Jobs passion, it’s not yet clear whether the 27 year-old Facebook founder shares Jobs’ depth or his perception of what people want even before they want it. Even though Apple doesn’t hit a home run every time at bat, its product changes rarely stir-up anger or resentment. And unlike Facebook, which is, so far, a one-product company, Jobs’ Apple has managed to reinvent itself by adding entire categories of products without killiing off old ones. Even the Apple II remained in the product line after the Macintosh came on the scene.
On the other hand, Zuckerberg did create a social network that has so-far attracted more than 750 million users around the globe so he’s obviously doing something right.
Disclosure: Larry Magid serves as co-director of ConnectSafely.org, which receives financial support from Facebook