Mark Elliot Zuckerberg (born May 14, 1984) is an American computer programmer and Internet entrepreneur. He is best known for co-creating the social networking site Facebook, of which he is chief executive. It was co-founded as a private company in 2004 by Zuckerberg and classmates Dustin Moskovitz, Eduardo Saverin, and Chris Hughes while they were students at Harvard University. In 2010, Zuckerberg was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year. As of 2011, his personal wealth was estimated to be $17.5 billion making him one of the world’s youngest billionaires.
Zuckerberg was born in 1984 in White Plains, New York to Karen, a psychiatrist, and Edward Zuckerberg, a dentist. He and his three sisters, Randi, Donna, and Arielle, were brought up in Dobbs Ferry, New York. Zuckerberg was raised Jewish and had his bar mitzvah when he turned 13; he has since described himself as an atheist.
At Ardsley High School, Zuckerberg had excelled in the classics before transferring to Phillips Exeter Academy in his junior year, where he won prizes in science (math, astronomy and physics) and classical studies (on his college application, Zuckerberg listed as non-English languages he could read and write: French, Hebrew, Latin, and ancient Greek) and was a fencing star and captain of the fencing team. In college, he was known for reciting lines from epic poems such as The Iliad.
At a party put on by his fraternity during his sophomore year, Zuckerberg met Priscilla Chan, a Chinese-American fellow student originally from the Boston suburbs, and they began dating in 2003. In September 2010, Zuckerberg invited Chan, by then a medical student at the University of California, San Francisco, to move into his rented Palo Alto house. Zuckerberg studied Mandarin Chinese in preparation for the couple’s visit to China in December 2010.
On Zuckerberg’s Facebook page, he listed his personal interests as “openness, making things that help people connect and share what’s important to them, revolutions, information flow, minimalism”. Zuckerberg sees blue best because of red–green colorblindness; blue is also Facebook’s dominant color.
Zuckerberg began using computers and writing software as a child in middle school. His father taught him Atari BASIC Programming in the 1990s, and later hired software developer David Newman to tutor him privately. Newman calls him a “prodigy,” adding that it was “tough to stay ahead of him.” Zuckerberg also took a graduate course in the subject at Mercy College near his home while he was still in high school. He enjoyed developing computer programs, especially communication tools and games. In one such program, since his father’s dental practice was operated from their home, he built a software program he called “ZuckNet,” which allowed all the computers between the house and dental office to communicate by pinging each other. It is considered a “primitive” version of AOL’s Instant Messenger, which came out the following year.
According to writer Jose Antonio Vargas, “some kids played computer games. Mark created them.” Zuckerberg himself recalls this period: “I had a bunch of friends who were artists. They’d come over, draw stuff, and I’d build a game out of it.” However, notes Vargas, Zuckerberg was not a typical “geek-klutz,” as he later became captain of his prep school fencing team and earned a classics diploma. Napster co-founder Sean Parker, a close friend, notes that Zuckerberg was “really into Greek odysseys and all that stuff,” recalling how he once quoted lines from the Roman epic poem Aeneid, by Virgil, during a Facebook product conference.
During Zuckerberg’s high school years, under the company name Intelligent Media Group, he built a music player called the Synapse Media Player that used artificial intelligence to learn the user’s listening habits, which was posted to Slashdot and received a rating of 3 out of 5 from PC Magazine. Microsoft and AOL tried to purchase Synapse and recruit Zuckerberg, but he chose instead to enroll at Harvard University in September 2002.
By the time he began classes at Harvard, he had already achieved a “reputation as a programming prodigy,” notes Vargas. He studied psychology and computer science as well as belonging to Alpha Epsilon Pi, a Jewish fraternity. In his sophomore year, he wrote a program he called CourseMatch, which allowed users to make class selection decisions based on the choices of other students and also to help them form study groups. A short time later, he created a different program he initially called Facemash that let students select the best looking person from a choice of photos. According to Zuckerberg’s roommate at the time, Arie Hasit, “he built the site for fun.” Hasit explains:
The site went up over a weekend, but by Monday morning the college shut it down because its popularity had overwhelmed Harvard’s server and prevented students from accessing the Internet. In addition, many students complained that their photos were being used without permission. Zuckerberg apologized publicly, and the student paper ran articles stating that his site was “completely improper.”
Around the time of Facemash, however, students were requesting that the university develop an internal website that would include similar photos and contact details. According to Hasit, “Mark heard these pleas and decided that if the university won’t do something about it, he will, and he would build a site that would be even better than what the university had planned.”
Zuckerberg launched Facebook from his Harvard dormitory room on February 4, 2004. An earlier inspiration for Facebook may have come from Phillips Exeter Academy, the prep school from which Zuckerberg graduated in 2002. It published its own student directory, “The Photo Address Book,” which students referred to as “The Facebook.” Such photo directories were an important part of the student social experience at many private schools. With them, students were able to list attributes such as their class years, their proximities to friends, and their telephone numbers.
Once at college, Zuckerberg’s Facebook started off as just a “Harvard thing” until Zuckerberg decided to spread it to other schools, enlisting the help of roommate Dustin Moskovitz. They first started it at Stanford, Dartmouth, Columbia, New York University, Cornell, Penn, Brown, and Yale, and then at other schools that had social contacts with Harvard.
Zuckerberg moved to Palo Alto, California, with Moskovitz and some friends. They leased a small house that served as an office. Over the summer, Zuckerberg met Peter Thiel who invested in the company. They got their first office in mid-2004. According to Zuckerberg, the group planned to return to Harvard but eventually decided to remain in California. They had already turned down offers by major corporations to buy out Facebook. In an interview in 2007, Zuckerberg explained his reasoning:
He restated these same goals to Wired magazine in 2010: “The thing I really care about is the mission, making the world open.” Earlier, in April 2009, Zuckerberg sought the advice of former Netscape CFO Peter Currie about financing strategies for Facebook.
On July 21, 2010, Zuckerberg reported that the company reached the 500 million-user mark. When asked whether Facebook could earn more income from advertising as a result of its phenomenal growth, he explained:
In 2010, Steven Levy, who authored the 1984 book Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, wrote that Zuckerberg “clearly thinks of himself as a hacker.” Zuckerberg said that “it’s OK to break things” “to make them better.” Facebook instituted “hackathons” held every six to eight weeks where participants would have one night to conceive of and complete a project. The company provided music, food, and beer at the hackathons, and many Facebook staff members, including Zuckerberg, regularly attended. “The idea is that you can build something really good in a night”, Zuckerberg told Levy. “And that’s part of the personality of Facebook now … It’s definitely very core to my personality.”
Vanity Fair magazine named Zuckerberg number 1 on its 2010 list of the Top 100 “most influential people of the Information Age”. Zuckerberg ranked number 23 on the Vanity Fair 100 list in 2009. In 2010, Zuckerberg was chosen as number 16 in New Statesman’s annual survey of the world’s 50 most influential figures.
In a 2011 interview with PBS after the death of Steve Jobs, Zuckerberg said that Jobs had advised him on how to create a management team at Facebook that was “focused on building as high quality and good things as you are.”
Depictions in media
The Social Network
A movie based on Zuckerberg and the founding years of Facebook, called The Social Network was released on October 1, 2010, and stars Jesse Eisenberg as Zuckerberg. After Zuckerberg was told about the film, he responded, “I just wished that nobody made a movie of me while I was still alive.” Also, after the film’s script was leaked on the Internet and it was apparent that the film would not portray Zuckerberg in a wholly positive light, he stated that he wanted to establish himself as a “good guy”. The film is based on the book The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich, which the book’s publicist once described as “big juicy fun” rather than “reportage.” The film’s screenwriter Aaron Sorkin told New York magazine, “I don’t want my fidelity to be to the truth; I want it to be to storytelling”, adding, “What is the big deal about accuracy purely for accuracy’s sake, and can we not have the true be the enemy of the good?”
Upon winning the Golden Globes award for Best Picture on January 16, 2011, producer Scott Rudin thanked Facebook and Zuckerberg “for his willingness to allow us to use his life and work as a metaphor through which to tell a story about communication and the way we relate to each other.” Sorkin, who won for Best Screenplay, retracted some of the impressions given in his script:
On January 29, 2011, Zuckerberg made a surprise guest appearance on Saturday Night Live, which was being hosted by Jesse Eisenberg. They both said it was the first time they ever met. Eisenberg asked Zuckerberg, who had been critical of his portrayal by the film, what he thought of the movie. Zuckerberg replied, “It was interesting.” In a subsequent interview about their meeting, Eisenberg explains that he was “nervous to meet him, because I had spent now, a year and a half thinking about him …” He adds, “Mark has been so gracious about something that’s really so uncomfortable … The fact that he would do SNL and make fun of the situation is so sweet and so generous. It’s the best possible way to handle something that, I think, could otherwise be very uncomfortable.”
Jeff Jarvis, author of the book Public Parts, interviewed Zuckerberg and believes Sorkin has made too much of the story up. He states, “That’s what the internet is accused of doing, making stuff up, not caring about the facts.”
According to David Kirkpatrick, former technology editor at Fortune magazine and author of The Facebook Effect:The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World, (2011), “the film is only “40% true … he is not snide and sarcastic in a cruel way, the way Zuckerberg is played in the movie.” He says that “a lot of the factual incidents are accurate, but many are distorted and the overall impression is false,” and concludes that primarily “his motivations were to try and come up with a new way to share information on the internet.”
Although the film portrays Zuckerberg’s creation of Facebook in order to elevate his stature after not getting into any of the elite final clubs at Harvard, Zuckerberg himself said he had no interest in joining the final clubs. Kirkpatrick agrees that the impression implied by the film is “false.”
Karel Baloun, a former senior engineer at Facebook, notes that the “image of Zuckerberg as a socially inept nerd is overstated … It is fiction …” He likewise dismisses the film’s assertion that he “would deliberately betray a friend.”
Zuckerberg donated an undisclosed amount to Diaspora, an open-source personal web server that implements a distributed social networking service. He called it a “cool idea.”
Zuckerberg founded the Start-up: Education foundation. On September 22, 2010, it was reported that Zuckerberg had arranged to donate $100 million to Newark Public Schools, the public school system of Newark, New Jersey. Critics noted the timing of the donation as being close to the release of The Social Network, which painted a somewhat negative portrait of Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg responded to the criticism, saying, “The thing that I was most sensitive about with the movie timing was, I didn’t want the press about The Social Network movie to get conflated with the Newark project. I was thinking about doing this anonymously just so that the two things could be kept separate.” Newark Mayor Cory A. Booker stated that he and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had to convince Zuckerberg’s team not to make the donation anonymously.
On December 9, 2010, Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and investor Warren Buffett signed a promise they called the “Giving Pledge”, in which they promised to donate to charity at least half of their wealth over the course of time, and invited others among the wealthy to donate 50% or more of their wealth to charity.