The Social Network

by Krishna on January 20, 2011

I saw “The Social Network” on DVD the other day. Excellent movie, well worth watching. No surprise that it got the Golden Globe and possibly will get the Academy Award too. I don’t have much to say about the accuracy of the movie, except that even if everything was fiction, it is still an immensely watchable experience. Mark Zuckerberg's character came out well in the movie despite the positioning of the movie (“You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies”) and some of the reviews.

Some thoughts (remember, I am not a lawyer):

  1. The movie rushed past the intellectual property issues. Copying the features of a website (aka, a clone) is usually not a crime (aside from any patent issues). Copying the code is, which was not relevant in the case of Facebook. Verbal agreements are just as valid as written ones. But what was agreed to? And what trade secrets were violated?
  2. Jesse Eisenberg's portrayal of Zuckerberg was fine from an acting perspective, but his arrogant persona seems different from the happy-looking Zuckerberg. Every person has angry and unflattering episodes. I don’t think you can extrapolate from that to their entire character. But once again, I felt that the movie ultimately (maybe despite itself) made Zuckerberg look good.
  3. The movie does well in showing Zuckerberg hostile to ads because he didn’t know what Facebook was about yet. But it makes a mistake by assuming that he was slow on the monetization piece because he held out for greater wealth. Many hackers have a natural aversion to making “cheap” money and to putting ads on their site, especially when they don’t have many users.
  4. The episode of Sean Parker using an example of a business owner who sold out early was instructive, but it could have gone the other way. There are stories of businesses who neglected to find buyers during their high times and went out of business during a decline. What do they say — “a bird in hand… “?
  5. Again not emphasized (one of the short misogynistic episodes in the movie), but Facebook’s success had a significant basis in its birth at Harvard. Imagine a very similar web application originating at the Memphis College of Art or the Athens University of Economics and Business (with all due respect). Social class and connections are important.

Finally, many people will watch the movie and think of programming geniuses. That is a wrong take and the movie is clear that business decisions matter. A lot. Facebook was quick in expanding to other colleges. Moving to the Valley, getting the right people interested, and even pushing Eduardo aside were key decisions that propelled Facebook to the top.

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