The Facebook Age: What Began as a Lark in Mark Zuckerberg's Dorm Room Has Changed the Way People Relate to One Another

By Deneen, Sally | Success, May 2011 | Go to article overview

The Facebook Age: What Began as a Lark in Mark Zuckerberg's Dorm Room Has Changed the Way People Relate to One Another


Deneen, Sally, Success


If Facebook were a nation, it would be the world's third largest behind only China and India. Hundreds of new people join every hour. And at the helm stands fresh-faced self-made billionaire Mark Zuckerberg, who still wears T-shirts and jeans to work just as he did in 2004, when he co-founded the addictive social-networking site in his Harvard dorm room at age 19.

Since then, Facebook has morphed from college fad to global communication force, as one onlooker called it; its record 600 million subscribers can't be wrong. Harvard dropout. Zuckerberg, who turns 27 in May, now has an estimated $6.9 billion net worth, which exceeds Steve Jobs' net worth and ranks him as the 35th richest American, according to Forbes.

The impact of Zuckerberg's decision to leave college to pursue this passion has been huge, from affecting world events--Facebook initially helped keep protesters connected during the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia--to serving as an online scrapbook or simply keeping people in touch. When a blizzard hit this past winter, one American University class improvised a virtual lecture on Facebook. When a neophyte senator Barack Obama ran for president, he enlisted Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, Zuckerberg's former college roommate, to launch a strong social-media campaign, which played a significant part in his victory. Facebook is "the easy passport" to finding friends past and current without an email address or phone number. As Pace University clinical professor of marketing Paul Kurnit puts it: "It's about me, about us. It is the personal website that few of us could possibly build on our own."

Get this: People now spend more time on Facebook than on all of these combined: Google, Yahoo, YouTube, Microsoft, Wikipedia and Amazon. "Think about that for a moment," Ben Parr wrote at Mashable.com. "Facebook is the Web's No. 1 timesink."

Zuckerberg is akin to a Thomas Edison or an Alexander Graham Bell of the 21st century. He's "right up there with Bill Gates and the great movers of the digital age," for bringing into being "something as important and revolutionary as Facebook," says Paul Levinson, author of New New Media (2009, Allyn & Bacon) and professor of communications and media studies at Fordham University.

Differentiating Facebook From Its Rivals

It's not that Facebook was the first social-media site; instead, it brought social media to a broader audience by making it easy for new people to come on without feeling like they were out of their depth immediately, says Andy Smith, who co-authored The Dragonfly Effect (2010, Jossey-Bass) with his wife, Jennifer Aaker. "Facebook made it so that everyone's page looked pretty much the same. In some ways, it was boring. That was an early complaint. Like, here's the place where your picture goes and here's where you post [a public message to all friends]. It looked sort of like an Amazon page, a file folder. What that also meant is there was a lot less distinction between someone who has been there forever and has a trillion friends and someone who hasn't."

Facebook also differed from early rival MySpace, as well as the comments sections on many websites, in that Facebook didn't, allow users to pretend to be other people--no fake names; that's one of Zuckerberg's core ideas. "When you're actually accountable for what you're saying to someone you care about," Smith says, "you behave differently. I think it's one of the fundamental secrets that, he found here."

"Facebook really has become an essential part of many aspects of our lives," says Fordham's Levinson, "ranging not only from keeping in touch with friends and meeting people, but talking about television shows that we saw the night before, responding to political events, providing information on health issues." The site or something like it "will, I think, be part of human life for a long time."

Reuniting long-separated family members is a common theme among Facebook success stories, such as that of Megan-Marie Kera Duprey-Roy of Vermont. …

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