“Facebook was not originally created to be a company,” writes Mark Zuckerberg at the start of his letter to would-be shareholders in the company’s IPO filing. “It was built to accomplish a social mission — to make the world more open and connected.”
One of the great things about our newly transparent world is that we can peer into people’s pasts – I mean, their timelines – and see what they were doing and thinking way back when. And when you scroll Zuckerberg’s timeline back to Facebook’s formative days, you do indeed see a young man filled with philanthropic fervor, a man without worldly desires who is putting his heart and his soul into a grand social mission.
Just look at what Zuckerberg was doing, as a sophomore at Harvard, in the days just before he created Facebook. Working selflessly at his computer in his dorm, he created a site called Facemash. It pulled photos of Harvard undergrads from other campus sites, put two of the photos side by side on a web page, and allowed people to vote for which of the two was the “hottest.” It then tallied the votes to create lists ranking students by their looks. It’s hard to imagine a more altruistic project. What Zuckerberg had already realized is that, in order to create seamless online connections between people, you have to first turn them into objects.
And then the fledgling humanitarian really spread his wings. He agreed to write the code for a dating site being planned by some classmates even as he was clandestinely pursuing his own plan for a similar social-networking site, then called The Facebook. He struggled mightily with the ethical dilemma raised by this apparent conflict of interest, at one point pouring his heart out in an instant-message exchange with a high school friend named Adam D’Angelo:
Zuckerberg: So you know how I’m making that dating site
Zuckerberg: I wonder how similar that is to the Facebook thing
Zuckerberg: Because they’re probably going to be released around the same time
Zuckerberg: Unless I fuck the dating site people over and quit on them right before I told them I’d have it done.
D’Angelo: haha …
Zuckerberg: Like I don’t think people would sign up for the facebook thing if they knew it was for dating
Zuckerberg: and I think people are skeptical about joining dating things too.
Zuckerberg: But the guy doing the dating thing is going to promote it pretty well.
Zuckerberg: I wonder what the ideal solution is.
Zuckerberg: I think the Facebook thing by itself would draw many people, unless it were released at the same time as the dating thing.
Zuckerberg: In which case both things would cancel each other out and nothing would win …
Zuckerberg: I also hate the fact that I’m doing it for other people haha. Like I hate working under other people. I feel like the right thing to do is finish the facebook and wait until the last day before I’m supposed to have their thing ready and then be like “look yours isn’t as good as this so if you want to join mine you can…otherwise I can help you with yours later.” Or do you think that’s too dick?
D’Angelo: I think you should just ditch them
Zuckerberg: The thing is they have a programmer who could finish their thing and they have money to pour into advertising and stuff. Oh wait I have money too. My friend who wants to sponsor this is head of the investment society. Apparently insider trading isn’t illegal in Brazil so he’s rich lol.
When you’re deeply engaged in pursuing a social mission, and not at all concerned about any sort of crass business interests, you naturally obsess about ways to “fuck over” your competitors so you can get to market first, pour investors’ money into “advertising and stuff,” and “win.” It’s a simple fact: When you’re guided by high social ideals, you can never be “too dick.”