What Mark Zuckerberg didn't say (but should have)

September 12, 2012: 8:48 AM ET

In his first public appearance since Facebook's disastrous IPO, Mark Zuckerberg didn't exactly offer any insight into what happened.

Mark Zuckerberg at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco. Photo: C Flanigan/WireImage

FORTUNE --  It's incredible what can transpire in six short months. For Facebook, it's been a roller coaster ride, with a highly-anticipated IPO derailed by a precipitous stock dive few saw coming. Now, shares of the social network are worth almost half of what they were last May.

So when Mark Zuckerberg took the stage yesterday at TechCrunch's Disrupt conference -- his first appearance since Facebook went public -- there were questions many hoped he'd answer about the past, present, and future of a social network coded in a Harvard dorm room that now verges on 950 million users.

Over the course of nearly 30 minutes, Zuckerberg was at times comfortable and wry, other times, visibly nervous, speeding through answers by reciting recent user statistics. In particular, he focused on three key areas. Here's what we did -- and didn't -- learn:

* The IPO was "disappointing." (And...?) At times, the social network's plunging stock overshadows the actual service. Zuckerberg has admitted in the past his reluctance to go public, and now it's not hard to see why. Given recent events, conference attendees were eager to hear more from Facebook's CEO. Does he regret going public? Was Facebook (FB) initially way overpriced? How would Zuckerberg have done things differently? In reality, Zuckerberg revealed very little: the stock drop has been "disappointing," and when it comes to company morale, "it doesn't help," both of which are hardly earth-shattering revelations despite the flurry of media headlines yesterday. On this front, Zuck's appearance was a missed opportunity for some real insight.

MORE: Facebook's China problem

* Why Facebook's mobile apps really sucked. By now, it's no secret that Facebook's biggest challenge and weakness has been mobile, a fact Zuckerberg has admitted. The company is still in the process of figuring out how to ramp up its monetization efforts there. Even worse:  its mobile products were slow and buggy, rendering the Facebook mobile experience far inferior to the desktop. According to Zuckerberg, that has to do with the company's use of HTML5, an increasingly-popular programming language that often allows apps to run across devices with less effort. It was also the basis for Facebook's mobile apps. "Probably we will look back and say that that was the biggest mistake, the biggest strategic mistake we made," Zuckerberg said. The latest Facebook mobile apps for Apple (AAPL) devices were programmed from the ground up for them, which means more work for Facebook, but a better user experience. As for an updated Android version? "It'll be ready when it's ready."

* Facebook search will happen (eventually). Beyond Facebook on mobile, could a deep, rich search experience also be in its future? Zuckerberg certainly thinks so. Though the social network currently has a partnership with Microsoft (MSFT) to use its Bing service, Zuckerberg thinks the potential for Facebook to roll out a more compelling service is vast. After all, Facebook users do upload 250 million photos and "like" and comment on updates 3.2 billion times every day. On top of that, they're performing 1 billion daily search queries, often seeking out other users, but also pages, brand pages, and apps. Given the sheer amount of user data the social network is sitting on, Zuckerberg implies the company could offer search with unparrelled depth, Facebook doesn't merely offer more qualitative results with say, friends' recommendations for a great sushi place, but answers users questions. Which, if Zuckerberg and crew can accomplish, would be a powerful feature, indeed.

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About This Author
JP Mangalindan
JP Mangalindan
Writer, Fortune

JP Mangalindan is a San Francisco-based writer at Fortune, covering Silicon Valley. Since joining in 2010, he has written on a wide array of topics, from the turnaround of eBay to the evolution of net neutrality. A graduate of Fordham University, Mangalindan has also written for GQ, Popular Science, and Entertainment Weekly.

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