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World peace, virtually

BOOK>> THE FACEBOOK EFFECT • by David Kirkpatrick, Simon and Schuster • Indian Price Rs 450

By Ananth Nayak
Published: Saturday 31 July 2010

imageIn recent times, the social networking site, Facebook, has been dogged by allegations of privacy violations.

David Kirkpatrick’s The Facebook Effect does not take issues with these accusations.

It is at its best in describing the genesis of the site. For most part the book is a celebratory account.

In 2004, Mark Zuckerberg, a Harvard student who had acquired infamy at the university for a sexually tinged website, partnered a wealthy classmate to launch his university-based social network. He collaborated and then reneged on other Harvard students working on their own social sites, withstood costly litigation and moved into the world of big-time finance as practised by Silicon Valley’s venturecapital community.

According to Kirkpatrick, the Silicon valley capitalists were quick to grasp the marketing possibilities of a site acting as the repository for so much personal data. Kirkpatrick’s portrayal of this phase of Facebook is far more sympathetic, and rings far truer, than the elusive figure in the hooded sweatshirt who dominates Ben Mezrich’s The Accidental Billionaires. In one of the book’s most compelling sections Zuckerberg excused himself from a dinner hosted by Accel Partners’ Jim Breyer to discuss a lucrative investment. A friend found him on the floor of the men’s room, in tears because accepting the deal would mean backing out of an earlier commitment.

imageBut for Kirkpatrick Facebook isn’t just a social networking site or a potentially huge business. He thinks it could be an agency for world peace. In the prologue he ponders: “Could (Facebook) become a factor in helping bring together a world filled with political and religious strife ...?” Social networking, it is true, is in vogue with political and climate change activists. Facebook is also in vogue with another kind of acti vists: those concerned with how the social networking site violates individual freedom. There is also talk of an open source social networking site. This, in itself, is testimony to social networking’s popularity and could have been material for Kirkpa trick. But it’s still uncomfortable terrain for someone wri ting a laudatory account.

Ananth Nayak works for a software outfit in Hyderabad

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