Last night I headed out to the cinema and watched The Social Network. I’m led to believe that this is the first of what might turn out to be a new genre of films – films that document how extremely successful dot coms started up. The Social Network shows how a somewhat nerdy Harvard student called Mark Zuckerberg started up Facebook and ended up becoming the world’s youngest billionaire. The whole scenario is made more dramatic by a legal dispute brought on by Mark’s best friend and a couple of other fellow students. Apparently Mark ripped them off by stealing their ideas and ultimately violating verbal business arrangements which had been shambolically cobbled together prior to the launch of Facebook.
It was one of those films where nobody seemed to be a clear cut good or bad guy. The general impression that I was left with was that they were all basically a bunch of daft students who started up a social networking site to pull girls. As far as I can tell the success of their website appeared to be a bit of a fluke and none of the founders had any idea how big Facebook would eventually become. Yes! That’s right. My specialist subject is Stating The Bleeding Obvious!
Although there’s a wide range of characters who (to a greater or lesser extent) played their part in the start up of Facebook, the film leaves us in no doubt that Mark Zuckerberg was the brains behind the whole operation. He was, according to the film, the person who single-handedly developed, designed and launched the website. The idea of Mark Zuckerberg being a genius computing geek is hammered home extremely forcefully. He’s the best student in his computing class at Harvard. He writes web applications at a blisteringly fast speed. He is utterly obsessed with computers and the web. His devotion to the world of computers is so complete that he seems to be almost incapable of any sort of normal conversation with other people he interacts with. As far as I can tell there is a less than subtle hint of Aspergers Syndrome. I’ve since found out that the film was made without any cooperation or blessings from the real Mark Zuckerberg. No surprize there.
Watching the movie I had this strange feeling that I’d seen this character somewhere before. Something about it seemed vaguely familiar. If you have ever seen the John Carpenter film, Christine, then you’ll know where I’m coming from. Christine was a horror movie made in 1983 about a nerdy college kid who bought and refurbished an old Plymouth Fury called Christine. When he bought the car, at the start of the film, he was just an average, everyday kind of regular nerd who had only one friend in the whole world. By the end of the film he was totally obsessed with his machine to the extent where he ended up becoming a sort of isolated, demon possessed loony who was hell bent on death and destruction towards anyone who dared get in the way of the new love of his life – Facebook… I mean, Christine.
I suspect that there’s a lot of people who will watch The Social Network and come away from it thinking that Mark Zuckerberg is some kind of genius role model, whose brilliant mind and entrepreneurial spirit should be applauded to the echo. For anyone who might be inclined to go down that road, I think it’s worth taking a moment to have a quick reality check.
The original Facebook was not a technically complex website. I personally know dozens of web developers who could easily put a site of that nature together in a matter of a few days. Also, the concept of social networking was not new when Facebook came out. At the time there were lots of other hugely successful social networking websites already up and running, such as MySpace, Friendster and FaceParty. Also, Facebook didn’t really bring anything new to the table in terms of technology or features. Where Facebook appears to have got the edge over other social networking sites is in its marketing strategy which, according to the film, seems to have been a bit of a fluke. Looking at the logic, there was bound to be one social networking website that became more popular than all the others. With just one or two slightly different twists of fate along the road, I’m sure we could have easily been watching a film about Bebo or MySpace or Friendster or even Friends Reunited for that matter. I’m not saying that the success of Facebook was a complete fluke. However, I would dispute any suggestions that the success of Facebook was due to the brilliant mind of a computing genius who soared above the rest of the herd like some kind of brilliant, misunderstood falcon. Mark Zuckerberg happens to be the guy who built Facebook. I’m not taking anything away from him. I’m sure he’s an intelligent guy – perhaps even a brilliant guy. However, if it hadn’t been him then I’m absolutely sure that somebody else would have been the person who happened to build the most popular social network on the web.
So, all in all it was a good film. For me it was a film about internet marketing and from that perspective I think there were one or two lessons to be learned. The most important of which was, I think, the idea that the currency of the web is not Pounds, Dollars of Euros but visitors. However, if you watch The Social Network with the goal of learning about how to become a successful dot com millionaire then I think you’ll either be misled or sorely disappointed. Check it out but don’t check it out thinking that it’ll teach you how to be the next Bill Gates.
I give it seven out of ten.