Movie Review: The Social Network
I was looking forward to seeing the movie The Social Network. I read Accidental Billionaires: The founding of Facebook A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal by Ben Mezrich. I have seen Mark Zuckerberg in various interviews and have read his blog. I was halfway through reading The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That is Connecting the World by David Kirkpatrick when I saw The Social Network.
I was entertained and disappointed by the movie. I realize that Hollywood makes movies to make money and to make money the movie has to have those elements that make it compelling, entertaining, provocative, and everything else that sells movie tickets – no matter how much those aspects depart from the truth or the real history of Facebook.
The nature of movies
So, there is the truth and there is the story telling. There is the fact and the fiction. Ben Mezrich says that the story of Facebook in his book is a construction from hundreds of interviews with people close to the story of the founding of Facebook. The Social Network is based on the book. Neither the Ben Mezrick book nor the movie was made with any consultation from Mark Zuckerberg. Sean Parker, short time president of Facebook said the movie was a work of fiction. (more)
Picking and choosing
However, The Facebook Effect written by David Kirkpatrick was done from the inside. David Kirkpatrick is a respected journalist who writes for Fortune magazine. Mark Zuckerberg invited Kirkpatrick to write the story of Facebook. Kirkpatrick travelled with Zuckerberg and was given inside access to the employees of Facebook. So, if there is access to any semblance to the truth about the story of Facebook it’s in The Facebook Effect.
The running time of a typical movie is 2 hours. So, the story of Facebook told in movie form had to be dissected and compressed to fill this 2 hr duration. What do you pick and choose? What part of the story do you tell and what do you leave out? This is the challenge of any movie based on historical events.
Books generally so not have this challenge. Books can be as long as they need to be to tell the story. The “running time” of The Facebook Effect is 15 hours – if you listen to the unabridged audio version. (There will soon be a movie of Atlas Shrugged. The audio book running time of this work is 55 hours. What sort of devestation will the movie industry make of this book?)
What you are missing
The Social Network picks and chooses the worst of Zuckerberg and perhaps Sean Parker and leaves out some of the entrepreneurial genius of both Zuckerberg and Parker that made Facebook a successful company in the real world.
The significant role of Sean Parker
What I told Mark was that I would try to be for him what no one had been for me – a person who sort of shepherds his rear and puts him in a position of power so he’d have the opportunity to make his own mistakes and learn from them. – Sean Parker
It was really beneficial for us that Sean had been a founder who had been burned. We didn’t know anything about how to incorporate a company or take financing, but we had one of the most conservative people figuring it out for us and trying to protect us – Moskovitz
In the Social Network you will not hear about the significant role that Sean Parker (co-founder of Napster and founder of Plaxo) played in the success of Facebook. Not only did Sean have extensive experience dealing with Venture Capital firms but also ensured that, through the complex negotiations with VC’s, Mark did not lose control of the company. Sean kept Marks vision on the long view against others trying to persuade Mark to monetize (generate revenue through advertising) the company early or sell it. Sean’s vision was that Facebook was not a 10 million dollar company, or a 100 million dollar company but a billion dollar company. With Sean Parker, the young Zuckerberg had an experienced advisor and mentor at his side. Parker was Facebook’s first President and held a 7% stake in the company. (more on Sean Parker here )
Zuckerbergs judgements on technolgy and product direction
In the Social Network you will not hear about the series of key judgements that Zuckerberg made on the technology and direction of Facebook. Very early Zuckerberg made Facebook into a platform that other developers and companies could build upon. Zuckerberg carefully controlled the growth of Facebook ensuring that there was sufficient server and network capacity to handle the load. He learned this from the failure of the social networking site Friendster which could not scale to meet demand. Zuckerberg added the “news feed” to Facebook early and continued to evolve the capability of Facebook based on how it was used. There is a part in the movie where someone asks Zuckerberg when Facebook would be finished. His response was the Facebook, like fashion, would never be finished. The details how Zuckerberg made key decisions on new features of Facebook and handled controversy through openness and transparency with the entire Facebook user community is something you will find in the book but not the movie
Hiring key executives and the long-term vision of Facebook
In the Social Network you will not hear about Zuckerberg’s key decisions on hiring people. When the company grew to be a real company Zuckerberg hired Sheryl Sandberg from Google as Chief Operating Officer. Sandberg was twice Zuckerberg’s age and he entrusted the running of the company to her. She is credited with successfully monetizing the company to generate revenue. Zuckerberg made numerous key hiring decisions all along the way that contributed to the success of Facebook. None of this is in the movie.
In the Social Network you will not hear about Zuckerberg’s vision of how Facebook will change the world and the articulation of those ideas. The Facebook Effect devotes considerable space to Zuckerberg’s vision of the future and the role of Facebook for a global society.
“It’s our time; we run the Universe”
There is a scene in the movie where Mark and Sean Parker are at an ultra-hip San Francisco nightclub with blaring music and beautiful women (picture above). The waitress is holding a tray of colored drinks, Mark and Sean are at the VIP area looking over a dance floor; each VIP area has its own waitress along with couches and chairs. Sean has brought two Victoria Secret models with him.
This is where Sean Parker tells Zuckerberg that Facebook is a billion dollar company. Sean Parker is the co-founder of Napster and explains to Zuckerberg that even though Napster was sued out of existence he changed the music industry forever. He tells Zuckerberg that he can change the world forever with Facebook.
So, at least one thing is common between the movie the Social Network and the book The Facebook Effect. What both try to communicate in their own way is the energy and idealism of the 20-something generation that they can change the world for the better. In The Facebook Effect one of the new hires remarks that working for Facebook must be like working for Apple when they were creating the Macintosh. Ambition and obsession can go hand in hand.
So, go see the movie and be entertained. But if you want to learn the history of Facebook closer to the truth read The Facebook Effect by Kirkpatrick. Both the movie and the book give you some hope of the ambition and vision of the next generation – those now in their 20’s.
Read a review of The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal
Sean Parker was co-founder of Napster. Although Napster was sued out of existence Parker changed the world forever. What if Napster never existed? See this article and chart of album sales before and after Napster.
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