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Zuckerberg is two generations removed from the 1960s. He has no sentimental feelings about equality and anonymity. He started Facebook as a way for people on college campuses to communicate with and keep track of one another and occasionally poke each other and leer at each other's pictures but in a broader sense he was firing the first shot in his generation's takeover of the Internet. Zuckerberg just wanted people to be themselves. On earlier social networks like Friendster and Myspace, identity was malleable and playful, but Facebook was and is different. "We're trying to map out what exists in the world," he says. "In the world, there's trust. I think as humans we fundamentally parse the world through the people and relationships we have around us. So at its core, what we're trying to do is map out all of those trust relationships, which you can call, colloquially, most of the time, friendships." He calls this map the social graph, and it's a network of an entirely new kind.
Facebook didn't stay on campus. Zuckerberg and his partners including his roommate Dustin Moskovitz and Sean Parker, who had co-founded Napster led Facebook on a Risk-style forced-march campaign to conquer the world. By the end of 2004, Facebook was on several hundred U.S. college campuses. In 2005 it expanded to high schools and foreign schools, in 2006 to workplaces and eventually to anybody over the age of 13. Its growth was astonishing. In December 2006 it had 12 million users. By December 2009 it had 350 million.
It grew because it gave people something they wanted. All that stuff that the Internet enabled you to leave behind, all the trappings of ordinary bourgeois existence your job, your family, your background? On Facebook, you take it with you. It's who you are.
Zuckerberg has retrofitted the Internet's idealistic 1960s-era infrastructure with a more pragmatic millennial sensibility. Anonymity may allow people to reveal their true selves, but maybe our true selves aren't our best selves. Facebook makes cyberspace more like the real world: dull but civilized. The masked-ball period of the Internet is ending. Where people led double lives, real and virtual, now they lead single ones again.
The fact that people yearned not to be liberated from their daily lives but to be more deeply embedded in them is an extraordinary insight, as basic and era-defining in its way as Jobs' realization that people prefer a graphical desktop to a command line or pretty computers to boring beige ones.
This is another area in which the angry-robot theory of Mark Zuckerberg doesn't really pan out: he understands a remarkable amount about other people. Sometimes it seems like the understanding of an alien anthropologist studying earthlings, but it's real. "In college I was a psychology major at the same time as being a computer-science major," he says. "I say that fairly frequently, and people can't understand it. It's like, obviously I'm a CS person! But I was always interested in how those two things combined. For me, computers were always just a way to build good stuff, not like an end in itself."
There are other people who can write code as well as Zuckerberg not many, but some but none of them get the human psyche the way he does. "He has great EQ," says Naomi Gleit, Facebook's product manager for growth and internationalization. "I'll often ask him for advice about, like, a girl issue that I'm dealing with. And he'll very rationally give me his opinion on the situation." His mother Karen, a psychiatrist who left the profession to manage her husband's office, attributes what she calls Mark's "sensitivity" to the fact that he was raised with three sisters.
Wherever it comes from, this acute awareness of how other people's brains work characterizes all of Zuckerberg's projects, even the projects he did before Facebook. Facemash the samizdat website he made his sophomore year, where Harvard students could compare the relative hotness of their peers was crude, some said offensive, but it hooked people. They wanted it. (You can go even further back: one day in the ZuckNet era, Mark turned to Randi and said, "I bet I can make Donna come upstairs in five seconds." He'd rigged his sister's computer to announce that it was self-destructing in 5, 4, 3, 2 ... and up the stairs she came.) Whereas earlier entrepreneurs looked at the Internet and saw a network of computers, Zuckerberg saw a network of people.
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