By Mark Zuckerberg
I just shared our community update and quarterly results. There are four big themes I’m focused on for the year ahead: communities, private messaging, commerce tools for small businesses, and building the next computing platform. Here’s what I said about each on our earnings call:
Our community and business had a strong end of the year. As Covid continued to keep many of us apart and at home, people and businesses continued relying on our services to stay in touch and create economic opportunity. 2.6 billion people now use one or more of our apps each day and more than 200 million businesses — mostly small businesses — use our free tools to reach customers.
Those numbers give a sense of scale, but some of the stories we hear show the impact. Groups have formed where Covid long-haulers are helping each other through a scary experience where there’s not much else to turn to. Teachers are sending class assignments to students through WhatsApp. Local bookstores and coffee shops are using Instagram to let customers know they’re open for curbside pick-up. People came together to raise over $1.8 billion for nonprofits and personal causes through our fundraising tools last year — including $175 million for Covid-related causes alone. I’m proud of the role our services played in helping people support each other during what has been such a hard time.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time on recent earnings calls talking about our election integrity efforts, so I’m not going to discuss them at length today, but I do want to call out that, according to our estimates, we easily surpassed our goal to help 4 million people register to vote as part of the largest effort to distribute authoritative voting information in recent history — and I want to thank everyone in our teams and outside involved with that effort.
Today I’m going to focus on our product work, and specifically I’m going to focus on four themes that I’m excited about for the year ahead: communities, private messaging, commerce tools for small businesses, and building the next computing platform.
Let’s start with communities. I think that helping people build communities is one of the most important things that we can do. Our social fabric is made of multiple different layers through which we get our social support. First, we all have friends and family. That’s the most personal layer. Then we have communities we’re part of — where we feel a sense of purpose and belonging, explore interests, develop skills, grow as individuals, and meet new people. And finally, there’s the safety net that society and government provide. In many parts of the world, there’s been an unfortunate decline in community participation over the last several decades – that’s that second layer. This isn’t something that we can solve alone, but I think we can help. So now that we’ve helped billions of people stay connected with friends and family, helping everyone find and participate in communities that are meaningful to them has been our next goal. We even updated our mission a few years ago to reflect this, making it: “give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.”
Today, more than 600 million people are members of a group on Facebook that they consider to be meaningful in their lives. This has grown steadily over time — and I hear all the time from people who are in parenting groups that they’re a major resource as they navigate raising kids, or from people who found a group that shares the same health condition and they can lean on that community for knowledge and support, or from people who’ve moved to a new place and joined local groups to meet people and get situated.
Our product focus now is to develop this community infrastructure beyond feeds and message boards to help people build and run full self-sustaining community institutions. So we’re building tools to help groups get things done together and provide support for more people that span messaging, video chat, and even communities’ own websites. And we are exploring different ways to raise funds, including donations, merchandise and membership fees, to help group leaders support their community’s operations, and hire people for different roles needed to build sustainable communities for the long term.
As we continue to focus on this, we need to make sure that the communities people connect with are healthy and positive, and that’s something we’ve been focused on for a while now. One way of course that we do this is by taking down groups that break our rules against things like violence or hate speech. In September, we shared that we had removed more than 1 million groups in the last year alone. But there are also a lot of groups that we may not want to encourage people to join, even if they don’t violate our policies. So for example, we stopped recommending civic and political groups in the US ahead of the elections. We’re continuing to fine tune how this works, but now we plan to keep civic and political groups out of recommendations for the long term, and we plan to expand that policy globally. To be clear, this is a continuation of work we’ve been doing for a while to turn down the temperature and discourage divisive conversations and communities.
Now, along these same lines, we’re currently considering steps we could take to reduce the amount of political content in News Feed as well. We’re still working through exactly the best ways to do this. And to be clear, of course we’ll still enable people to engage in political groups and discussions if they want to. These can often be important and helpful. They can be ways to organize grassroots movements, speak out against injustice, or learn from people with different perspectives. So we want these discussions to be able to keep happening. But one of the top pieces of feedback we’re hearing from our community right now is that people don’t want politics and fighting to take over their experience on our services.
So one theme for this year is that we’re going to continue to focus on helping millions more people participate in healthy communities and we’re going to focus even more on being a force for bringing people closer together.
Next, let’s talk about private messaging. As we’ve discussed before, while people enjoy connecting with friends and communities in the digital equivalent of a town square in apps like Facebook and Instagram, the fastest growing social experiences are about connecting privately in the digital equivalent of the living room in services like WhatsApp and Messenger. That’s why we kicked off a big effort a couple of years ago to re-imagine what a modern social platform would look like if you built it from the bottom up to be privacy-first.
We identified several core principles. A private social platform should be built around the most intimate interactions that we have, and that’s one-on-one conversations. The most important aspect of privacy and security is that your conversations should stay between you. That means your conversations should always be end-to-end encrypted and they should disappear when you’re done with them. Safety and reducing spam matter too, and that means we should maintain a minimum amount of metadata to build sophisticated tools to stop bad actors using these services. And you should have choice of what services you use, so we should make messaging as interoperable as possible across our apps. And finally, no matter what, we should only store people’s data in countries where we know we can keep it secure — and we should continue opposing data localization in countries with weak records on human rights or privacy.
I think these are the privacy principles that matter most to people — first and foremost people care that their conversations stay private, but after that people care about safety and other convenience too. And from this perspective, WhatsApp — and the direction we’re heading in with Messenger — are the best private social apps available.
We have a lot of competitors who make claims about privacy that are often misleading. Apple recently released so-called nutrition labels which focus largely on metadata apps collect rather than the privacy and security of people’s actual messages. But iMessage stores non-end-to-end encrypted backups of your messages by default unless you disable iCloud, so Apple and governments have the ability to access most people’s messages. So when it comes to what matters most — protecting people’s messages, I think that WhatsApp is clearly superior.
Now, since I try to use these earnings calls to discuss aspects of business strategy that I think are important for investors to understand, I do want to highlight that we increasingly see Apple as one of our biggest competitors. iMessage is a key linchpin of their ecosystem. It comes pre-installed on every iPhone and they’ve preferenced it with private APIs and permissions, which is why iMessage is the most used messaging service in the US. And now, we’re also seeing Apple’s business depend more and more on gaining share in services against us and other developers. Apple has every incentive to use their dominant platform position to interfere with how our apps and other apps work, which they regularly do to preference their own. This impacts the growth of millions of businesses around the world, including with their upcoming iOS 14 changes, so many small businesses will no longer be able to reach their customers with targeted ads. Apple may say that they’re doing this to help people, but the moves clearly track their competitive interests. I think this dynamic is important for people to understand because we and others are going to be up against it for the foreseeable future.
Our messaging services continue growing, but it’s an uphill battle and our services just need to be that much better as private social platforms to succeed. To make sure we remain the best, a couple years back we kicked off a number of long-term efforts that have started shipping recently, and more of these projects around strengthening encryption, ephemerality, interoperability and offering other tools are going to be shipping throughout this year.
Now, let’s talk about commerce. Our goal here is to give every individual entrepreneur and small business access to the same kinds of tools that historically only the big companies have had access to. We’ve always cared about this, but the pandemic has made it more urgent.
It used to be the case that only large companies could afford to have analytics or targeted advertising capacity to reach their customers. It was expensive to build these capabilities and often required building teams and storing large amounts of data in-house, which most small businesses can’t do. One of the things I’m most proud of is that we build the tools so we can offer these same capabilities to small businesses, often for free. So when you hear people say that we hold a lot of data, that’s because hundreds of millions of businesses that would have otherwise had to do this individually and would have had no easy way of doing so are now using our services to help them reach customers. When you hear people say that we’re connecting data from lots of sources, that’s to help small businesses reach customers more efficiently. Big companies often do this themselves, but small businesses can’t a lot of times, so we do this for them. When you hear people argue that we shouldn’t do these things — or that we should go back to the old days of untargeted television ads – I think that what they are really arguing for is a regression where only the largest companies have this capacity, small businesses are severely disadvantaged, and competition is diminished.
With our commerce tools, we’ve made it so a business can set up a shop once, and then they’ll have an online storefront in both Facebook and Instagram immediately, and eventually on WhatsApp and Messenger as well. We recently expanded checkout to all US businesses, making the process of buying a lot more seamless. And as lockdowns have continued, we saw more small businesses and creators also use Paid Online Events to make money.
WhatsApp is also an important part of our strategy here. More than 175 million people message a WhatsApp business account every day and we’re building new features to make it even easier to transact with businesses in the app. We introduced carts, which lets people browse catalogs, select multiple products, and send the order as a message to the business.
Now, to clarify some confusion that we’ve seen, this update does not change the privacy of anyone’s messages with friends and family. All of these messages are end-to-end encrypted – which means we can’t see or hear what you say, and we never will unless the person you message chooses to share it. And business messages will only be hosted on our infrastructure if the business chooses to do so. We want everyone to know the lengths we go to protect your private messages, so we’re moving the date of this update back to give everyone time to understand what the update means.
Finally, let’s discuss our work building the next computing platform. This is one of the areas where I’m most excited about our progress heading into 2021. If you look at the history of computing, every 15 years or so a new major platform emerges that integrates technology more naturally and ubiquitously into our lives — starting with mainframes, then PCs, then browser-based computing, and then mobile. And I believe the next logical step is an immersive computing platform that delivers this magical sense of presence — that you’re really there with another person or in another place. Our phones can’t deliver this, and neither can any technology that has come before it. This is going to unlock the types of social experiences I’ve dreamed of building since I was a kid, and it’s what we’re building towards at Facebook Reality Labs.
We launched Quest 2 in October and it’s on track to be the first mainstream virtual reality headset. We designed it so anyone could jump in — with the best and most immersive experience out there — and at a price that makes it available to as many people as possible. I think that Facebook has done more than any other company to bring virtual reality to the mainstream. It’s been great to see so many people embrace this, especially this year during the pandemic. We’re seeing people use it to play games with friends when they can’t be together in person, do workouts in their living room, or to meet with colleagues while working from home. There are a lot of reasons Quest 2 was one of the hot holiday gifts this year.
We’re also seeing a growing ecosystem of developers building amazing new experiences for the platform. Right now, more than 60 Oculus developers are generating revenue in the millions — nearly twice as many as a few months ago.
In previous quarters, I’ve talked about our long term, future goals when it comes to virtual reality, but I think that this quarter’s results show that this future is here.
Augmented reality glasses are going to be a key part of this vision too. We’re still working on the foundational technology to underpin these — and the ultimate product is still some years away. But this year we’re excited to deliver a first glimpse of what will be when we launch our first pair of smart glasses from Ray-Ban, in partnership with Luxottica.
During this pandemic, we’ve also seen Portal has proven to be a great way for people to stay connected — and especially over the holiday as families had to celebrate apart. This year, we’re focused on expanding the role of Portal and virtual reality presence into the workplace — bringing more features that improve remote presence, collaboration and productivity.
2021 has a lot of unknowns. We don’t know when vaccines will be widely available, when our teams will be back in the office, or when our lives are going to start feeling normal again. But what I do know is that we’re going to keep investing in and innovating on the big themes I discussed here in order to put more power in the hands of people and small businesses. I personally believe that technology can unlock progress and opportunity — and that the full story of the internet has not yet been written. That’s why I’m hopeful for the year ahead, and grateful that you’re all on this journey with us.