Mark, Steve and Bill

I finally got to watching The Social Network. It’s fun, though I think it focuses too much on the precious “idea”. The film itself even notes that Facebook-alikes existed at the time: myspace, friendster et al. The idea was far from unique.

What I’ve always respected from Facebook is that they went against the grain of thinking at the time. We’d tell clients that their users would never give up their personal details without the promise of something in return. Facebook proved us wrong – people would (and still do) happily surrender every tiny detail of their life into a website, for no good reason.

Ok, so the film focussed on the legal issues (though didn’t even touch on the privacy issues), and apparently a “legal thriller” is a legitimate film genre. The film ends just as Facebook is taking off.

Facebook’s river of success has many tributaries. The film shows how single-minded and hard working you have to be to run this sort of site – that’s important. Despite the programmer’s bravado, “I built this in a week”, we lie – successful websites require an inordinate amount of everyday work and attention to detail.

For every project I’ve ever worked on, I can look back at the core concept, the basic code at the heart of the system, and yes, that probably took a solid week of coding. It’s just the finishing touches that took the other 18 months.

Facebook’s story is also one of constant reinvention. We had the exclusive-members-club mentioned in the film, before becoming the stalker’s handbook, and then an email replacement. When they launched Apps, the world woke up. There were pirates, pokes, vampires, and all sorts. Google felt the need to launch OpenSocial to compete. Little widget apps were the future. Until Facebook decided the idea was tired, and they killed it. Suddenly the apps were hidden out of reach. Boom. And now, the timeline, the canvas, the ticker. Facebook is all about reinvention.

Speaking of which, I’ve also recently finished Steve Jobs’s official biography. For anyone who hasn’t done that yet, it turns out Jobs was an absolute arse. A complete tit. Such a pitiful waste of human life that just treated friends, family and everyone else like shit.

Until he returned to Apple, Jobs didn’t even make good business decisions. However, when he did come back, he started a massive overhaul of the company. Any every aspect of that revolution made perfect business sense.

He slimmed the range of products to something humans could comprehend. He recognised the importance of the tiny disc drive that would power the iPod, then bet the company on it. He bought a touchscreen company, then didn’t release a shitty tablet. He made the iPhone. He made products both cheap and profitable. He trusted Tim Cook. He trusted Jony Ive.

He built Pixar.

What the book doesn’t properly explain is how such a pathetic excuse for a human being could have been such a business genius, when business is often about relationships. I suspect the book is about as accurate as the Facebook film.

One person who comes across well in the book is Bill Gates. He comes across smarter, more friendly. He understands that clients wanted compatibility, and built a computer industry out of it. His only vice seems to be saying yes too often, and that’s why Windows and Office became overly complex bloatware, that have struggled to keep up with the rapid pace of online development.

Gates actually has a cameo in the Facebook film, failing to inspire a young Zuck.

Zuckerberg, Gates and Jobs. All young billionaires. but none of them lottery winners. Their core stories involve a solid education, a massive dedication to hard work (usually at the expense of personal relationships), and constant reinvention.

Now Facebook has IPO’ed, I look forward to seeing if Zuckerberg will stagnate like Gates, or simply push harder, like Jobs. And if he did push on, what would he do next?