Mark Zuckerberg, Creator of Facebook

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Mark Zuckerberg, Creator of Facebook

He Walked Away From a Billion-Dollar Offer From Yahoo

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Mark Zuckerberg, who turned 26 years old on May 14, 2010, is thought to be the world’s richest young man, with a net worth of $1.5 billion. His creation of Facebook, originally a social networking site exclusively for Harvard students, has become, according to Wired, “a model for how connection, communication and commerce can work online,” nothing less than “a radical and ambitious rethinking of the Internet’s potential.”

The evolution of Facebook was very rapid, and also broad in terms of its functions and usefulness. It grew from 7 million student-users in 2004 to 66 million users worldwide in October 2008. Recent statistics show there are now 500 million active Facebook users.

Mark, son of a dentist and a psychiatrist, grew up in Dobbs Ferry, New York, and taught himself to program, developing communication tools and games before he was out of high school. He enrolled in Harvard in 2002 and, in response to the lack of a student image directory there (commonly known as a “facebook”), hacked into the university’s records and put up a site called Facemash. The school’s administrators were not amused. They reprimanded Mark and took down the site. He just “thought that the information should be available.”

The following year, Mark launched Facebook, a legal enterprise this time, with two-thirds of the university’s students opting to participate. He designed it to recreate online a “social graph,” a map of people’s existing relationships, rather than a tool for building new ones. Mark and co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, also a computer science major, then opened up the site to other Ivy League schools and acquired thousands of additional student users.

Obtaining venture capital, Mark and Dustin left school and moved to Palo Alto, Calif., to set up offices. In July 2006, Mark was approached by Yahoo! about selling Facebook for $1 billion. The offer was later reduced to $800 million and Mark walked away, earning him a reputation as being pretty cocky, and perhaps unwise.  

The young entrepreneur set about transforming the site into a new model of communication. To make it easier for friends to communicate, he added the News Feed feature, which automatically broadcasts users’ activities to everyone in their networks. Then he opened membership to everyone and created Facebook Platform, a new development tool that provided a way for new applications to be added to the Facebook site.

Mark, the CEO, and Dustin, vice president of engineering, believe in “an intense focus on openness, sharing information, as both an ideal and a practical strategy to get things done.” Both marketers and movements such as political campaigns have utilized that belief, using Facebook to identify and reach potential supporters.

Privacy concerns related to the automatic sharing of information through News Feed and a later feature, Beacon, were addressed with easier opt-out methods to satisfy those not wanting to participate.

In 2007, Facebook sold a 1.6 percent stake to Microsoft for $240 million, but Mark claimed in a March 2008 interview with BusinessWeek that the company is “not even thinking about an IPO right now.” He insists he is “focused on building a company for the long term, something that can really deliver a lot of value for everyone.”  

Executives recruited from other successful tech media companies such as Google, YouTube and AOL now fill key management spots, and the headquarters has grown to a three-building campus where 200 employees enjoy perks like catered meals and free laundry and dry cleaning.  

Suzanne Ridgway is a freelance writer and regular columnist/contributor for Working World and Working Nurse magazines. Suzanne also writes grant proposals for nonprofit organizations.

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