Commentary

Curated Just for You: The Best Parts of TIME's Person of the Year Story

And the winner is Mark Zuckerberg, in a walk! Of course, I'm talking about the naming of our beloved Facebook founder (after all, without him, many of us would not have found our business calling) as TIME's Person of the Year. And it really was a walk. Zuckerberg was apparently up against Hamid Karzai, Julian Assange, the Chilean Miners and the Tea Party, none of which have had the global impact this year of Zuckerberg, whose invention now has over 500 million members. And who gave away $100 million to the Newark school system. And who created at least one big privacy controversy. And who had a sure-to-be-Oscar-nominated movie made about him. (Maybe some of you would pick Assange, but tell me -- have you actually gone to Wikileaks and read all those documents? Nah -- you were too busy updating your status on Facebook.) 

Of course, the crowning of Zuckerberg as Person of the Year has made quite a lot of noise in the social media echo chamber. At this writing, according to the Facebook stats next to the story, it has been shared 133,000 times and "Liked" by more than 138,000. In addition, as if to underscore Facebook's influence, one of the ads accompanying the story is a Toyota-sponsored campaign that lets you make yourself "Person of the Year" by creating a faux-TIME cover, which can be created and shared on Facebook. It has more than 200,000 "Likes." Tell that to your colleague who doesn't think social ads work.

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But the purpose of this column is not to look at the formidable stats surrounding the Zuckerberg story, but to help you, Dear Reader, because I doubt most of you -- and most of the people who "Liked" TIME's choice -- have read the story, as I have. But it's an important read, even if it expends a little too much time on defending the real Mark Zuckerberg against the one portrayed in "The Social Network." (I get it -- he's not like the guy in the movie.) Despite that, writer Lev Grossman has written a really insightful story about what Facebook has done to us -- although not so much on what we have done to Facebook. Here then, are a few key passages, suitable for discussion at your next Meetup:

Zuckerberg on whether serendipity really exists -- and, sort of, the concept of the check-in: "'We have this concept of serendipity -- humans do,'" Zuckerberg says. (The clarification is vintage Zuckerberg.) "'A lucky coincidence. It's like you go to a restaurant and you bump into a friend that you haven't seen for a while. That's awesome. That's serendipitous. And a lot of the reason why that seems so magical is because it doesn't happen often. But I think the reality is that those circumstances aren't actually rare. It's just that we probably miss like 99% of it. How much of the time do you think you're actually at the same restaurant as that person but you're at opposite sides so you don't see them, or you missed each other by 10 minutes, or they're in the next restaurant over? When you have this kind of context of what's going on, it's just going to make people's lives richer, because instead of missing 99% of them, maybe now you'll start seeing a lot more of them.'"  

On Facebook advertising (you knew this already, but here's how it's viewed by Goodman, someone who doesn't spend his days debating the business model for Twitter):  "[COO Sheryl] Sandberg has been able to attract a roster of A-list advertisers, such as Nike, Vitaminwater and Louis Vuitton, by pointing out things they hadn't noticed about Facebook, like how much it knows about its users. Google can serve ads to you on the basis of educated guesses about who you are and what you're interested in, which are based in turn on your search history. Facebook doesn't have to guess. It knows exactly who you are and what you're interested in, because you told it. So if Nike wants its ads shown only to people ages 19 to 26 who live in Arizona and like Nickelback, Facebook can make that happen. In the world of targeted advertising, Facebook has a high-powered sniper rifle." (To which I'd note: Ouch!) 

On the pros and cons of Facebook friends: "For all of Zuckerberg's EQ [My note: That's emotional intelligence. See!? He's not at all like that guy in "The Social Network"!], Facebook runs on a very stiff, crude model of what people are like. It herds everybody -- friends, co-workers, romantic partners, that guy who lived on your block but moved away after fifth grade -- into the same big room. It smooshes together your work self and your home self, your past self and your present self, into a single generic extruded product. It suspends the natural process by which old friends fall away over time, allowing them to build up endlessly, producing the social equivalent of liver failure. On Facebook, there is one kind of relationship: friendship, and you have it with everybody. You're friends with your spouse, and you're friends with your plumber."

On Facebook and addiction, divorce and narcissism (!): "An article published earlier this year in European Psychiatry presented the case of a woman who lost her job to a Facebook addiction, and the authors suggested that it could become an actual diagnosable ailment. (The woman in question couldn't even make it through an examination without checking Facebook on her phone.) Facebook is supposed to build empathy, but since 2000, Americans have scored higher and higher on psychological tests designed to detect narcissism, and psychologists have suggested a link to social networking. According to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 81% of its members have seen a rise in the number of divorce cases involving social networking; 66% cite Facebook as the primary source for online divorce evidence. Openness and connectedness are all well and good, but someone should give two cheers at least for being closed and disconnected too."

In short, the story is as much about the effect of Facebook -- and, by extension, social networking -- on society, as it is about Zuckerberg, and that's how it should be. You may not agree with all of Grossman's conclusions. I, for one, wonder if the falling away of old friends has ever been a natural process or whether the reason it's been "natural" is because it used to be more difficult to stay connected. How many times have you been absolutely delighted that Facebook has let you reconnect with someone you always regretted losing touch with?  

Still, it's hard to debate the story's influence, and its role in creating a detailed picture of where we are, here in December 2010. So, while I've excerpted some of my favorite parts here, I suggest you go read it. You'll be glad you did.  

(Editor's note: we're currently programming our Social Media Insider Summit. You can check out the agenda here.)

1 comment about "Curated Just for You: The Best Parts of TIME's Person of the Year Story".
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  1. Andre Szykier from maps capital management, December 16, 2010 at 4:34 p.m.

    Congrats to Suckerberg in convincing the world that his original idea of a dorm room bash applies to the world without boundaries. I see Facebook as a mishmash of the old Yellow Pages model with people instead of businesses advertising themselves without purpose or intent.

    After a year of using it, the value of my content is not useful, even to me except as a historical record of what I posted and friends who commented.

    The author rightly concludes that herding everybody into one room is not that useful for advertiser behavioral targeting. Yes, some geo-demo attributes help narrow or focus the ad message but not by much.

    A better Bayesian inference model would help advertisers if a service like Google could extract meaningful statistics from all the searches I do over time to create a longtitudinal view of my search interests. This would have more value than looking at pictures I tagged or shout outs occasionally made on the spur of the moment.

    The concept of Like is powerful when tied to social graph theory but facebook is more of a sledgehammer approach to understanding the makeup of its members.

    Let's face it (no pun intended) - Facebook value can only be measured on eyeballs, recency, frequency and time spent. This is not enough to help advertisers increase CPC and CPT events.

    I will make a prediction that the next wave of solutions will focus on anonymous profiles that protect a viewer but create a richer profile when properly analyzed and converted into ad metrics.

    Whether this applies to mobile social media viewers remains to be seen.

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