My journey at Slide (part 2)
When I finished up writing part 1 of my journey at Slide yesterday, I had just recounted becoming “the Top Friends guy”, savvy readers might have noted that I had not moved off of Dave’s couch at the time. I am uncertain whether it is a record to be proud of, but I held the position of “the guy on Dave’s couch” for two months. With the leadup to the “F8” conference I didn’t have a whole lot of time to find an apartment, Dave being an all around nice guy and amazing cook, wasn’t helping my motivation to leave either. That said, I’m a delightful house guest, honest.
Shortly after the initial successes of the Top Eight product, and the launch of “FunWall” (renamed “FunSpace” later), Slide quickly converted the desktop client team to the “Facebook Team” with 4-5 engineers hacking on Facebook applications to capitalize as quickly as possible on the wild-west nature of the platform at the time. We subsequently launched another couple apps, such as “My Questions” an application that allowed you to poll your friends (likely our most “useful” application). I ended up writing another application alongside Top Eight called “Fortune Cookie”, contrasted to My Questions, it was probably our most useless application. The application was absolutely brilliant (Mike and Max get credit here again), the profile box for the application was a picture of a fortune cookie with a fortune overlaid. Brilliant. If/when the user clicked through to the application’s canvas page, they were met with a simple grid of checkboxes and friends’ faces, checkboxes checked with a giant blue button that said “Invite your Friends!”.
Never underestimate the power of “Select All”, Fortune Cookie exploded, alongside our “Magic 8 Ball” application (guess what that was), it spread through the Facebook ecosystem like an epidemic. By mid June Top Eight was renamed Top Friends after we bumped the number of “top friends” you could list from 8 to 24 (innovation!); with the power of an intrisicly simple value-proposition to users, 24 friend tiles and “Select All”, Top Friends held the rank of #1 application on Facebook. Following Top Friends was iLike, a major initial success, with Fortune Cookie pulling in third place. Further down the list were a couple of familiar applications: Free Gifts, created by Zach Allia, a Northwestern student at the time and a regular on the #facebook channel on Freenode; Rock You!’s “X Me” application was likely one of the first acquisitions on the Facebook platform, after being created by a student who joined the #facebook channel frantically asking for help as his server was crumbling under the load of pure virality, and SuperPoke! an application created by a then part-time Microsoft employee and two friends.
The first couple weeks of the Facebook platform were sheer insanity, determined to one-up our competitors Rock You!, Slide acquired SuperPoke! and the three engineers that wrote it, Nik, Will and Jonathan. Slide was determined to own the market of “virtually do virtual things to your virtual friends on Facebook”. In short order the SuperPoke team moved down from Seattle to join the “Facebook Team” in Slide’s office at 2nd and Howard, Jon went to the metrics team (being a PhD and all) while Nik and Will shared a desk and started learning Python to port SuperPoke! over to Slide’s stack to allow it to scale faster and better than could have been possible on the PHP/MySQL stack it used at the time. Prior to joining Slide, the SuperPoke! application icon was some picture of a goat Nik had plucked from the internets, by joining Slide they had access to real designers, not goats from Google Image Search. Slide’s most senior designer, Johnnie, can be credited with helping define the brand that would ultimately be synonymous with the Facebook platform and Slide: the SuperPoke sheep. While SuperPoke! and X Me battled it out for 4th and 5th place in the application rankings, journalists started writing articles discussing the Facebook platform, in both positive and negative light, without fail mentiong the absurdity of “throwing sheep” at your friends. I always got the impression that Mark Zuckerberg would have considered the Facebook platform successful when IBM ported Lotus Notes to it, being a “utility fetishist”, I can only imagine how “delighted” he must have been with the top applications on the platform being the likes of Top Friends, Fortune Cookie, Horoscopes, Graffiti, X Me and SuperPoke!.
After the SP guys had joined Slide, Facebook hosted a mid-morning event at their Palo Alto office to help kickstart some developer relations and have top application developers do some lightning-round style presentations. The meeting starting at 9, it was only logical that Nik, Will, Max and I meet at the Slide offices at 8:45; we piled into Max’s BMW M3 (a gorgeous car, I highly recommend it) and sped southwards from San Francisco on the 101. Despite driving between 90-100mph through rush-hour traffic towards Palo Alto, we arrived fashionably late; walking in during a presentation, Dave McClure announced to the whole room “Slide has arrived.”
Roll around in an M3 enough, have people announce your arrival enough and you too will feel like a Web 2.0 rockstar. Being the “Top Friends guy”, I certainly had a bit of an ego going, I still kind of do, but I’m far more modest now about being a complete badass.
The summer of 2007 was mostly a blur, the majority of my “workdays” ended up being 14-16 hours usually ending with Geoff, Sergio, Kasey and I drinking into the wee hours of the morning, pushing code and smoking on the fire escape (building management didn’t really care for that part). The night before the iPhone launched, a bunch of Sliders had arranged to wait in line in shifts at Apple’s Market St store (we were third in line). Given my schedule at the time, I worked most of the night and then manned the 4-7 a.m. shift in line. I didn’t even want an iPhone but Tony, the product manager we hired for Top Friends, and I hung out on the sidewalk, smoked fancy cigars and watched the streets get cleaned. My (now) fianceé was still in Texas finishing up with school, so I had nothing to do but hang out, drink, smoke, write code, push the site and sleep every now and again. My apartment, right in the middle of the colorful Tenderloin district, only served as a place to shower and crash. For the duration of my lease, I didn’t own any dishes and rarely had anything in the fridge other than left-over pizza and Cokes.
By the latter part of 2007 we hired Keith Rabois to be the VP of Business Development, presumably to help us ink deals with big important companies about big important things (with big important sacks of money). Initially, I hadn’t a clue what the hell Keith did, other than walk around in his shiney silk shirts talking on his fancy iPhone, loud enough to hear across the office. The layout of Slide’s office was such that on one end was the open floorplan engineering “pit” and on the other end, separated by a ping pong table and a copy machine were the “non-engineers”. The ping pong table was usually as far as I went. At some point, I don’t remember exactly when, I started consulting with Keith on product related matters. He had this chair by his desk, so I would stroll over, plop down and gab for longer than he probably had time for about subjects ranging from the latest Facebook gossip to long-term strategy; Keith’s involvement with Top Friends would only increase from then moving forward.
By the beginning of 2008, the Facebook platform wasn’t fun anymore. Too many emails contained the words “policy” and “violation” and often dastardly combinations of the two. At the same time, Slide had upped its commitment to Top Friends hiring Jason, who I had known for some time from the #facebook IRC channel, his compatriot Paul, and assigning Geoff, a senior QA engineer who had put up with my shit on the client team since I joined the company months earlier. I was promoted to Engineering Lead and shortly thereafter to Engineering Manager. My role had changed dramatically, no longer simply just a monkey coding like there was no tomorrow, I now had people I had to be accountable to, all the miserable hacks I had thrown into Top Friends in the previous 8 months I had to sheepishly explain to Jason and Paul, mentioning from time to time how I could do it better given the time.
Jason and Paul being hired and assigned to my team was likely the luckiest thing that ever happened to me at Slide, overnight I went from a hard-working “army of one” to part of a team of four hard-working bone crushers with an incredible drive to succeed. In a few short months we had shipped an “Awards” feature, built out a “Top Friends Profile” and started pushing our way back to the top.
In June, a reporter for CNet reported on a hole in the Top Friends Profile that allowed a user to view information about other users they could not have otherwise seen. The reporter used this an instrumental piece of a larger article bashing Facebook on their privacy record and the openness of the Faceobok platform. When Keith texted me that night, I rushed home and pushed a fix for the hole within the hour, went to dinner by myself and had the worst Pad Thai I’ve ever eaten, watching the exchange of emails between Slide’s and Facebook’s executive team on my Blackberry.
Top Friends had tens of millions of users and with the flick of a switch, Facebook took Top Friends offline.