Tuesday, September 03, 2013

"Mark Zuckerberg: The Real Face Behind Facebook": rather obscure documentary on picked up by Brazilian cable is pretty effective

Mark Zuckerberg: The Real Face Behind Facebook” is a 55-minute documentary by Lauren Klein, offered by Brazilian television and available on YouTube (link) now, since early 2013. 

The film sometimes probes authors Ben Mezrich (the authorized biography “The Accidental Billionaires”, source material for the big film “The Social Network”, books blog Jan 8, 2010), and then David Kirkpatrick (the “authorized” book, “The Facebook Effect”, July 6, 2010, same blog).  It presents a more personal picture of Mark than I have seen in film before, and some of it is troubling. The film also presents Mark and Facebook as somewhat secretive in the way they handle the media.

The opening describes his upbringing in a NYC suburb by a dentist, and being viewed as a bit of a “prince” once his prodigy-level ability for programming surfaced.  He was teased or hazed at his first private school, and went on to Exeter (where he excelled at fencing) and then to Harvard, where only about 6% of applicants get in. 

The film shows the typical living quarters at Kirkland House, where he wrote his notorious “hottie contest” Facemash application in November 2003.  The bedrooms are tiny, but groups of students share living rooms.  He is described as aloof but articulate.  He is approached by the Winklevoss twins (the “Winklevii”) to develop a social network, apparently paid, and then becomes unreachable, putting them off.  Contrary to appearances, the film does not show that Zuckerberg actually “stole” or misappropriated their “idea” or technical plans.  He could well have started over.  But he did stiff them (although the film doesn't even say that he was paid for work for the Winklevii that he didn't do, and some experts say that his idea for Facebook's was significantly more original and better than the Winklevii's).  Later, they settled out of court, and then the Winlklevii tried to sue for more, unsuccessfully.

The film describes Zuckerberg’s frienshdip with investment genius Eduardo Saverin, whom he latter stiffs, apparently, after he moves to California and Saverin doesn’t come with him.  He does get funding from Sean Parker, and lives in a ramshackle house with friends and employees who develop the system.  The shift to a full set of office buildings in Palo Alto was apparently fast, although the early headquarters were described as plain outside but fun inside.   At the midpoint of the film, there’s a nice scene with Mark in his shorts, in the first Palo Alto rental.

The later part of the film covers his television interviews, including one where he almost had a panic attack when cornered about his business practices and past emails, especially at the very beginning. Clips of his interviews with Oprah Winfrey and Diane Sawyer are shown, but the famous “Is that a question?” doesn’t show up. Whatever people think of Zuckerberg's social skills (there is even a site that says he is an "alien" -- that is, extraterrestrial -- intending to connect us to other solar systems), he outfoxed actor Jessie Eisenberg on SNL.  Maybe he's ready for a little "reidoing".  

The official site is here.

See also the hour long interview about Web 2.0,link on the “BillBoushka” blog Nov. 17, 2010.
Here, Business Insider shows Mark explaining why he remains Facebook’s CEO.

I have seen Mark Zuckerberg with his (since married) wife once in public, in 2011.  There was no opportunity to play paparazzi.

I do think there is something else that is interesting. In the beginning, Zuckerberg is portrayed as simply wanting to connect people online.  In the first few months (of 2004), to the dismay of others, he was relatively aloof to advertisers and the need for money.  But, in addition to facilitating personal connection, sharing, networking and “online living”, Facebook has evolved into a de facto microblogging platform, for members who don’t want to whitelist (to friends only) their content, and has pushed the concept of news aggregation, heavily personalized, with the Timeine concept.   (Many celebrities had taken to blogging on Myspace in the earliest days of Facebook.)  Zuckerberg was a freshman in the spring of 2003, when the controversy of military recruiters was particularly well known on the Harvard campus, over “don’t ask don’t tell”.   He must have known by then how flat Internet publishing, even in the old Web 1.0 world,  could be politically effective with issues like DADT.  I presume he would have met Chris Hughes, openly gay, but not covered in this film. 

Does Mark Zuckerberg rule the world now? His idea that one cannot ethically lead a double life could have been influenced by the DADT debate at Harvard.  Facebook is noted for insisting that people use real given names.  Mark does not believe in anonymity. 
The film is in English, and on YouTube it has Portuguese subtitles.  It was hard to tell it from Spanish.

Update: Sept. 10

Bloomberg has a 45-minute YouTube video on Mark Zuckerberg (May 28, 2013) here

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