JCL Blog

Book Review: The Facebook Effect by David Kirkpatrick

I quit using facebook in May.  I have also written many posts about facebook, and I have also promised not to rant about facebook anymore.  

Count this post as the point in time when I break all of those promises at once.  I have just turned my facebook account back on and will likely start using it again.  It is hard to argue against facebook's performance and usefulness.  

There is a conflict between the natural inclination to add friends (because everyone wants the biggest number of friends possible and nobody wants to be rude and unfriend people) and the simple fact that facebook is the most useful when your friends really are your friends.  Just about all of the anguish about facebook can be traced back to this issue.  David Kirkpatrick makes this point convincingly and I agree that if you want a good facebook experience, only accept friend invitations from people you want to share your personal life with.

Mark Zuckerberg does come off as a very smart, hard working, and self assured person.  Most importantly, he is aware that he has a great deal to learn and he has sought out some of the smartest people in the business and they have agreed to advise him.  From Marc Andreessen to Bill Gates to Steve Jobs, Mark is hanging out with some very smart people.

The book does not mention Donald Rumsfeld, but it would not surprise me if Mr. Zuckerberg has talked to him too.  Our former Secretary of Defense knew that embedded reporters need not be instructed to put a positive spin on the actions of the military units they are embedded with -- because the personal relationships formed during the action take care of that.  Same is true in this case.  The author had very good access to all parts of facebook, and by the time the book was finished, the cool aid had been consumed.  

Balanced account or not, the story is unbelievable.  From 0 to 1,400 employees and 500 million users in five years is a rocket ship ride an author could only dream of and Kirkpatrick does a good job of getting the story down on paper.  The early bidding war at a $1 billion valuation and Mark's ability to resist it -- absolutely a once in a lifetime thing for the author and his subject.

So whether or not you are a facebook fan, user, or detractor: this book is one you should read.  I still do think that facebook will eventually fail, because I think all closed systems will eventually fail.  Accordingly I will continue to invest most of my energy in building an identity outside of facebook.  But there is no denying facebook is useful and will be around for a long time.

One last note: I "read" the book by listening to it on Audible.  Unfortunately the author read it himself.  This is almost always a mistake -- if you can get the printed version -- do so.