I am not a friend of Mark Zuckerberg. Still, I spent enough time with him in private and public to say that in my opinion, The Social Network is an accurate, though not factual representation, of who Mark Zuckerberg is. Yes, the movie is a caricature, but sometimes caricatures do capture the essence of a person, and in the case of The Social Network, the caricature works.
I met Mark Zuckerberg on a few occasions, in Madrid, in the US, and had some private conversations with him. This picture of him, my son Tom and my wife Nina was taken during a conversation we all had about the future of Facebook at the Teatro Lara in Madrid.
This meeting took place as Fon, my company, now the largest WiFi network in the world, helped Facebook launch in Spanish. Basically we organized developer's garages for Facebook, so developers from the Spanish-speaking world would write apps for Facebook. In general we helped generate awareness for Facebook, a company that I was a fan of from an early stage and that I predicted would be worth $10 billion (which sounded crazy then and is now less than half of its current value).
Now why is The Social Network realistic? Because in the end what it manages to say about Mark Zuckerberg is what Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) summarizes when he says that Mark "is the CEO, bitch!". And he is. Mark is the SOUL of Facebook. Mark does not seem to have any other interest in life other than growing Facebook. He is a GENIUS at that, at growing Facebook. And Facebook is a gift to humanity in the sense that it helps humanity relate, albeit in a somewhat geeky way.
Will Mark grow up to be Bill Gates? Will he be first the richest person in the world as Facebook reaches the value of Google today and his 25% of Facebook is worth more than $50 billion? Probably. But will he then leave Facebook and expand in all directions, helping make the world a better place as Bill Gates, both with money and time? I am not sure. Certainly in my meetings with him all he would want to talk about is Facebook, all he cared about, obsessed about, was Facebook. One of these meetings took place right before the last US election -- Obama only drew a blank stare from Mark, a look similar to the ones so well portrayed in the movie. Politics is just one of the many subjects that Mark is NOT interested in. But then, who knows? Mark may change. I did not get to meet Bill Gates when he was 23. Maybe all he talked about was DOS. But what I can say, is that I have known Larry and Sergey for years, and that they were never like Mark. Larry and Sergey see life outside of Google. They are extremely curious academic people. If the depth of field of Larry and Sergey is 11, that of Mark is a 1.2 as in 1.2 Canon Lens. Very sharp even in the dark. But in his life, Facebook is in focus and all is else is blurry. Peripheral vision.
But why would we want Mark to be different? I think our desire for Mark to touch all aspects of life is unnecessary. If he is a genius at one thing and that one thing is making humanity relate, why is that not enough? Why don't we avoid "Peter Principling" him and leave him were he is doing us all a big favor? Why do we expect from him to be a great communicator, which he is not, or to shed light on many topics unrelated to Facebook, which he cannot do. Or even to be funny, which he is not. Why does the media think that just because somebody is brilliant at one thing he should be brilliant at everything else?
The Social Network is also good at depicting a situation typical of struggling entrepreneurs with strong visions. Mark had no money, had a vision and it is true that he left people stranded along the way. It is true that his loyalty is only, not even to himself (he does not seem to have any personal moments), but to Facebook. And we know the syndrome -- if you start a company and fail you are the only founder, if you start one and succeed, co-founders rise every other day. In Europe and Asia this can mean that everyone feels part of the dream and left out if not recognized, or frustrated. But in the US this means that everyone feels entitled to sue. The US has a unique judicial system that makes it possible to sue in the way that is seen in the movie.
So who is Mark Zuckerberg? He is the guy you see in the film. A young, obsessed entrepreneur who is not caught at parties with Sean Parker doing cocaine not only because he does not like drugs, but because he does not like parties or anything that takes him away from Facebook. He is the socially handicapped young man who gave us the best platform in the world, to be social. He is THE design mind of the social internet. And if you want to know what I think, personally, I like Mark as he is, and love Facebook. I just know what our next conversation topic will be when we meet again, and that is? Yes, Facebook.
Follow Martin Varsavsky on Twitter: www.twitter.com/martinvars