If you’re an American and you have a connection to the Internet, there’s roughly a one-in-three chance you have a Facebook page. If you’re Canadian, the chances are nearly one in two. Worldwide, the number of Facebook members is fast approaching ten percent of the global population. Clearly, those numbers justify the need for an in-depth book about the evolution of Facebook — an intimate account based on exhaustive research, including lengthy interviews with all the principals.
In many ways, David Kirkpatrick‘s The Facebook Effect is that book. Kirkpatrick, a longtime technology reporter for Fortune magazine, invested considerable time over several years to interview founder Mark Zuckerberg and a great many of his closest friends and collaborators, repeatedly in many cases. Although he did not interview Zuckerberg’s most vitriolic critics — and there are several — his account is nonetheless reasonably well balanced. The company’s major missteps — and there are many of those as well — are described in what must seem excruciating detail to insiders. Mostly, however, The Facebook Effect is a straightforward tale about one of the most astonishing success stories in the history of business on planet Earth.
The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World by David Kirkpatrick ★★★★☆
Soon after this post appears, Facebook will announce that its membership has topped half a billion. Membership is growing at the rate of 25 million per month, and it’s been several months since the service passed the 400-million mark. These numbers alone are enough to raise eyebrows even in an industry long since grown used to meteoric growth. But what is even more astounding about Facebook is that its members spend extraordinary amounts of time within its boundaries. Facebook has become a world in itself — a virtual world that’s all too real for its hundreds of millions of loyal members, because it’s so engaging.
Kirkpatrick emphasizes — perhaps overemphasizes — some of the most familiar aspects of the Facebook story. That Zuckerberg was 19 years old in 2004 when he started the service as a Harvard undergraduate. And that he almost invariably dresses in T-shirts and flip-flops. Yet throughout The Facebook Effect, Kirkpatrick treats us to scene after scene in which Zuckerberg transcends his age by decades, displaying a depth of understanding, a mastery of strategy, and a steadiness of purpose worthy of the most seasoned CEO.
It’s well known that Facebook has taken its lumps again and again for violating its members’ privacy. What Kirkpatrick explains so well is that these crises were the inevitable result of Zuckerberg’s passion for transparency. Transparency — the sharing of information without limit — is the principle at the heart of Zuckerberg’s strategic vision. As Kirkpatrick notes, the young CEO truly believes that sharing information more freely and more widely, as enabled by Facebook, will make life on earth better. Though there are logical arguments against this proposition, it’s difficult to argue with passion.
The book’s title is a version of the well-known “network effect,” familiar to the increasing numbers of us who are actively aware of the networked world in which we live and work. The principle is simple: the bigger the network, the more interconnections among its nodes (in this case, members), and thus the more powerful it becomes. As Facebook may already be the largest human network on Earth, we can only begin to speculate what it might become if and when it grows to the one or two billion members Zuckerberg envisions.
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