Facebook CEO tries to revive Web discussion

Over the five days of the SXSW Interactive conference, there are some 120 panels that discuss and dissect Web 2.0 with topics ranging from “Pimp My Film’s Website” to “Digital Cinema for Indies.” However, the biggest news to come out of the event was, appropriately enough, virtual.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has a reputation for being a poor public speaker, so those attending his Sunday keynote discussion hoped moderator Sarah Lacy would steer the conversation. However, Lacy, a columnist for Business Week and writer of an upcoming book on Zuckerberg and Web 2.0, ended up steering the conversation directly into oncoming traffic.

Utilizing an interview style that alternated between confrontational and uncomfortably familiar, a hair-twirling Lacy quickly alienated an audience that took issue with frequent plugs for her upcoming book and her lack of direct questions.

Rather than sit quietly, however, the audience turned to their laptops and mobiles, ripping Lacy and the panel to shreds on Twitter and other networking sites.

By the 40-minute point, Lacy still hadn’t opened the conversation to questions and the blogging had reached a fevered pitch; the audience began to voice its disgust. Zuckerberg, annoyed by Lacy’s claim that he was dodging questions, said, “You have to ask questions.” Audience applause lasted nearly four minutes.

The active heckling began shortly thereafter, which Lacy did not help by becoming defensive, expressing surprise that the audience thought the panel was going badly. With 10 minutes left, Lacy turned Zuckerberg over to questions from the crowd — surrendering to what she called “mob rule.”

Afterward, the convention was buzzing — not about Zuckerberg’s talk, but about how the audience had effectively taken control of the panel without so much as raising their hands. Only tapping their fingers. You really had to be there. Or on Twitter.

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