Facebook, originally known as “thefacebook,” was created at Harvard University by young star-programmer Mark Zuckerberg to help his fellow peers become better acquainted with one another by having access to each other’s profile pictures, class schedules, and relationship status. Only those with Harvard email addresses were allowed to join, and this ensured that there were only real profiles, only of students and staff from Harvard. However, as the service began to expand to other universities, and eventually to users outside of the college demographic, initially to those in high school and middle school, and lastly to adults, this dorm room creation eventually became one of the most successful, and world altering companies of all time.
The Facebook Effect by David Kirkpatrick begins about a year before thefacebook is created, and discusses Zuckerberg’s life as a freshman at Harvard University. A great coder and programmer from a young age, Zuckerberg was working on tons of small projects, some of which other students commissioned him to do, and others which he created simply for fun. One of his more notorious projects, for instance, Face Mash, which allowed students to choose from 2 pictures of their friends and vote on who was more attractive, got Zuckerberg into disciplinary trouble in just his freshman year.
Kirkpatrick describes in detail the strong bond that Zuckerberg had with some of his freshman year roommates, many of whom became his partners at Facebook and his confidantes throughout his journey. These relationships were very important to the success of Facebook, which gained popularity at an unparalleled and unanticipated speed.
The book also stresses the importance of Zuckerberg’s consistent focus on the long-term future of his company. Throughout Facebook’s journey, dating back to when the website was used only by college students across the United States, Zuckerberg received countless impressive offers from large investors and major companies (such as Yahoo!, MTV, and AOL) to buy his company from him, often with offers as large as 2 billion dollars even in the company’s early days. Zuckerberg never even considered these offers, despite how wealthy accepting such an offer would make him and the rest of the people working for Facebook. However, Zuckerberg was not in it for the material gain, nor the fame. Zuckerberg had a vision of bringing the world closer together, and creating a platform for other applications that would all be most strongly supported and enhanced by users’ personal connections and relationships – their Facebook friends.
Throughout the website’s development, several novel features, if not all, received backlash from users as soon as they were launched. For instance, the News Feed feature, arguably the backbone of the Facebook that we know today, was initially seen by users as an invasion of privacy, and many voiced the opinion that it made them feel creepy and like stalkers, because they were seeing every change in their friends’ profiles (Zuckerberg’s team designed algorithms that randomly selected what to put into the news feed based on the user’s activity). However, Zuckerberg was able to adjust privacy settings and explain the purpose for this feature to users, who soon adjusted and began enjoying scrolling through their News Feed.
Through Zuckerberg’s leadership skills, patience, and vision, he was able to overcome several similar problems, and continue to grow Facebook. Kirkpatrick provides a chronological explanation of the history of this social network, and paints a very detailed picture of the ways which Zuckerberg matured and learned throughout his journey from his Harvard dorm room, to being one of the most successful and wealthy entrepreneurs of our time.
In-Depth: From Freshman to CEO
My favorite part of reading this book was noticing how drastically, and quickly, Zuckerberg was forced to transformation from a geeky, and jokey freshman into a motivated, sensible, and diligent leader. As CEO of the company, Zuckerberg was constantly faced with making the executive decisions for Facebook, and ensuring that his team was comprised of the individuals who belonged there, and that these employees were working efficiently. After a sudden shift in leadership after having to fire one of his closest friends and most trusted partners, Sean Parker, Zuckerberg began to recognize even more that he might not have innate leadership skills to effectively control his company and understand his employees. Thus, he decided to take leadership courses. Similarly, when Zuckerberg hired a new COO, a previous Google executive, Sheryl Sandberg, to re-shape Facebook into a profitable company and develop a new business model, he recognized that Sandberg would need some one-on-one time with the team in order for them to learn to respect, understand, and trust her. Zuckerberg chose Sandberg’s first few weeks in her new position to take a trip around the world, his first “real” vacation since starting Facebook. Sandberg was able to successfully host nightly meetings with the advertising team, as well as other interested members of the team, and was able to turn Facebook into the right direction by the time Zuckerberg had returned. Kirkpatrick also emphasizes that a huge part of what made Zuckerberg such a great and respectable leader was his evident motive, which was never monetary gain or fame, but rather to bring the world closer together and allow people to feel comfortable with being transparent with one another. His unwillingness to sell the company, regardless of the countless generous offers he received, demonstrated that he wasn’t willing to drop his mission in exchange for wealth. I think leadership is an important aspect to remember as we study different companies, as organizations can only be as good as the people running it, and the motives which drive them.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Facebook Effect, and would certainly recommend it to my peers. Kirkpatrick does an excellent job of showing the reader just what kind of characters the people in the book are, by including tons of anecdotes, and commentary from relevant sources. Similarly, whenever Kirkpatrick discusses investments that were made into Facebook, or, for instance, when someone lost some shares, he concludes by mentioning how much those shares would’ve been worth today, which, in most cases, is hundreds of millions of dollars. As a reader, this comparison makes you realize just how important the story behind this company and team really is. Overall, the book is enjoyable to read and flows wonderfully, and I definitely would recommend anyone interested in technology or social media to read it!