Mark Zuckerberg never ceases to amaze David Kirkpatrick (author of The Facebook Effect) — but today the young CEO and co-founder of Facebook has surprised many people by donating $100 million dollars to the trouble school systems in Newark, New Jersey. Zuckerberg is appearing on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” to announce the generous gift, which is already making headlines. This comes days before the opening of the highly buzzed movie depicting the tech guru’s life and how he founded the social-networking website.
genConnect at the Aspen Ideas Festival this summer had the pleasure of interviewing Kirkpatrick. As author of The Facebook Effect: Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World and the CEO and Program Director of Techonomy.com, Kirkpatrick is recognized as one of the top authorities of technology journalism in the world.
During our conversation, Kirkpatrick speaks about meeting Zuckerberg in September 2006 — and being struck by his innovative and future-thinking. Kirkpatrick also calls Facebook the “most effective tool” for an everyday person with a message.
However, “I wouldn’t necessarily say that Facebook is the most significant technological innovation I have ever seen,” says Kirkpatrick. “I think there is still a lot of contenders – Microsoft Windows, Google, those would be two major contenders. But I would say that Facebook is the most interesting technology company I’ve ever seen.”
Watch our interview with Kirkpatrick below:
Want more of Kirkpatrick? Additional video clips from our interview will be up soon.
The reason I decided to write about Facebook was that at the time I started writing it was not appreciated as the massive social phenomenon that it is today, and I kind of had an early insight that this was going to be a really big deal. I also had unusual access inside the company and I felt it was important to explain the many impacts that this incredible phenomenon was likely to have, as well as its phenomenal history. I had the good fortune of getting to know Mark Zuckerberg quite early in September 2006. Mark is the founder of Facebook and I had an meeting with him in September ’06 at the height of the news feed controversy, which was the biggest revolt ever experienced from his members, and I was struck by how calm he was and how unperturbed by this crisis, all he wanted to do was talk about the big picture, long-term vision. I was a guy who wrote a lot about Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and Andy Grove and those kind of people and I was struck that he was one of them, from the first time I met him I felt he was that kind of visionary that kind of focused entrepreneur. I realized that he had a certain trust for me and I had this opportunity to tell the company’s story in a unique way, so I asked him if he would cooperate and he said “go for it.”
Facebook is an identity based social network, where you use your real name and you establish a net of friends based on their real names, and that call that the social graphic Facebook. This creates a set of viral communication channels that allows any kind of idea to flow between groups with incredible rapidity and that has impact in politics, government, business, marketing, identity, social relationships; and I think we can chart out impacts in all of those, this is why I call my book The Facebook Effect. It’s about these effects and the history of Facebook that made them all possible. And so, if you look at politics, for example, if your anywhere on the planet if you are dissatisfied about anything and you want to communicate with a large group of people about it I guarantee you are most likely to use Facebook because it is the most efficient tool that ordinary people have available to them to reach large numbers and it has changed the governments in country after country it has effected pothole repair. It has effected local governments, local campaigns of all kinds as well as national stuff, it is having a big impact. It’s actually having more of that kind of impact, in some ways, outside the United States where it is not perceived so much as a kid-student thing. So, in countries like Egypt, Iran, Bangladesh, Indonesia, or Chile; huge impact in the political reality of those places.
When you talk about future generations and Facebook and social media generally, I think, you have to say if you look long term everything we have is incredibly primitive and will be replaced by far more sophisticated, far richer, far more powerful systems that will have a lot more video, that will have a lot more automation. I think in the future we are going to basically live in a way where, whatever we choose to find information out about what our friends think, about anything whether it’s the view of Aspen, or this product in the grocery store aisles, or this restaurant, or the color of a paint, or the clothes I’m wearing; we can ask our friends and we will be able to get an answer with trivial simplicity.
I wouldn’t necessarily say that Facebook is the most significant technological innovation I have ever seen. I think there is still a lot of contenders – Microsoft Windows, Google, those would be two major contenders. But I would say that Facebook is the most interesting technology company I’ve ever seen and the reason I chose to write a book about it, having never written a book before, is because the combination of a nineteen-year-old starting a company that has grown to five hundred million people in six years, has created such an amazing set of stories and such an amazing set of impacts that no company, no technology I’ve ever seen, remotely comes close to being such an interesting story.
Techonomy is my latest project which I started with two close colleagues from fortune, all of us now having left fortune, Brent Schlender and Peter Petre, and some other partners. It’s initially going to be a conference, takes place this August 4th-6th, at Lake Tahoe. It’s devoted to the idea that technology innovation now is so central to all spheres of human activity, that you cannot successfully be a leader in any field, whether it’s business, government, non-profit, whatever, media; without really embracing the pace with which technology is changing, because if you don’t, whatever you do is likely to be rendered or irrelevant to something else. If you do embrace it, you can solve problems you never expected possible. This is all a consequence of the accelerating pace of technological innovation. We’ve gotten a tremendous reaction of people who are going to be there Bill Gates, Eric Smith, Stewart Brand, and down the line. You can find a lot more information about techonomy at techonomy.com.