October 14, 2010

How do you get 5 mil friends? Drop the ones you have.

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Search Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook and you will discover a hybrid page of sorts; a portrait of the world’s youngest billionaire announcing Facebook’s latest developments alongside the musings of an average 20 something year old. Though of course you may not become friends with Zuckerberg, he does allow you to browse through select photos of his trips to Turkey, Brazil and India; photos that look like they were taken on his phone. As the figurehead of a website used by one in every 14 people in the world, on which users spend an average of 700 billion minutes a month and the most heavily trafficked website after Google, Zuckerberg, one of the world’s most influential people by his position as Facebook’s creator, blends effortlessly into the virtual social world that he created.

Zuckerberg’s profile ought to be getting more views in recent weeks, as movie-goers leaving The Social Network —  currently leading U.S. box office sales — rush home to form their own opinion of who this computer genius really is. Zuckerberg likely feels uncomfortable in this regard. He was not interviewed for the movie and has stated in interviews that he does not plan to see it. Nor would you, if Jesse Eisenberg (Zombieland) portrayed you as an obnoxious, arrogant computer dweeb whose motivation for launching Facebook evolved out of a naïve college desire for social acceptance. Written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by David Fincher, The Social Network combines an inspiring narrative of a kid starting a company destined to re-draw social interaction, and the awkward personal drama that the journey involved. The movie bounces back and forth between the chain of events leading to the creation and rise of Facebook and fragments of the lawsuits that ensued over ownership of the idea in 2006. Sorkin writes a history of Facebook intimately connected to Zuckerberg’s personal history, which to a large extent, Sorkin invented.

Accurate or not, the picture of Zuckerberg that millions now intimately know reflects a sexually frustrated college sophomore eager to impress his name into Harvard’s elite social strata. His plan works, sort of. The movie begins with a then college sophomore Zuckerberg explaining to his soon to be ex-girlfriend the importance of gaining admission into Harvard’s elite Finals clubs, off campus social clubs much like fraternities and sororities. Their conversation turns awkward as Zuckerberg becomes more and more condescending, and culminates in a breakup. As if to compensate for his self-destruction, Zuckerberg rushes home, hacks into Harvard’s resident database and creates Facemash.

So begins the vacuum of drama and genius that leads to the creation of Facebook. Facemash, a website in which viewers select the hotter of two girls, was immediately shut down by the Harvard administration after receiving 21,000 hits during its one day lifespan. Although damaging to Zuckerberg’s reputation, Facemash gave Zuckerberg the publicity needed to attract the attention of Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, two elite rowers with an idea for a website called Harvard Connection. This website, they hoped, would facilitate dating for Harvard students with a Harvard Connection profile as well as a harvard.edu email address. If successful, they planned to spread the site to other schools. The Winklevoss twins approached Zuckerberg in the fall of 2003 to ask his assistance in coding. Zuckerberg signed on.

“They had an idea, and I had a better one,” explains an angry Zuckerberg in between lawsuit delegations. How much influence Harvard Connection had on Zuckerberg’s idea for Facebook is food for debate. According to an interview with the real Zuckerberg recently conducted by the New Yorker, Harvard Connection emphasized dating, while Facebook emphasized social networking. Hollywood or factual, there is no doubt that Harvard Connection helped Zuckerberg think of Facebook. The viewer may decide whether or not the Winklevoss twins deserve credit, or the $65 million dollar out of court settlement that they received from Zuckerberg in 2006. Zuckerberg’s actions after his meeting with the Winklevoss twins certainly cast doubt on his position. During the time that Zuckerberg was creating Facebook, he deliberately avoided contact with the Winkelvoss twins and misled them into thinking that he was developing Harvard Connection.

Despite the controversy, only Zuckerberg possessed the ingenuity and computer savvy to launch Facebook. Launched in February of 2004, the site was an immediate hit at Harvard, and soon spread to Yale, Columbia and Stanford. It was at Stanford that the movie depicts Sean Parker, founder of Napster, waking up and discovering Facebook on an open browser. Parker immediately sees the potential in the website and contacts Zuckerberg. The two meet in New York City to discuss strategies for the website, to the chagrin of Eduardo Saverin, the former business manager and friend of Zuckerberg who later sued him.

If Zuckerberg has two morally antithetical guardians in the movie whispering into his ear, they are Parker and Saverin. Parker urges Zuckerberg to avoid letting Facebook fall into corporate hands, while Saverin encourages Zuckerberg to open the website up for advertising. Ultimately, Parker’s strategy prevails; Facebook remains a “Mark Zuckerberg Production” in spite of the many ways in which Zuckerberg could have gotten rich quicker. According to the New Yorker, when offered $1 billion by Yahoo in 2006, Zuckerberg turned it down, stating, “It’s not about the price. This is my baby, and I want to keep running it, keep growing it.” Though Saverin is the more morally palatable and likeable influence, Zuckerberg can thank his stars that he abandoned him for Parker.

Zuckerberg’s success will motivate any aspiring entrepreneur who goes to see The Social Network. By the time Zuckerberg finishes sophomore year of college, it is already clear that he will not be returning from his summer home in Silicon Valley. At this point, Zuckerberg hopes to spread Facebook to 500 colleges by the end of the summer, while the Winklevoss twins plot their legal revenge. Yet as both threads — the rise of Facebook and the legal battle in which Zuckerberg is embroiled — come to an end, it does not seem as though Zuckerberg’s social confidence has gone anywhere since the fateful breakup with his girlfriend. One of the last lines of the movie, stated by Zuckerberg’s legal counsel (played by Rashida Jones, The Office) succinctly captures the Zuckerberg’s motivation for starting the site: “Your not an asshole, you just try so hard to be one.” The last impression that the movie leaves of Zuckerberg, one of the world’s youngest billionaire tormented by the very moment that led to his making, is the most powerful. In many ways, he is still at square one.

4.5 Towers

Original Author: Joey Anderson