In some ways David Kirkpatrick’s book The Facebook Effect reminds me of Waiting For The Barbarians–another book about deals and rich people that turned out to be an exciting story that I couldn’t put down.
It is also a brilliant piece of non-fiction, managing to make what must have been an exhausting bunch of research into a tale that moves quickly and imparts a lot of history without bogging down and making me feel like I’m reading research or history.
I knew a lot more of the story of Facebook Effect before reading it than I did about Barbarians. I had seen (and loved) David Fincher’s film The Social Network and have been a Facebook user myself for the last two or three years.
What I knew of the story was the outline:
- Some Harvard kid starts a social network platform to rate girls on their attractiveness
- Everyone starts using it
- Intrigue! Backstabbing!
- Every time FB makes a change a bunch of people throw a fit
- Mark Zuckerberg gets really, really rich
- People like me log in a few times a day to see if their friends are saying anything witty or to share links
You probably knew most of that as well. You can glean most of those bullet points if you read the headlines on any homepage web browser.
What I enjoyed most about the book was everything I didn’t know. This sounds kind of lame, but I was fascinated by the sections dealing with the history of changes to the service.
In You Are Not A Gadget, Jaron Lanier speaks way more eloquently than I can about how social networks may (or already have) change the ways we see ourselves.
For example, if you set up a Facebook profile you are offered choices to describe yourself and your interests. When you are faced with a dropdown menu of choices that will represent you to your FB friends, your options are obviously limited by the finite menu.
Lanier suggests that the user profiles we create for ourselves might limit the ways in which we grow, because they may shape our identities into sets of actions, Tweets, interest, etc–according to choices that others have made while designing software.
Maybe this is overkill. Either way, The Facebook Effect provides an intriguing look at how every little change to Facebook was usually the result of meetings and arguments.
I’d never given any of this any thought until I read Lanier’s book. Now I think about it every time I’m online and I’m asked to fill out a form with personal information. Who chose my options? What do they want from me? What do the creators of this software get out of the action I’m about to take?
Other interesting bits
- The cast of characters – Zuckerberg’s team is quite an eclectic group
- The history of other silicon valley start-ups (Napster, MySpace, Plaxo, and more)
- The calculated expansion plan and the reasons behind not going too quickly
- The amount of money they were spending on servers, even in the early days, was evidence that I know nothing about servers and serious traffic
- “Understanding people is not a waste of time”–Zuckerberg’s answer whenever the criticism of people wasting time on FB was raised
I’ll be very interested in reading the book about the next 10 years of Facebook. As the service saturates the market in one country, then another, and then another, what will it do next?
If what I have now read about Zuckerberg is accurate, he’s not going to stop pushing for expansion. What will expansion mean when the rate of user growth drops? I do think that will happen, if only because there are a finite amount of people with internet access.
So, to sum it up: I loved it. I hope you did too.