Facebook passed the billion user a day mark recently, prompting some pundits to talk about how it was a walled garden that was focused on owning the internet, and others (in Russia) to talk about it as an evil force.
Not for me. Let me tell you why.
In 1998 I met an Apple alum from India, Anil Srivastava, at a conference at Stanford. The internet was relatively new, and he and his Israeli partner Anat Bernstein-Reich had started a company called AcrossWorld. They didn’t have a product, but they had a vision — to connect the world. I leapt at that vision, thinking as they did that connecting the world might produce world peace. Anil thought that connection came from laying cable under the oceans. I worked with them for three years because I believed.
Anil and Anat could never raise the money to make their vision real, but the infrastructure did get built by others. Although their company failed, their vision didn’t. The physical connection happened.
In 2006 I was Robert Scoble’s “date” at a VC gathering in Phoenix. A young man was standing in front of the pool. He was talking to Bill Tai about his startup, Facebook, and how fast it was growing. I had heard of Facebook, but I knew you had to have a university address to use it. I asked him when I could log in, and he told me he had just opened it up to everyone because he wanted to connect the world. He probably doesn’t even remember this, but I laughingly told him I wanted to be the oldest person on Facebook and he laughed back and said I wouldn’t be for long.
I ran home and signed up. Mark Zuckerberg’s vision was the same as Anil Srivastava’s. He wanted to connect the world. That was enough for me. Remember, all my life I’ve been a communicator, and as a communicator I believe that better communication can be world-changing.
So when people criticize Facebook, as many do, and talk about how Mark just wants to make more money (he’s giving it away almost as fast as he makes it) or gather more data, or sell more advertising, or control more information — I feel compelled to come to his defense. If he didn’t have a dream, the dream of connecting the world, he would have “exited” a long time ago, not kept control of the company. He has kept control for a reason.
Goddamn it, what do you all expect from him. He has a big dream. Those ads you see? He has to fund Facebook somehow, and the bottom of the pyramid can’t afford to pay for it, while the top feels entitled to free content. That data he collects? It’s useful to everyone, not just advertisers or the NSA.
So don’t be so quick to piss on Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, people. He is connecting the world in the best way he knows how. He’s my hero, because I believe that he believes connecting the world will somehow save the planet.
And we also share a birthday.