There’s an interesting article in the September 20 issue of The New Yorker on Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and founder of Facebook. Written by Jose Antonio Vargas it is a synopsis of a short life that includes a partial Harvard education — Zuckerberg dropped out a la Gates to run Facebook — and a whirlwind thereafter. With the movie The Social Network coming out on Friday I thought it provided a good back story to the founding and evolution of this social networking site.
The main thing that struck me is how young one is as a college sophomore. I had forgotten that, though I am sure those close to me would vouch for the fact that I have not progressed much from that point. College is like work release from childhood for most of us. We’re out in the world, more or less, but still tethered to a more or less structured life of classes, projects, friends, music, parties and the usual anxieties — Does she like me? Will I get into grad school? Find a career? Follow my dream? What is my dream?
So getting a peek at Zuckerberg as a precocious programmer and accidental entrepreneur is sobering. It is more sobering than understanding the exploits of another famous Harvard dropout, Bill Gates, who left to found Microsoft. It’s one thing to build, buy or steal an operating system that will, if it runs well, be the equivalent of computer wallpaper and quite another to build and be the front man for a social networking application.
Unarguably, both men and their inventions changed the world, but it seems that Gates had just a little bit more space-time between him and the rest of reality in which to mature as a person before taking on the persona of a public titan of industry, or whatever you might call it.
While the article is, I felt, balanced and the writer interviewed Zuckerberg for the piece, the same can’t be said for the movie coming out. The article indicated that the movie and the book on which it is based used no interviews with Zuckerberg to gather source material and it is unauthorized. Now, I know this kind of thing happens all the time, but it makes one just a bit more sympathetic for Zuckerberg.
The article (and probably the movie) tracks the ups and downs of Zuckerberg’s odyssey from baby nerd programming applications for his father’s dental practice (his mother was a stay at home mom and psychiatrist) to Harvard kid helping other students develop a site that would become the progenitor of Facebook. The article and the movie get into the lawsuits over the IP too.
That’s where I said, “Whoa horsey!” I suppose there are plenty of people out there who are conniving enough to steal an idea from a fellow college student, but how many turn it into a franchise that, if the company ever goes public, will make him one of the richest people on the planet well before his thirtieth birthday?
Facebook’s founding is murky — who had the idea and who programmed it are largely established but what about the influences each had on others as the idea got hammered out? Critical questions because they go directly to how much each should receive in a settlement. Would the product be as successful with a different constellation of characters or different relative amounts of contributions from each? Would it even have gotten off the ground?
The Face of Facebook is interesting because it brings these issues to the forefront, but it also is a tale of the very early twenty-first century when almost any idea can be commercialized and the time horizon on youth is shrinking. It’s ironic that our culture, which celebrates youth, could now be forcing kids into adulthood almost before they’re ready.