It’s a very good movie. You should go see it. I don’t have much more to say about it than that.
What I do want to observe, though, is that the reaction to the movie on Twitter has been fascinating. A surprising number of people are leaping to Zuckerberg’s defense. Many are linking to this account of the legal maneuvering dramatized by the film — an account which doesn’t actually exculpate Zuckerberg, but is written as if the author thinks it does. Even more astounding are posts like this one, which lionize Zuckerberg as a sort of Nietzschean hero.
It’s all a little weird. People clearly have reservoirs of affection for and identification with the founder of Facebook. Presumably this is because of what his invention means to them. I suppose that’s fine.
But let me offer my predictable cranky technologist perspective. Zuckerberg is wildly successful, and I don’t begrudge him that. Nor do I find myself particularly outraged on behalf of the various people he seems to have betrayed, all of whom are now even more astoundingly wealthy than they started out being.
There’s a strange tendency in this country to declare everyone who’s extremely rich to be some sort of visionary genius, whose unprecedented perspective allowed a break from the chains of history. This is ridiculous. Mark Zuckerberg did not invent social networking. His achievement at Harvard wasn’t even that remarkable: 400 unique visitors to a just-launched website is great, but hardly unprecedented. Nor are his technological achievements all that impressive: assuming the movie’s depiction to be accurate — and I suspect it basically is, judging by the tasks he was performing — he seems like a strong web developer, but not any kind of wunderkind (Facebook’s ability to operate at its current scale using a hugely rewritten version of PHP is a genuinely impressive achievement, but the entry-level LAMP stuff Zuckerberg himself did is simple enough).
What Facebook did was deploy an extremely effective marketing scheme — one based on exclusivity — at exactly the right moment. From there, network effects took over and delivered success. This is an impressive commercial achievement, but it is not a triumph of vision or technical skill. Depending on your perspective, you might not even consider it to be particularly admirable.
In the absence of Zuckerberg, someone else would have almost certainly come along and stolen Myspace’s thunder — just as someone or something will surely supplant Facebook before its ludicrous valuation is realized. Zuckerberg is not one of history’s great men — he’s just one of its richest.