A tour of Facebook's Silicon Valley campus

Posted at 02/06/2014 11:07 AM

There’s a downside to giving my mother a new tablet device. She’s now more addicted to social networking than I. There’s this eager impulse to post and share photos as quickly as possible. I also get the incessant questions on how to do this and that function. Such is the handiwork of Facebook.

On February 4, Facebook celebrated its tenth anniversary. Has it only been ten years? Facebook is such a part of life now that many would find it hard to imagine a day without it.

In his personal Facebook page, Mark Zuckerberg, wrote on the day of Facebook’s anniversary that he never thought that the social networking site would be as big as it is today. He just cared more about wanting to connect people.

Zuckerberg said he’s even more excited about the next ten years. “The first ten years were about bootstrapping this network. Now we have the resources to help people across the world solve even bigger and more important problems,” Zuckerberg wrote.

Big words for an enterprise that began in a Harvard dorm room. Now Facebook’s headquarters sits on a sprawling property in Menlo Park, California. It’s fondly called “campus” by Facebook denizens not just because of its size and feel but, in all likelihood, because of the mindset of the people working there.

I had the chance to visit this temple of social networking last fall along with other foreign journalists. The street sign revealed the fact that we’ve reached Facebook’s famous digs: It’s a big blue and white thumbs-up sign, now the universal symbol for “like,” and the street name reads “1 Hacker Way.”

The receiving area is modest, but there are treats on the reception counter: tiny boxes of assorted jelly beans and foil-wrapped chocolate truffles. Very whimsical.

But the main ‘treat’ is when you step out into the main campus bathed in the San Francisco, California sun. It’s like stepping into Disney Land’s Main Street: A complex of low-rise buildings with splashes of bright, primary colors here and there, the streets lined with trees and manicured lawns, and an assortment of enticing shops and establishments.

We were hoping that a Facebook executive (maybe even Zuckerberg himself) would sit down with us for an interview. Many of us were raring to discuss issues on journalism in the social media world, and the business and economics of social networking, but we were disappointed when no face time was granted to us, and all we got was a walking tour.

So what did we see in Facebook’s campus? There are several dining outlets, all free for employees: a café, barbeque place, sushi restaurant, burger shack, American-style diner, pizzeria, coffee shop, and a very popular sweets shop where one can have a fill of cakes, cookies, ice cream and yoghurt with an assortment of mix-ins.

And if, after all that, you still get hungry in the office, there are pantries packed with snacks, fruits and drinks that you can grab as you please.

The offices have lots of capricious touches all around, perhaps to encourage creativity and out-of-the-box thinking: a graffiti wall, a phone booth with a Superman costume, various wall art, Ping Pong tables, treadmill machines, etc.

And as if the entertainment was not enough, there’s an arcade with video games where weekly ‘tournaments’ are held, an arts and crafts workshop, and many more. With all the attractions (and distractions), I wonder how people there get any work done.

I’m amazed (sometimes baffled) that Facebook, the single biggest social network in the world which has changed life as we know it, churns out its work from this veritable playground slash amusement park.

And yet when you listen to Zuckerberg, playtime is farthest from his mind. “Today, social networks are mostly about sharing moments. In the next decade, they’ll also help you answer questions and solve complex problems… In the next decade, technology will enable us to create many more ways to capture and communicate new kinds of experiences,” Zuckerberg wrote.

Perhaps this is the key to Zuckerberg’s success: he sees the glass half full, he views the world with rose colored glasses, he sees opportunities when people see stumbling blocks.

And it seems there are stumbling blocks ahead. A report from Reuters showed a number of people who are unsure of Facebook’s future. “I don’t like Facebook anymore… it was a good way to get in contact with my friends, but now it seems like it just distracts me when I need to get work done,” one user said.

Another one had this to say: “I started using (Facebook) every day, and checking how many likes I got, and it made me feel like I was a superficial person.”

Still another said, “There’s a lot of unnecessary pages, too many ads, and then of course, all the stuff about your privacy being invaded, that’s not good either.”

There was another design element in Facebook’s campus that I almost forgot to mention: It’s a yellow brick road much like in the “Wizard of Oz” which took Dorothy to the Emerald City where the Wizard resides. Perhaps it’s a metaphor to Facebook, a social networking behemoth of seemingly infinite possibilities, straddling the road between real and imagined, fantasy and reality.