Facebook, the movie ... it's a whole new hash-tag

Would-be Zuckerbergs are split over his portrayal in a film about the founding of the social networking site

Stephen Foley
Sunday 03 October 2010 00:00
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What better way to spend the opening night of The Social Network than with 330 wannabe Mark Zuckerbergs? The Facebook movie opened worldwide in a blaze of headlines, controversy over its accuracy and some of the most breathlessly positive reviews you can get. But for that particular community of computer whizzes and entrepreneurs who want to build the next big technological thing, its arrival has been even more hotly awaited.

"It's the first real movie about this industry, or at least about our generation of this industry," says Adam Schwartz, taking tickets from a uniformly under-thirties crowd of start-up founders, developers, coders, designers and others on the New York tech scene. Mr Schwartz, an organiser of the networking group NY Tech Meetup, hired one of the biggest theatres in Manhattan on Friday night for a special screening.

Attendees, iPhones out, reached for their own social networks. What's the Twitter hash-tag for this event? Did you check in on FourSquare or on Facebook Places? "Couldn't be a better group of nerds to watch The Social Network with," mattlehrer tweeted, as the lights went down.

Nerds, sure. This is the only audience that will belly laugh to see Mark Zuckerberg using the notoriously bad blogging software LiveJournal, a nod that 2003 is prehistory in tech terms. But what they really came to see is how Zuckerberg did it, to learn as well as to be entertained.

"Not everybody seeing the movie is a Facebook fanboy," says Mr Schwartz, who has founded a website for fashion designers called source4style. "Does everybody want to be Mark Zuckerberg? No. People have a lot of respect for what he's done. It's incredible. Facebook needed to exist, but it just sort of happened to him. He didn't change anything, he didn't push the limits of technology in any respect, in, say, the way the iPhone did. Steve Jobs is a genius and Larry Page and Sergey Brin at Google are geniuses. But is there just a smidgen of jealousy of Mark? Oh, absolutely."

Actually, forget the whole idea of "wannabe Zuckerbergs". After Jesse Eisenberg's portrayal of dysfunction and disloyalty, being Mark will never again be the aspiration it once was.

"The Facebook movie is a downer!" Simon Kirk shouts, as the theatre empties. He is an ambitious consultant for the website BigSoccer, and he captures a common response. "Is that the way it has to be, that people are going to screw you down the road? It's a really sad way for business to be."

Jordan Cooper, the founder of the apartment hunting website JumpPost, was impressed, rather than depressed. "It captures the angst and the isolation of building a company. There's a lot of weight on a company founder, and there's not a ton of people to talk to about it. You have to be a good judge of character and you need to rely on people whose only interest is an interest in you. It is a piece of advice that venture capitalists have given me: you need to have a healthy amount of paranoia."

The social media buzz on The Social Network, after the screening? Go see. Must see. Evan Bartlett, whose consumer website, Scoop St, is in the burgeoning market for offering coupons and discounts, was won over by the film's refusal to paint unequivocal heroes and absolute villains.

"My concern going in was that it would be all hype,that it would suggest that you could do no work and ride a skateboard into the office every day, and not be clear that 99 per cent of start-up companies fail."

And for those whom Mr Zuckerberg steamrollered on his way to running a multibillion-dollar company? "You can't blame the guy who is obsessed with it for being like, 'shit or get off the pot'."

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