Ben Mezrich on Difference Maker Mark Zuckerberg

Ben Mezrich gives us the story behind Facebook's founding.

It may have been the last thing he planned in his Harvard dorm room, and Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook played a role in the recent Egyptian revolution.

A New York Times article detailed the use of social media by Yemeni and Egyptian youth leaders over the course of the past two years before activating their successful campaigns.

Ben Mezrich’s The Accidental Billionaires tells the story of how Facebook got started, ending with the company about to be fully launched through the support of venture capital firm Accel.

Those who have seen The Social Network, David Fincher’s Academy Award-nominated film, will be well familiar with the story of how Zuckeberg’s combination of genius, relentless focus and ruthlessness led him to co-create the company now valued at $50 billion.

There were costs, sometimes heavy, along the way.

Zuckerberg forced out his best friend and company chief financial officer Eduardo Saverin along the way, irreparably damaging their friendship and costing him millions of dollars in legal fees and an as yet undisclosed settlement.

Ironically, depending on the size of the settlement, Saverin may have been better off than had Zuckerberg heeded his advice and sought to monetize the site through advertisements.  Saverin’s failure in this area may have been the company’s gain.

This of course is besides the point that Zuckerberg is shown in both the book and movie as being willing to do anything to advance his vision.

The betrayal of Saverin came on the heels of his having strung along the Winklevoss twins, Olympic rowers who initially approached Zuckerberg about working for them to build the same kind of social networking site he ultimately created through Facebook.

The twins settled for about $65 million, and frankly seem to have done quite well, given the low level of programming they furnished on a site they later produced.

Mezrich is a breezy writer who seems to specialize in books about the brainy and geeky having their way in a world in which technology plays a greater and greater role.

His account moves along quickly, and his characters, although collegiate, are fascinating in their way.

Zuckerberg is chief among them.

The book’s protagonist, he appears to be a jumble of ambition, programming brilliance and social awkwardness.    His feats of becoming the world’s youngest billionaire and, beyond that, of creating a hub for social connection, however creepy at times, that binds the world are staggering.

Jon Katz wrote in Geeks about two young men in Idaho who “rode the Internet” out of town.

In The Accidental Billionaires, a young man of the same bent has enough money to own the town and the network that links it to the rest of the world.

Zuckerberg’s marriage of his technical prowess with people’s innate desire for connection and community are what led to Facebook, which, as noted earlier and in Danny Postel and Nader Hashemi’s The People Reloaded, has been used by oppressed people yearning for social change.

The result in Egypt was revolutionary, and was lubricated by the network created by Zuckerberg and his team.  Mezrich’s tale gives us the background on the site, the people who created it, the glory they earned, and the price they paid.


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