The Social Network: thoughts and reading on the Facebook movie

I tend to watch films in move theaters when I think they’ll have a particularly significant impact, will be worth remembering years from now and, of course, when I’m lured in by the story.

The Social Network, Aaron Sorkin’s film that tells with some literary license of the meteoric first-year rise of Facebook, fit the bill.

Last week, I saw and was greatly entertained — call it a 9 out of 10, not perfect but sure close and worth the price of admission.

The story is compelling and it is grounded enough in fact to give it a weight of impact. While not as much as I suspect might be fair, the movie does a commendable job of creating complex leading characters, in which the antagonists don’t need to be villains, but are nearer to complexly motivated individuals with whom the audience can identify.

It even reminded me of the Wire in serving like almost a diary through which we look at, in historical terms, incredibly recent events.

But you know of the movie, and I have no interest in spoiling the plot for anyone who hasn’t seen it — or read the book on which it is based, so I wanted to share some of the more interesting take aways I’ve had in reading discussion around the movie.

First, below, watch that killer trailer:

[Note, while nothing I share here really serve as spoilers to the plot in any real way, all outgoing links do lead to stories that do.]

The film spawned a lengthy Vanity Fair profile of Sean Parker, the mercurial and outrageous Napster co-founder and early Facebook influencer, who was played memorably by Justin Timberlake. The profile had some wonderful spots worth sharing:

Matt Cohler, who joined Thefacebook shortly after Parker, is awed when he thinks about that pivotal e-mail. “Napster and Facebook are two of the most significant companies in the history of the Internet,” he says, “and in both cases Parker spotted them earlier than anyone—other than the people who invented them.”

Besides serving as Zuckerberg’s comrade-in-arms, Parker also worked to bolster his partner’s position, so what happened to Parker at Plaxo could never be repeated at Thefacebook. In the financing that Parker negotiated with Thiel, as well as a much larger deal signed seven months later with the Accel Partners venture-capital firm, Parker was able to negotiate for Zuckerberg something almost unheard of in a venture-funded start-up: absolute control for the entrepreneur. Because of that, Zuckerberg, to this day, allocates three of Facebook’s five board seats (including his own). Without that control, Facebook would almost certainly have been sold to either Yahoo or Microsoft, whose C.E.O., Steve Ballmer, offered $15 billion for it in the fall of 2007—only to be met with a blank stare from the then 23-year-old Zuckerberg.

Says Moskovitz, known for his dry humor, “Sean probably deserves less credit for turning Facebook into what it is than he thinks he does, but also more credit than anybody else thinks he does.” [Source]

In Roger Ebert’s lauding review, he offers this:

It’s said there are child prodigies in only three areas: math, music and chess. These non-verbal areas require little maturity or knowledge of human nature, but a quick ability to perceive patterns, logical rules and linkages. I suspect computer programming may be a fourth area.

“The Social Network” is a great film not because of its dazzling style or visual cleverness, but because it is splendidly well-made. Despite the baffling complications of computer programming, web strategy and big finance, Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay makes it all clear, and we don’t follow the story so much as get dragged along behind it. I saw it with an audience that seemed wrapped up in an unusual way: It was very, very interested. [Source]

Also worth reading is writer Aaron Sorkin defending the portrayal of women in the film, Mashable’s short piece trying to get Zuckerberg’s take on the film and, hell, why not Sorkin’s interview with my friends at Geekadelphia, in addition to one with Jesse Eisenberg who played Zuckerberg.

The battle that is often reported to have happened around the founding and launching of Facebook — as prominently displayed in the film — is perhaps inevitable. There was too much money and potential involved.

But it still left me wrestling with the value of launching a venture with multiple people in equal partnership. Decisions may be slowed and, as growth continues, that, say, three-person team may be untenable, but in an organization’s early growth, having the checks and balances in direction can be powerful.

It’s a movie worth seeing for all of these reasons and, probably, more.

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