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The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World Hardcover – June 8, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
There's never been a Web site like Facebook: more than 350 million people have accounts, and if the growth rate continues, by 2013 every Internet user worldwide will have his or her own page. And no one's had more access to the inner workings of the phenomenon than Kirkpatrick, a senior tech writer at Fortune magazine. Written with the full cooperation of founder Mark Zuckerberg, the book follows the company from its genesis in a Harvard dorm room through its successes over Friendster and MySpace, the expansion of the user base, and Zuckerberg's refusal to sell. The author is at his best discussing the social implications of the site, from the changing notions of privacy to why and how people use Facebook—increasingly it's to come together around a common interest or cause (the eponymous Facebook Effect). Though significantly more informative, thoughtful, and credible than Ben Mezrich's The Accidental Billionaires, it may be hamstrung by its late entry; the furor over Facebook has more or less subsided, and potential readers are more likely to be using the site than to be reading about its origins. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* The greatest measure of the appeal of a business narrative is its story-ability, that is, the ways in which the tale of a corporation’s ups and downs grabs its readers. Such is the case with Fortune magazine journalist Kirkpatrick’s look at Facebook and its growth. The reason? In part because its co-founder now CEO Mark Zuckerberg allowed almost unprecedented access to the author––not one but several times. The results seems to mirror Zuckerberg’s insistence on an “open and transparent” dialogue with itself and with its customers. Starting from a 2003 Harvard campus Web site created to keep track of schoolmates, Facebook has grown in less than a decade to nearly a half billion users and multimillions in revenues, a growth trajectory credited to its C-suite’s unwavering vision and its continual innovations––including News Feed, multiple applications, and self-service advertising. Talented people, too, add to the explosion that is Facebook; Kirkpatrick’s pages are populated with names like Steve Ballmer, Lawrence Summers, Larry Brin, and lesser-known others who’ve contributed to this social networking phenomenon. Kirkpatrick also keeps his superlatives in check, weaving stories about Zuckerberg and his cadre while clearly showing the warts as well. An intriguing, almost participatory, read. --Barbara Jacobs
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Top customer reviews
The book is engaging as it tells the story. One of the more interesting stories was when one of the original owners of Facebook decided to not pay the bill for the Facebook servers. Tensions around this event ran high and the company was fortunate to survive this event unscathed.
It seems this is the only novel which was granted behinds the scenes access to the actual story and provides some insight to Zuckerberg's thought process.
I found the parts about the impact of Facebook on society to be less impressive as many of the insights seemed like common sense to me. It would have been nice to see more analysis of the role Facebook plays in society. Although it appears the goal of the book was to focus on the Facebook story.
Fitzpatrick identifies several features that differentiated facebook from the rest. School networks offered a controlled community. Users felt comfortable projecting their true identities online in this setting. The site was easy to use, and didn't try to do too much too soon. Long-run growth was always a stronger priority than short-term ad revenue. Mark Zuckerberg's immaturity during his college age years is clear, but he ultimately nails the most important strategic decisions. He was not a mere caretaker of a simple idea at the right time.
The book touches on the personal conflicts made famous by the Social Network movie. The motives behind Eduardo Saverin's sacking are carefully reported. In contrast, key facts are missing in Fitzpatrick's treatment of the Winklevoss/Narendra ConnectU lawsuit. Fitzpatrick makes a convincing case that ConnectU's business plan was inferior to thefacebook's, but he glosses over how Zuckerberg sabotaged their site for months. Zuckerberg's AOL IMs from this era (referenced in the 12/30/10 NYT) reveal he viewed them as a competitor, and this calls into question Fitzpatrick's judgment that Zuckerberg was merely guilty of being "rude" and "uncooperative." Future editions of the book should incorporate more accurate information about the case.
Another weakness is the book's failure to address contradictions in facebook's views on privacy. For example, he asserts in the prologue that facebook "has always been explicitly conceived and engineered by Zuckerberg and colleagues as a tool to enhance your relations with your real-world friends" But later we learn that Zuckerberg is always pushing people to be more transparent, and that voyeurism was part of facebook's success from the beginning at Harvard. Who seriously believes facebook has never encouraged voyeurism outside of your circle of real friends?
Yet the book's most lasting impression is Zuckerberg's resolve in prioritizing facebook's utility over its profits. Knowing how close friend Sean Parker lost control of his past ventures, Zuckerberg is careful not to let future investors take control of his baby. Understanding this is also crucial to understanding the controversy behind facebook's delays in going public. Without Zuckerberg's patience, facebook would have been far less useful as a tool of Viacom, News Corp, Yahoo, Microsoft, or Wall Street. For this, Zuckerberg is worthy of the rosy picture painted in this book, despite his sins.
While nicely describing the evolution of Facebook, "The Facebook Effect" could have detailed how businesses use Facebook a bit more like promised in the Prologue. The book mainly focuses on the company and a bit on how consumers use Facebook. It would have been nice to read more information about Facebook's users instead of mainly company information. The user information seemed sort of thrown into the book toward the end. Even with "The Facebook Effect's" faults, the book was still engaging and an interesting read.
Kirkpatrick spent a good amount of time discussing Zuckerberg and Facebook's willingness to change, which was a good thing. Much like every day, real life, social networking sites need to evolve and not remain stagnant. Even newer emerging niche social networking sites, such as Pinterest, allow for Facebook integration. Zuckerberg was smart in allowing Pinterest to utilize Facebook. The integration allows for both sites to flourish without explicitly taking users away from each other.