July 21, 2010
Facebook is a phenomenon. Its founder and principal owner and chief executive officer, Mark Zuckerberg, is another phenomenon. The rise of these linked phenomena is well narrated in The Facebook Effect, written by an experienced technology journalist who seems to have been given total access to everyone connected with the company, including Zuckerberg. The book is not entirely uncritical, but it is apparent that Kirkpatrick is awed by the twin phenomena. There is a hint of this in his subtitle, and when he says such things as “Facebook is bringing the world together.”
He should be awed. Facebook was created in 2004 by a nineteen-year-old Harvard sophomore and a few of his classmates, as an online social network for Harvard students. It quickly spread beyond Harvard and within ten months it had a million subscribers (or “Facebook users,” as they are called). Today it has nearly 500 million users. About 40 percent of the population of the United States now uses Facebook, but the use of it is even greater in some foreign countries, such as Canada (42 percent) and, more surprisingly perhaps, Norway (45 percent). The company is worth about $15 billion—or maybe twice that; since its stock is not publicly traded, its value is hard to estimate. Zuckerberg, who dropped out of Harvard after his sophomore year, owns one-quarter of the company’s stock. He has just turned twenty-six.