Is everyone on Facebook? You may not want to be anymore if you read Ben Mezrich's The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook (further sutitled A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal).
A couple of things. This is a slim book, but there's two definite areas to cover here, so bear with me. First, there is the subject of the book, which is, of course, the founding of the social networking site Facebook by Harvard students Mark Zuckerberg (who "came up" with the concept and did the programming) and Eduardo Saverin (who provided the seed money for the company's initial founding). All I can say after reading this one is, I have seen the future, and it is being run by the computer programmers (or, more particularly, the hackers), and that is a scary thought. Not because they're bad people. (In fact, they have reputations as being quite nerdy people, which you'd think would make me love them, and kind of does, in the same way I have a soft spot for engineers.) No, I'll admit I fear computer programmers* because I so completely don't understand what they do. And, here's the tricky parts: how they can do it so big, and they can do it so fast. Facebook grew from one college campus's worth of users to millions of users--all dumping their personal information into its servers--within a few months. There's something creepy about that.
And then let's consider why the company was formed. I don't actually know how much of this story is factual (please refer to the second part of this review), but if it actually started the way Mezrich describes it starting, that's kind of creepy too. I found it particularly hilarious that the call-out quote on the back of the book is "they just wanted to meet some girls." But here's the story as it starts on page 43:
"Maybe somewhere inside of Mark's thoughts, he knew that blaming it all on a girl who had rejected him wasn't exactly fair. How were this one girl's actions different from the way most girls had treated Mark throughout high school and college?...He was going to create something that would give him back some of that control, show all of them what he could do...
Maybe he grinned as he scanned through the pictures [from a Harvard online "facebook"] that were now spread across the screen of his desktop. Certainly, he recognized some of the guys, and even a few of the girls--but most of them were probably strangers to him, even though he'd passed them in the dining hall or on his way to his classes. He was probably a complete stranger to them, too; some of the girls, for sure, had gone out of their way to ignore him.
[from Mark's online blog, quoted in the text] 'I almost want to put some of these faces next to pictures of farm animals and have people vote on which is more attractive.'"
Sorry for the choppy nature of those quotes, but you do get the idea, right? Zuckerberg first created something called Facemash at Harvard not so much because he wanted to meet girls, but because he was pissed and wanted to get back at them by rating them next to farm animals (although he eventually he classed it up a step and went with asking visitors to his new site simply to rank Harvard girls against one another). And then he created that site...by hacking into the university's online (not public, mind you) and individual picture/facebook collections (evidently Harvard is divided into "houses" that each have their own networks) and downloading everyone's photos.
You think a guy like that, who is now CEO of a company that Microsoft once valued at over 15 billion dollars, is going to have any qualms about doing anything he wants with your personal information? I guess people like Facebook. But it gives me the heebies. The guy who created it gives me the heebies. All the programmers who work for him who create major new software "enhancements"--like video-sharing--over the course of TWENTY-FOUR HOURS (which Facebook has done) give me the heebies. Is all of this really worth putting your photo out there so people you didn't really like all that much in high school can find you?
Hmm, I was going to do both halves of this review today, but I think I have already gone on too long, and am heebied out. Tune in tomorrow for the exciting conclusion.
*The irony of typing this in a program provided for me by programmers, who have made it possible for Luddite idiots like me to shoot my mouth off online, is not lost on me.