Mark Zuckerberg: Everyone’s favorite privacy pinata

Simon Mainwaring / Facebook / 4 years ago

Image: Symbianize.com

It looks like Mark Zuckerberg will continue to be everyone’s favorite punching bag this week. I’ve written earlier as to why I believe the issue is much larger than Zuckerberg or Facebook, and Robert Scoble did a great piece yesterday reminding us exactly what Mark has already achieved – to his benefit and ours – at the tender age of 26.

One thing Scoble wrote is critical in explaining Facebook’s recent privacy dance and why we might just want to reconsider running him out of office (as Shel Israel, Therese Poletti and even Scoble ultimately suggest).

I’ve been studying Zuckerberg for a while and comparing notes with people who know him even better than me, like David Kilpatrick, who wrote an excellent book on Facebook, and it’s clear Zuckerberg has a vision for changing the world with social technologies.

I have been harping on this fact for sometime and here’s why I believe his role is critical to Facebook and the potential of the social web.

Mark Zuckerberg is a CEO with a vision.

In my experience the single most important factor in distingishing between good and great companies is a leader with vision. Now, you may not agree with that vision and clearly individual privacy is going to be a casualty to some degree however this shakes out, but the relentless evolution of the web and the annoying issue of privacy will not disappear if Zuckerberg steps down.

Who can forget Steve Jobs vision for the launch of Apple in 1983? Or Richard Brandson’s mercurial ability to persistently position a multi-facted, global corporation as a rebel. Or the seismic shift in Pepsico’s marketing since Indra Nooyi’s declaration that the mission of the company is ‘Performance with purpose’. In each case the success of the company was a function of a leader with vision.

Do I think Zuckergerg is in that league? Yes, I do (did I mention I’ve never met him?) Judging by his success to date and the fact that he has a vision grounded in the latest web with all the advantages of youth, I think he is well qualified to have a strong and substantive opinion. To date that vision is hard to understand as it has been scattered through sound bites, speeches in Europe and book excerpts. No doubt Fitzgerald’s book will go a long way to addressing this issue but in the meantime Kim-Mai Cutler of SocialBeat outlined many of the key elements of his thinking. I agree with Cutler that the onus is now on Zuckerberg to lay out this vision so that we may fully understand where he and Facebook is headed.

Of course, there are those that characterize his vision as sinister, exploitative or out of touch. I would suggest the contrary. As the architect of so much success in the very space we are talking about, I think he has a very good idea of the issues involved. And the drive to monetize Facebook or to develop the platform is hardly revolutionary – it’s called doing business. If we don’t like these changes we always have the right not to participate. But I do not remember Zuckerberg promising that Facebook would never change or seek to monetize its business model.

As I try to think of visionaries among the architects of the recent web, they seem few and far between. Zuckerberg may sweat too much under the lights, he may overstep the mark with privacy changes and then apologize, he may court the accusation of betrayal from users on a daily basis, but I don’t believe anything is to be gained by running him out of the C suite.

There is something very powerful going on when you consider the compounded connectivity of social networks, smart phones, mobile apps, location based services and the social web. Something potentially transformative. Yes, it will come at a price – every leap forward does. But when you consider the number of global crises we face, and the unrealized potential of this global connectivity through the web, I believe that there is a vision of the future that is only starting to emerge that might just be critical to the survival and well-being of millions of lives. So I say let Zuckerberg stay where he is, maybe parse out his duties a little bit more and give him time to explain himself. At the very least let’s hear him out. The combination of youth, tech savvy and vision is rare in a successful, future-facing company. We may yet all have something to gain.

7 Comments

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  1. Atlas says:

    You're right, Zuckerberg does have vision, but that vision is unclear. Rather than outline his view for the greater future, he dissembles with trite platitudes about how he wants to change the world, but its not clear how. My big problem with Zuckerberg (besides his dubious origins) is that he clearly does have a vision, but he want tell us what it is. Instead, he incrementally pushes his changes on all facebook users. For what purpose? I don't mean in the short run, but in the long run.

    As for what I can tell of the vision itself, I don't know if it is desirable (I don't need personalized flame wars or to know peoples relationship status before they tell me), but to say that Zuckerberg is the only visionary is short sighted. Bezos was a visionary, the tweeters are thought to be visionaries, all of the Google geniuses, Jobs isn't done yet, and all the while Microsoft expands its operations into more pots than any of them (phone, console, office, etc albeit with limited success). These people all have visions, Zuckerberg is not alone.

  2. I totally agree and thanks. I wish this vision was laid out simply and clearly for everyone to understand what is motivating the privacy changes. And I don't think Mark is the only visionary. Bezos and the Google boys and Jobs – the list goes on. I think Evan and Biz are visionaries too. I heard Evan at SXSW and was greatly encouraged by what he said. I just hope that before anyone runs Mark out of town, he gets a chance to lay out his. Thanks, Simon

  3. Thank you Simon for your nuance-ful post, a very good read. People do like black and white, but really it's a more grey area situation that indeed deserves more thought then merely barking opinions.

  4. Thanks, Miryam. I also find people are quick to judge and usually harshly. A pity in my work. Simon

  5. There's a difference between visionaries and visionaries that engender trust. I've been on the FB bandwagon for a long time, but it I agree with the calls for “adult guidance” for Mark. I'm not saying he should step down- but he needs someone to help him hone his communication and his vision so we can better understand it.
    And, I don't take lightly your observation that “privacy is going to be a casualty to some degree.” There is immense value to privacy – ask the people opposing any dictator's regime using the social tools if they want privacy.
    I'm not in any way comparing FB to an evil regime. I'm just noting that once people's connections are obvious, others draw conclusions and can take actions using that information, and not everyone has good intentions for our data.

  6. Thanks, Howard. I appreciate your concerns and like you don't want my privacy compromised. The sad reality is, however, I believe most of our personal and private information is already being shared and we're just not aware of it. That said, I totally agree Mark Zuckerberg needs help articulating his vision and any postponement hurts him and his brand. It was interesting that the quit Facebook day was a bust. I hope we all come to a healthy balance sooner rather than later. Thanks again, Simon

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