Mark Zuckerberg: Poor Little Rich Boy

GQ names Facebook’s 24-year-old Mark Zuckerberg “Boy Genius of the Year” in this month’s issue. (Some guy named President-elect Barack Obama is on the cover.) In the article, writer Alex French examines his current dilemma: How will Facebook make money off all that private information we share with him every day?

Most of Mr. Zuckerberg’s plans have blown up in his face (remember Beacon and the infamous engagement ring incident?). But since July, he’s been simmering a new feature, Facebook Connect, which will allow Facebookers to share their information with other sites. But that would involve Facebook users giving up even more of their privacy and letting other websites make money off their web browsing.

Most people use Facebook specifically because it feels more private than other social networking sites. But will Mr. Zuckerberg be able to hold on to his millions of users if he breaks their trust? In their headline, GQ asks, “Do You Trust His Face?” Good question.

The kid seems so young, awkward and naive about the potential of his company. But he’s also considered a Silicon Valley whiz kid; worth $3 billion—up there with Bill Gates and the Google guys—as Mr. French points out.

It wasn’t all that long ago that Mr. Zuckerberg “was just that dorky kid with the red, Brillo-coarse hair, the gangly limbs, and the business cards that read i’m ceo…bitch—the child prodigy best known for having been too cocky to take advantage of his one chance to make it rich.” He was painted as a… well, maverick (before that word got ruined) in the Valley. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg: Hacker. Dropout. CEO., was Fast Company‘s headline last May. He even got Microsoft and Google to fight over an equity stake.

Now that Facebook is losing its newborn glow, critics are wondering when Mr. Zuckerberg is going to step down as C.E.O. and let a “real businessman” take advantage of all that information and make billions.

Journalists are going soft on the poor little rich kid.

Simon Garfield of the UK Guardian recently wrote:

I was told not to expect a human whirlwind, but when Mark Zuckerberg walks into the room there is barely a breeze. He is 24, on the short side, shy in the way that short, ginger-haired people often are, and he walks with his head down, as if he is carrying a heavy burden, such as being the richest young person in the world.

And Mr. French writes in GQ:

Zuckerberg speaks with awkward pauses, and while his delivery isn’t exactly confidence-inspiring, it certainly comes across as sincere—at times, painfully so. (“Mark is a very smart person, but he’s not necessarily the strongest communicator,” says Sean Parker, the Napster co-founder who served as Facebook’s founding president, from 2004 to 2005, and is a major shareholder. “He’s like Bill Gates. If you go back to early videos of Gates in the ’80s, he comes across as high-functioning autistic.”)

Mr. Zuckerberg is under pressure from critics and his high-ranking employees to come up with some kind of promising business model, but his brain simply doesn’t seem to work that way. He’s about the ideas, the “work” that Facebook is doing to make the world a better place.

Eventually, he thinks, if he gathers enough users and persuades them to share enough, he’ll have a site that no new rival could ever catch up with. One that—whether it’s through Connect or some other technology—will bring with it the kinds of profits everyone expects from him. But can we be sure that whatever that technology is will not feel like a violation of our trust?

That’s a question Zuckerberg refuses to answer—mostly because he doesn’t quite see things that way. “All that is interesting,” he told me, “but we believe that what we’re doing is a good thing in the world.”

See? What a nice guy. But the problem is nice guys finish last.

 

Mark Zuckerberg: Poor Little Rich Boy