Facebook Success Dissected in “Social Network” Movie

Flash of Anus –

The Social Network is currently the top grossing movie in the land. It’s the story of how Facebook, now with 500 million users, was founded, built and fought over.

The New York Times devoted no fewer than three articles to the movie today, and on Sunday it ran a long piece, “Mark Zuckerberg’s Most Valuable Friend,” focusing  FB’s Chief Operating Officer, Cheryl Sandberg, who assures readers that Mark is not a bad guy, just misunderstood.

WhetherZuckerberg is upstanding or not, or to what extent West Wing writer Adam Sorkin’s account is fictionalized, does not concern me.

What does is how innovation can survive genius and greed on its way to providing a sellable product and a reasonable return.

Twice Removed

Zuckerberg grew up suburban Westchester County, two towns over from where I once lived, and one from where screenwriter Sorkin grew up. It’s as competitive in the Ardsley public schools as it is in Palo Alto or Great Neck or Tokyo. But for people like Zuckerberg, it is too small a playing field.

He is portrayed as a kind of savant. A brilliant but nasty wild child destined to program and programmed to win. He has no patience for social conventions, such as small talk. He’s a sort of dyspeptic Leonard Hofstadter from The Big Bang Theory on steroids. Money doesn’t motivate him, mastery of the media (and meeting girls) does. The Internet in 2003 was a perfect foil for his mix of talents and anger.

Zuckerberg’s other motivation: Being accepted in spite of his arrogance, lack of good looks and annoying impatience with all organisms mortal. He is a man on a mission, concocted from equal parts raw intelligence, business instincts and ego-mania. He is simultaneously profound and profoundly pathetic.

An ex-girlfriend in the movie says that he will likely go through life believing that he is hated because he is a nerd, but it is because he is an asshole. A young female attorney on his defense team who has gotten to know him better declares, “You’re not an asshole; you’re just trying to act like one.”

Diluted Equity

Getting strategically diluted from 34% to .02% by VCs, what is done to FB’s original CFO in the film, is not something new to Silicon Valley. Whether Zuckerberg made it happen or allowed it to is unclear.  Seeing this behavior portrayed here casts the web’s favorite togetherness tool in a less than positive light. A more apt name for this film may have been the The (Anti) Social Network: The hustlers, the once loyal friends, the Brahmins and the groupies. TSN is a well-played by Sorkin and director David Fincher (Zodiac), even if much of it may be exaggerated.

In fairness to Zuckerberg, it could have been Gates, Jobs, Ellison or a dozen other megalomaniacs portrayed knocking down obstacles to their manifest destiny like bowling pins on a slippery silicon alley. Their reasons vary, and for Zuckerberg, at least, money, clearly, is only a part of it.

Up for Grabs

The “ah-ha” moment, or Flash of Genius, is probably the least accurate aspect of the innovation process portrayed in this movie and others, but it looks so impressive on film that even Sorkin, whose father was an IP lawyer cannot resist. Genius is typically not simple or kind. The most savvy technology folk know this and to negotiate the vortex it typically generates.

TSN suggests that good ideas are up for grabs, especially when they are works in progress. Had Zuckerberg not been able to take Facebook to a market value of $25 billion the various players would all be fighting over toothpicks instead of equity rights, and nothing much would matter. Pay the speeding ticket the young lawyer urges Zuckerberg, and then get on with your life.

The unfortunate reality is that to prosper business needs A.H.’s as much as the nice guys. They both need good lawyers.

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Illustration source: http://tratohechocom.blogspot.com/2010/04/cuatro-figuras-del-presente-siglo.html

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