Mark Zuckerberg: Everyone’s favorite privacy pinata


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.