What an interesting day to wake up to the news that Mark Zuckerberg, the 26-year-old founder-CEO of Facebook is Time’s person of the year for 2010. Back in 1982, the “Computer” (the PC) was given that honor and recently in 2006, “You” meaning most of us advancing the age of the Internet got the same honor. With this year’s nomination of Zuckerberg, Time has finally covered the entire “information age” up to this point.
Facebook is a remarkable story, now made into a film after David Kirkpatrick’s book this year. It carries the strong conviction and personality of its founder, ever since he started this at the dorm room at Harvard. It is all about social behavior and connecting people. The difference between Google and Facebook is, as someone aptly put it, is that Google is all about algorithms whereas Facebook is all about people and how they interact. No wonder Mark studied psychology plus computer science during his unfinished years at Harvard. The best example is how Facebook introduced photo sharing. This was like bringing a knife to a war, very poor technology compared to existing photo stuff by Picasa, Snapfish, etc. But Facebook won the battle big way, due to its focus on the contextual sharing of photos with friends, not just another “uploading technology”. Currently there is an estimated 15B photos shared across Facebook users.
With 550 million users, Facebook now ranks as the third largest country in the world, right after China and India. It expects to hit a billion in 2012, which will be every sixth person on the planet and almost half of all Internet users. Remember, this number does not include China, where Facebook is banned. Hopefully when Mark visits China next summer (his girlfriend’s family lives there), he will make some positive influence. Facebook does bring fundamental shifts which are threats to the incumbents such as Microsoft and Google. For the young generation, email is becoming a thing of the past, as most communication is shifting to short messages and real-time conversations (not asynchronous mode of the email).
The other remarkable observation is the whole culture at Facebook. Mark Z. is not motivated by greed, a silicon valley mantra for success. When he was barely out of high school, his home-built software was offered a million dollars which he declined. When he was 22, Yahoo offered 1 Billion dollars to buy his company, and he said no. Even now, with his estimated personal wealth of $6B, he seems totally unconcerned and recently donated $100M for New Jersey school education. What drives him so hard is his deep conviction of making a difference. He calls it the Buddhist way. It is this non-linear behavior that throws the pundits off. It is almost like Gandhi’s non co-operation movement that caught the British off guard during India’s freedom movement.
Facebook is again a tremendous success story and I believe Mark Zuckerberg has singularly made a big difference to how we interact socially as one huge family in the world.