The Path Matters
Let's imagine I were able to travel through time and I went back to my 2004 self and tell him to start a social network. I explained to him that the goal was to make everyone in the world more open and connected. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen complications in time travel I wasn't able to give him any more direction than that. What would he do?
I'm pretty sure that, given those instructions, young Boz would build a social network and make it immediately available to everyone. It would obviously seem like a mistake to him to limit membership to a small subset of the population. Some other social network might come along and just open its doors to everyone and he would never overtake them!
As you probably already know, the situation I describe actually happened; there was one social network that grew incrementally while another opened its doors to the world. Fast forward ten years and things haven't turned out the way young Boz might have expected. As it turns out, the path Facebook took to connecting everyone in the world was not the shortest -- and that has made all the difference. By starting small and expanding outward we built a community. By integrating networks that had originally been separate we had to focus on privacy. By growing incrementally rather than throwing the floodgates open all at once we were able to focus on keeping a consistent design and building scalable infrastructure. These things became part of the DNA of our company and they affect everything we build.
At each point in the punctuated growth of our user base we have had to refine our product to make it more general and more universal. We react to their feedback and usage of the product. At the same time, our user base is itself evolving not only in composition but also in their comfort level with new technologies. People are sharing content today at a level that would have been unthinkable when this company started, so our technologies and others also shape their sensibilities. In other words, if we had tried to jump straight to the end state, we would have never gotten it right.
In technology we are constantly looking to the future and trying to see things the way the could be. Once we have a vision we want to work towards we tend to choose the shortest path to get to that place. On projects of sufficiently narrow scope this is clearly the right thing to do. When it comes to strategy, however, our success has come from not concerning ourselves with the entire path to the goal but rather focusing primarily on the next step in that direction. By taking one step at a time and iterating we are able to adapt quickly to a constantly changing landscape and bring our users along for the ride.
As it turns out, it really is all about the journey and not the destination.