Andreessen and the Long March to Real Names
I have previously written that the most profound legacy of Facebook in terms of Internet behavior is:
Facebook’s primacy legacy is not its site and service, but the profound changes it drove in Internet behavior. Facebook made Internet users comfortable with using their real names and bringing their real lives onto the Internet. Whether using real names is good or bad in certain situations, this was a real leap.
The reason it succeeded in changing behavior was:
Facebook modified this, taking it to new level. How? It found the group of people – college students – most comfortable with having their names associated with a real-time lens into their lives, whether through their own status updates and their friends comments. In doing so, it became compelling. Watching how much fun the college kids were having, the rest of us jumped in, in many cases more cautiously, by exercising a little more judgment about what we posted, but being more open than ever before. By starting with a group that “didn’t know better” or “didn’t care,” it pulled the rest of us in.
In this interview in Wired this month, Marc Andreessen tells a resonant story about the shift from pseudonyms to real names — from the perspective of someone who lived through Mosaic, Netscape and Ning.
Andreessen: I often wonder if we should have built social into the browser from the start. The idea that you want to be connected with your friends, your social circle, the people you work with—we could have built that into Mosaic. But at the time, the culture on the Internet revolved around anonymity and pseudonyms.
Anderson: You built in cookies so that sites could remember each user.
Andreessen: But we didn’t build in the concept of identity. I think that might have freaked people out.
Anderson: It might still.
Andreessen: Yeah, I’m not sure at the time people were ready for it. I don’t think it was an accident that it took, you know, 13 or 14 years after we introduced the browser for people to say, “I want my identity to be a standard part of this.”
Anderson: And it took Mark Zuckerberg to figure out how to make it pay off.
Andreessen: It was really a generational shift—a group of young entrepreneurs, including Andrew Mason and Mark Zuckerberg, who weren’t burned by the dotcom boom and bust. I came to Ning with all these psychic scars. They just looked at the Internet and said, “This stuff is really cool, and we want to build something new.”