Zuckerberg Enters Image Rehab


facebook_small.jpgADOTAS – In “America: The Book,” written by Jon Stewart and “The Daily Show” staff, there’s a rundown of television interviewers, from Ted Koppel to Larry King to Chris Matthews. Under Diane Sawyer, the caption reads, “There is no valid reason to appear with Diane Sawyer.”

Hence there’s little valid reason to watch Sawyer, now the host ABC World News, toss softballs Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, in a sit-down interview highlighting the site breaking the 500 million user barrier.

“If you could tell that 19-year-old kid something, what would you tell him?” Sawyer asked.

“What you learn along the way makes you who you are,” Zuck answered.

And I felt my eyes glaze over and drool drip from the corner of my mouth. Man, I hate TV news, but I suffered through the six-and-a-half minute clip and web extras (pausing occasionally to slap myself out of a stupor) so you don’t have to.

Obviously, Zuck’s trying to remake his public image after some ugly IMs leaked out and a sweaty performance at a public interrogation by All Things D’s Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher. And, oh yeah, there’s a high-profile movie coming out in October that reportedly paints the Facebook founder in less than a stellar light.

“The Social Network” is fiction, Zuck said — which is right, but it’s based on a true story already captured in book form. Oh, but “the real story is actually probably pretty boring,” he said. “I mean, we just sat at our computers for six years and coded.”

Hmm… I think the court logs would disagree with that. Maybe Zuck’s really upset about the casting: In his disaffected, slacker way, Jesse Eisenberg does have more charisma. From the clips, Eisenberg really nails Zuck’s voice and mannerisms, but does he have the range to be completely squirrely and sweaty?

Then again, I’d probably be upset if the teaser trailer for the movie about me featured a kid’s choir singing Radiohead’s “Creep”:

I don’t care if it hurts,
I wanna have control
I want a perfect body
I want a perfect soul

I want you to notice
when I’m not around
You’re so [very] special
I wish I was special

No, no — that’s not Zuck. He’s just a regular guy: he lives simply and doesn’t bed lots of Facebook groupies (certainly not in club bathrooms — that’s unsanitary!). Fortunately Sawyer was right there to help boost the image of the “elusive” CEO — that’d be the kind way of saying “shady.”

About as tense as it gets is when Sawyer mentions Paul Ceglia, who says he owns 84% of the company, to have Zuck dismiss the claim like a real power CEO. Then again, there’s a reason why I haven’t written about it — I’ll give you a hint: think about what comes out of an equestrian anus.

In a web video, Zuckerberg admits that Beacon was an utter failure talks about the research that went into the best default settings, but he ducks a question from a “longtime Facebook user” (who I think was on the camera crew) regarding why settings are still opt-out. There’s also no questions about how Facebook’s privacy policy has changed since its inception.

Same old Zuck — We need advertisers to run the site, advertisers need data… But where’s the line where you care more about selling to advertisers than your user group? This has always been the issue — Facebook’s run around in circles on this, much to the dissatisfaction of its users.

According to a study by the American Customer Survey Index, the social network scored a 64 out of 100 in consumer satisfaction, placing it among the bottom feeders of the survey. Google scored 80 (down 8 points from last year — Buzz?) and Yahoo hit a 76. However, MySpace was lower than Facebook with a 63.

It doesn’t make it any better that the public face of Facebook is Zuckerberg. Especially in the last year it’s become public knowledge he’s not just some goofy geek — he seems to be a very slick operator and someone who does not inspire trust. And trust is something Facebook needs more than ever, especially if it hopes to keep growing like it has.

Sawyer mentioned that apparently if Facebook keeps up its current growth curve, every online person will have a Facebook account — this is also not correct as I [sigh] know people that have accounts for their pets. Yes, I’m friends with their pets. A betting firm sent me a press release today that puts the odds of Facebook hitting 1 billion users in the first half of 2013 at 2 to 1.

But another question Sawyer didn’t ask was about competition and the future of the site. Oh yes, he said it will always be free and was ambiguous about an IPO in the near future, but if only I could have been there and coughed, “Google Me!” to see a reaction.

What did he think about the “Quit Facebook Day” campaign? (I’m sure he would’ve swatted that away, but I’d love to get the arrogance on tape.) What about geo-location and competing with Foursquare and Gowalla on the mobile front? Dammit, Sawyer, get your softballs out of the way of my howitzer!

Also, I wouldn’t mind hearing his thoughts on Brandt Dainow’s theory that “Facebook as a website will vanish as Facebook services become part of the infrastructure of the web.

Just north of Palo Alto at the Geo-Loco Conference in San Francisco, a brutally blunt Fred Wilson, managing partner of Union Square Ventures — notable for its investments in Twitter, Foursquare, Clickable and Flurry — had some very different thoughts. He dismissed Facebook as “a photo-sharing site… with some chat attached to it.” That Open Graph API? Hooey! Every large-scale web app has got one of those, he said.

Federated Media Chief Executive John Battelle pretty much played a game of word association Wilson, urging him to give his first thought on whatever company he can think of. Wilson railed on Yahoo for integrating Facebook into its homepage, calling the move a “capitulation” — I completely disagree and think it’s a smart move in setting up an open social hub.

He also called Apple “evil,” which got Twitter a-buzzed, but it’s pretty clear he was being tongue and cheek — “They believe they know what’s best for you and me….” he said, something I’ve commented on. His concern also rested in Apple’s vice-grip on the mobile app marketplace, which may stretch to control over developers. I’m sure he’s not the only one grumbling about that.

But back to Facebook — Sawyer’s piece works nicely for Zuckerberg as a “Harvard dropout does good” story (really reminded me of this Onion article restoring the Facebook narrative before the movie hits theaters. Apparently it’s just begun: Next up Zuck will be making an appearance on “The Simpsons” — here’s the scoop according to New York mag’s pop culture blog Vulture:

“Lisa (Simpson) decides to help fund Nelson’s new bike company. While attending an entrepreneurs convention, the two encounter Zuckerberg, who reminds the kids just how many famous billionaires–including himself–have dropped out of school.”

I wonder if the animated Zuck will sweat as much.


  1. You know people who have Facebook accounts for their pets?

    And those are included in the alleged 500 million users?

    So it isn’t really 500 million individual people with accounts?

    I would be very interested to know how many of the accounts are actually being used. Meaning that, the person logs on regularly. Or even once a month.

    I wonder how many accounts were established and later abandoned. Maybe somebody just signed up to see what the system offered, due to the hype, but didn’t find it impressive or useful. And some accounts may have bogus information in the registrations.

    Facebook’s corporate claim of 500 million users doesn’t tell us how many real human beings are using the system on a regular basis. Of course, I don’t expect them to release that information, either.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here