Mark Zuckerberg, the 26-year-old CEO of Facebook, was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year on Wednesday. Time argued the importance of Zuckerberg and Facebook saying, “Facebook has merged with the social fabric of American life, and not just American but human life: nearly half of all Americans have a Facebook account, but 70 percent of Facebook users live outside the United States.”
Few technology leaders before him have cracked Time’s Person of the Year. “You” got the honor in 2006 — “you” as in YouTube generation. Another Harvard dropout — Microsoft founder Bill Gates — got it in 2005, but he was one of a group of “Good Samaritans” recognized for their philanthropy. Amazon.com CEO and founder Jeff Bezos was named in 1999. The personal computer was crowned in 1982.
This has been quite a year for Zuckerberg. “The Social Network,” which roughly tells the story of Facebook’s creation, was a hit that is showing up on top-10 lists for best movie. Zuckerberg pooh-pooh’ed its accuracy, especially the implication that he launched Facebook as a reaction to getting dumped by a girl. He did concede the movie got his clothes right.
Facebook has had a great year as well. On July 21, the network added its 500-millionth friend.
Zuckerberg accepted the distinction of Person of the Year, saying it is “an honor and recognition of how our little team is building something that hundreds of millions of people want to use to make the world more open and connected.”
Up From a Dorm Room
Facebook was an unlikely success. In 2004, when Zuckerberg took a friend’s idea and built it into a website targeted for Harvard students, there were already two sites that facilitated friends getting together online: Friendster and MySpace. Why did Facebook take off if it wasn’t delivering anything truly new?
“What they did with Facebook is analogous to what Apple did with the iPod,” Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, told TechNewsWorld. “It was a pretty crowded market, but Apple took it two steps further than anyone had done. They said ‘we can do it better,’ and they did. Facebook did the same thing.”
Facebook took venture capital dollars early on, but it remains private. Though Zuckerberg started the company in a Harvard dorm room, he was soon convinced to move to Palo Alto where technology talent was easy to find.
New Big Kid on the Net
In seven short years, Facebook has pushed Web giants to the side and become an important player.
“Zuckerberg has been a controversial character, as well a successful one, so it’s an interesting choice by Time,” said King. “We’ve seen a huge uptick in social networking in the past year or 18 months. By sheer numbers, Facebook and social networking have pushed Google into second place in many people’s minds.”
It would be hard to overestimate the impact Facebook has had on how people interact through the Internet.
“Social networking is the 2010 equivalent of what AOL was to the internet in 1997 or 1998,” said King. “AOL is tarnished, but in that day it was the gold standard. It will be interesting to see what the next gold rush will look.”
It’s Not Just Personal, It’s Business
Half a billion friends on Facebook makes for quite a business market. Facebook’s size has made the social network a deep pond for marketing.
“Facebook started as a friend and family site, but now it has real value for corporations, and not just as a profile space,” Debbie DeGabrielle, chief marketing officer for Visible Technologies, told TechNewsWorld.
“On Facebook, you don’t have to drive anyone anywhere,” she said. “You can join the conversation that is already happening. It’s remarkably powerful. For dollars spent, social networking offers a high return on investment.”
Part of Facebook’s attraction to corporations is its friendly feel.
“It has changed the business model in how a corporation can engage with prospective customers as well as current customers,” said DeGabrielle. “Facebook has humanized technology. It’s put a personal touch into technology, and that’s significant.”