Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Social Network vs. the Book

I saw the Social Network a few months ago, and I liked it very much.  I found it to be very entertaining.  The pace is just right.  The dialog is assembled well.  The scenes don't leave you snoring for the most part.  But then again: That's just my stupid opinion.

_coverThen I read the book from which it was derived: "The Accidental Billionaires".  It too is entertaining. But some of the hyperbole and anecdotal comments the author tosses around made my eyes roll.  For example, there are some sentences in the beginning, when he describes the process by which Zuck pilfers the photo libraries of each of the campus house servers. 

As he hits each one, he lays it on thick as though Zuck is some uber-God that possesses magical superior powers unknown to mortal men.  Um, hello?  wget and grep have been around for decades and I've known literally dozens of genius hackers that could have accomplished that basic feat with less effort.  Come to think of it: Mitnick would have probably figured out a way to get the houses to send it to him without having to write any code at all.  Of course, Mitnick possesses "social engineering" skills, rather than "social networking programming" skills, but whatever.  That part of the book almost made me stop reading, but I persevered and somehow made it through.

Could I have done what Zuck did back in the era mentioned in the book?  Probably not.  I had left college (and UNIX) life behind when I graduated in 1999.  My life since 2000 was (and still is) mostly Microsoft oriented.  But if I had stayed immersed in the world of vi, emacs, pico, grep, regex, wget and apache/php, who knows.  I do know this: there were hundreds of people around at that time that could have easily done what the author paints to be a picture of God-like powers.

But what really matters is timing and luck.  Mark was at the right place, at the right time and struck while the iron was hot.  That's all that matters in the business world.  The more you read books like Myths of Innovation and What Technology Wants, the more you'll realize that few ideas are truly unique.  Most every "innovation" can be traced to many simultaneous discoveries, but only one was lucky or persistent enough to follow through with it.

So, if I had to provide a comparative rating to the book versus the movie, I would have to score a win for the movie in this case.  Usually the screenplay trims out the best details of whatever book it comes from, but in this case it cleaned it up.

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