Fortune senior editor for Internet and technology Kirkpatrick delivers a data-heavy, analysis-light biography of the Internet’s second-most-visited site.
Facebook grew from 10,000 users in early 2004 to 350 million users as of January 2010, essentially redefining social networking in the process. Considering that founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook as a sophomore in college, the author’s awestruck tone is forgivable, though eventually exhausting. How Facebook managed such a meteoric rise while (so far) avoiding the Friendster effect is Kirkpatrick’s central subject. The author chronicles the defining events that made Facebook what it is today—its portentous tussles over privacy with its birthplace, Harvard; the sustained exponential growth of Facebook’s user base; the adolescent growing pains of its office culture; the personal clashes among its founders and executives; its massive, unprecedented financial valuation and subsequent courting by investors like the Washington Post Company, Accel and Microsoft. Kirkpatrick makes it abundantly clear that Facebook owes its success primarily to Zuckerberg, and the author devotes nearly equal attention to illuminating Zuckerberg’s (in)famous reticence and surprisingly shrewd business sense as he does to charting the rise of his brainchild. Disappointingly, the author sidesteps sociological analyses of how Facebook influences its users. Though Facebook owes its existence to Zuckerberg’s tenacity, prescience, intelligence and apparent commitment—typically at the expense of short-term profit—to building nothing less than a new mode of communication, far more interesting would’ve been deeper examinations of Zuckerberg’s new mode of communication as it shapes our societies, governance and our personal identities. In the introduction, Kirkpatrick promises to explore these questions, but readers hungry for a meaty cultural critique may feel cheated by what is essentially a lengthy corporate biography.
Comprehensive but one-sided and surprisingly bland.