The inside story of Facebook, told with the full, exclusive cooperation of founder Mark Zuckerberg and the company's other leaders.
In little more than half a decade, Facebook has gone from a dorm-room novelty to a company with 500 million users. It is one of the fastest growing companies in history, an essential part of the social life not only of teenagers but hundreds of millions of adults worldwide. As Facebook spreads around the globe, it creates surprising effects—even becoming instrumental in political protests from Colombia to Iran.
Veteran technology reporter David Kirkpatrick had the full cooperation of Facebook’s key executives in researching this fascinating history of the company and its impact on our lives. Kirkpatrick tells us how Facebook was created, why it has flourished, and where it is going next. He chronicles its successes and missteps, and gives readers the most complete assessment anywhere of founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the central figure in the company’s remarkable ascent. This is the Facebook story that can be found nowhere else.
How did a nineteen-year-old Harvard student create a company that has transformed the Internet and how did he grow it to its current enormous size? Kirkpatrick shows how Zuckerberg steadfastly refused to compromise his vision, insistently focusing on growth over profits and preaching that Facebook must dominate (his word) communication on the Internet. In the process, he and a small group of key executives have created a company that has changed social life in the United States and elsewhere, a company that has become a ubiquitous presence in marketing, altering politics, business, and even our sense of our own identity. This is the Facebook Effect.
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David Kirkpatrick was for many years the senior editor for Internet and technology at Fortune magazine. While at Fortune, he wrote cover stories about Apple, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Sun, and numerous other technology subjects. Beginning in 2001, he created Fortune’s Brainstorm conference series. More recently, he organized the Techonomy conference on the centrality of technology innovation for all human activity. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and appears frequently on television, radio, and the Internet as an expert on technology.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
“We have opened up Thefacebook for popular consumption at Harvard University.”
Sophomore Mark Zuckerberg arrived at his dorm room in Harvard’s Kirkland House in September 2003 dragging an eight-foot-long whiteboard, the geek’s consummate brainstorming tool. It was big and unwieldy, like some of the ideas he would diagram there. There was only one wall of the four-person suite long enough to hold it—the one in the hallway on the way to the bedrooms. Zuckerberg, a computer science major, began scribbling away.
The wall became a tangle of formulas and symbols sprouting multicolored lines that wove this way and that. Zuckerberg would stand in the hall staring at it all, marker in hand, squeezing against the wall if someone needed to get by. Sometimes he would back into a bedroom doorway to get a better look. “He really loved that whiteboard,” recalls Dustin Moskovitz, one of Zuckerberg’s three suite-mates. “He always wanted to draw out his ideas, even when that didn’t necessarily make them clearer.” Lots of his ideas were for new services on the Internet. He spent endless hours writing software code, regardless of how much noncomputing classwork he might have. Sleep was never a priority. If he wasn’t at the whiteboard he was hunched over the PC at his desk in the common room, hypnotized by the screen. Beside it was a jumble of bottles and wadded-up food wrappers he hadn’t bothered to toss.
Right away that first week, Zuckerberg cobbled together Internet software he called Course Match, an innocent enough project. He did it just for fun. The idea was to help students pick classes based on who else was taking them. You could click on a course to see who was signed up, or click on a person to see the courses he or she was taking. If a cute girl sat next to you in Topology, you could look up next semester’s Differential Geometry course to see if she had enrolled in that as well, or you could just look under her name for the courses she had enrolled in. As Zuckerberg said later, with a bit of pride at his own prescience, “you could link to people through things.” Hundreds of students immediately began using Course Match. The status-conscious students of Harvard felt very differently about a class depending on who was in it. Zuckerberg had written a program they wanted to use.
Mark Zuckerberg was a short, slender, intense introvert with curly brown hair whose fresh freckled face made him look closer to fifteen than the nineteen he was. His uniform was baggy jeans, rubber sandals—even in winter—and a T-shirt that usually had some sort of clever picture or phrase. One he was partial to during this period portrayed a little monkey and read “Code Monkey.” He could be quiet around strangers, but that was deceiving. When he did speak, he was wry. His tendency was to say nothing until others fully had their say. He stared. He would stare at you while you were talking, and stay absolutely silent. If you said something stimulating, he’d finally fire up his own ideas and the words would come cascading out. But if you went on too long or said something obvious, he would start looking through you. When you finished, he’d quietly mutter “yeah,” then change the subject or turn away. Zuckerberg is a highly deliberate thinker and rational to the extreme. His handwriting is well ordered, meticulous, and tiny, and he sometimes uses it to fill notebooks with lengthy deliberations.
Girls were drawn to his mischievous smile. He was seldom without a girlfriend. They liked his confidence, his humor, and his irreverence. He typically wore a contented expression on his face that seemed to say “I know what I’m doing.” Zuck, as he was known, had an air about him that everything would turn out fine, no matter what he did. It certainly had so far.
On his application for admission to Harvard two years earlier, he could barely fit all the honors and awards he’d won in high school—prizes in math, astronomy, physics, and classical languages. It also noted he was captain and most valuable player on the fencing team and could read and write French, Hebrew, Latin, and ancient Greek. (His accent was awful, so he preferred ancient languages he didn’t have to speak, he told people with typical dry humor.) Harvard’s rarefied social status was neither intimidating nor unfamiliar. He’d attended the elite Phillips Exeter Academy, where you are expected to proceed to the Ivy League. He’d transferred there as a kind of lark. He’d gotten bored after two years at a public high school in Dobbs Ferry, New York, north of New York City.
Zuckerberg is the second-oldest of four children of a dentist father and a psychologist mother, and the only boy. The family home, though the largest in the neighborhood, remains modest. Its dental office in the basement is dominated by a giant aquarium. The elder Zuckerberg, something of a ham, is known as “painless Dr Z.” His website announces “We cater to cowards,” and a sign outside the home office shows a satirical scene of a wary dental patient. Mark’s sisters, like him, are academic stars. (His older sister Randi is now a senior marketer at Facebook.) From his early years Zuckerberg had a technical bent: the theme of his bar mitzvah was “Star Wars.”
The suite was one of the smallest in Kirkland House. Each of the two bedrooms came with bunk beds and a small desk. Zuckerberg’s roommate was Chris Hughes, a handsome, tow-headed, openly gay literature and history major with an interest in public policy. They dismantled the bunks—it was fairer, they decided, if nobody had to sleep on top. But now the two single beds took up almost all the space. There was hardly room to move. The desk was useless anyway—it was piled high with junk. In the other bedroom was Moskovitz, a hardworking, Brillo-haired economics major who was himself no intellectual slouch, and his roommate, Billy Olson, an amateur thespian with an impish streak.
Each boy had a desk in the common room. In between were a couple of easy chairs. It was, like the entire suite, a mess. Zuckerberg had a habit of accumulating detritus on his desk and nearby tables. He’d finish a beer or a Red Bull, put it down, and there it would stay for weeks. Occasionally Moskovitz’s girlfriend would get fed up and throw out some garbage. Once, when Zuckerberg’s mother visited, she looked around the room embarrassedly and apologized to Moskovitz for her son’s untidiness. “When he was growing up he had a nanny,” she explained.
This warren of tiny rooms on the third floor pushed the boys toward greater intimacy than they might have shared under less constrained conditions. Zuckerberg was by nature blunt, even sometimes brutally honest—a trait he may have acquired from his mother. Though he could be taciturn he was also the leader, simply because he so often started things. A habit of straight talk became the norm in this suite. There weren’t a lot of secrets here. The four got along in part because they knew where each stood. Rather than getting on one another’s nerves, they got into one another’s projects.
The Internet was a perennial theme. Moskovitz, who had little training in computing but a natural penchant for it, kept up a constant repartee with Zuckerberg about what did and did not make sense online, what would or would not make a good website, and what might or might not happen as the Internet continued its inroads into every sphere of modern life. At the beginning of the semester, Hughes had zero interest in computing. But by midyear he too had become fascinated by the constant discussion of programming and the Internet, and started chiming in with his own ideas, as did Moskovitz’s roommate, Olson. As Zuckerberg came up with each new programming project, the other three boys had plenty of opinions on how he should build it.
In the common room of Suite H33 in Kirkland House, Ivy League privilege and high geekdom converged. What happened there turns out not to have been common, but at the time it seemed pretty routine. Zuckerberg was hardly the only entrepreneur beavering away on a business in his dorm room. That wasn’t too noteworthy at Harvard. Down every hall were gifted and privileged children of the powerful.
It’s presumed at Harvard that these kids are the ones who will go on to rule the world. Zuckerberg, Moskovitz, and Hughes were just three eggheads who loved to talk about ideas. They didn’t think much about ruling the world. But from their funky, crowded dorm room would emerge an idea with the power to change it.
Emboldened by the unexpected success of Course Match, Zuckerberg decided to try out some other ideas. His next project, in October, he called Facemash. It gave the Harvard community its first look at his rebellious irreverent side. Its purpose: figure out who was the hottest person on campus. Using the kind of computer code otherwise used to rank chess players (perhaps it could also have been used for fencers), he invited users to compare two different faces of the same sex and say which one was hotter. As your rating got hotter, your picture would be compared to hotter and hotter people.
A journal he kept at the time, which for some reason he posted along with the software, suggests Zuckerberg got onto this jag while upset about a girl. “——— is a bitch. I need to think of something to make to take my mind off her,” he wrote, adding “I’m a little intoxicated, not gonna lie.” Perhaps that pique is what led him to the idea, mused about in the journal, of comparing students to farm animals. Instead, according to the journal, Billy Olson came up with the idea of comparing people to other people and only occasionally putting in a farm animal. By the time the program launched, the animals were gone completely. “Another Beck’s is in order,” Zuckerberg wrote as he continued his Facemash chronicles. The entire project was completed in an eight-hour stretch that ended at 4 A.M., said the journal.
The photos for the Facemash website came from the so-called “facebooks” maintained by each of the Harvard houses where undergraduates live. They were the pictures taken the day students arrived for orientation—the kind of clumsy, awkwardly posed shots almost everyone would prefer to disavow. Zuckerberg cleverly found ways to obtain digital versions from nine of Harvard’s twelve houses. Student newspaper the Harvard Crimson later called it “guerrilla computing.” In most cases he was able to simply hack in over the Web. At Lowell House a friend gave Zuckerberg temporary use of his log-in. (The friend later regretted it.) At another house, Zuckerberg snuck in, plugged an Ethernet cable into the wall, and downloaded names and photos from the house computer network.
The fact that he was doing something slightly illicit gave Zuckerberg little pause. He could be a touch headstrong and liked to stir things up. He didn’t ask permission before proceeding. It’s not that he sets out to break the rules; he just doesn’t pay much attention to them.
He started running the Facemash website on his Internet-connected laptop in mid-afternoon of Sunday, November 2. “Were we let in [to Harvard] for our looks?” the site asked on its home page. “No. Will we be judged by them? Yes.” Zuckerberg emailed links to a few friends, later claiming he had only intended them to test it out and make suggestions. But once people started using it, they apparently couldn’t stop. His “testers” alerted their own friends and Facemash became an instant underground hit.
The Crimsonsomewhat eloquently opined on the appeal of the software afterward, even as its editorial scolded Zuckerberg for “catering to the worst side of Harvard students”: “A peculiarly-squinting senior and that hottie from your Medieval manuscripts section—click! Your blockmate and the kid who always glared at you in Annenberg—click! Your two best friends’ respective significant others—pause...click, click, click!...We Harvard students could indulge our fondness for judging those around us on superficial criteria without ever having to face any of the judged in person.” Yes, it was fun.
One gay resident of a suite near Zuckerberg’s was elated when, in the first hour, his photo was rated most attractive among men. He of course alerted all his own friends, who then started using the site. When Zuckerberg returned to his room at 10 P.M. from a meeting, his laptop was so bogged down with Facemash users that it was freezing up. But neighbors were not the only ones suddenly paying attention to Facemash. Complaints of sexism and racism quickly started circulating among members of two women’s groups—Fuerza Latina and the Association of Harvard Black Women. Quickly the computer services department got involved and turned off Zuckerberg’s Web access. By the time that happened, around 10:30P.M., the site had been visited by 450 students, who had voted on 22,000 pairs of photos.
Zuckerberg was later called before Harvard’s disciplinary Administrative Board, along with the student who’d given him the password at Lowell House, his suite-mate Billy Olson (who, as the online journal noted, had contributed ideas), and Joe Green, a junior who lived in the next suite through the fire door, who had helped out as well. Zuckerberg was accused of violations of the college’s code of conduct in the way the site handled security, copyright, and privacy. The board put him on probation and required him to see a counselor, but decided not to punish the others. If Zuckerberg hadn’t omitted the farm animal photos, he probably wouldn’t have gotten off so lightly. He apologized to the women’s groups, claiming he had mainly thought of the project as a computer science experiment and had no idea it might spread so quickly.
Green’s father, a college professor, happened to be visiting his son the night Zuckerberg was celebrating his comparatively light sentence for Facemash. The sophomore had gone out and bought a bottle of Dom Perignon, which he was exultantly sharing with his Kirkland neighbors. Says Green: “My dad was trying to drill it into Mark’s head that this was a really big deal, that he’d almost gotten suspended. But Mark didn’t want to hear it. My dad came away with the notion that I shouldn’t do any more Zuckerberg projects.” It would later prove to be a very expensive prohibition.
But to everyone else, the episode was a clear sign: Zuckerberg had a knack for making software people couldn’t stop using. That came as little surprise to his roommates. They knew he had even been talking to Microsoft and other companies about selling a program he’d written with a friend as his senior project at Exeter, called Synapse. The software watched what kind of music someone liked so it could suggest other songs. His friends called the program “The Brain” and were especially excited when they heard Zuckerberg might get as much as a million dollars for it. If that happened, they pleaded, could he please buy a large flat-screen TV for the common room?
Zuckerberg kept making little Web programs, like one he created quickly to help himself cram for his Art in the Time of Augustus course. He had barely attended the class all first semester. As the final loomed, he cobbled together a set of screens with art images from the class. He emailed the other class members an invitat...
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