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Summary: David Kirkpatrick’s “The Beginning”

In the opening chapter of “The Facebook Effect,” Kirkpatrick demonstrates how perceived need, timing, and setting factor into the mass adoption of new technology. A shrewd reading of the desires driving the intended users and a willingness to break boundaries can also help. The success of Zuckerberg’s initial on line project CourseMatch, which had enabled status-conscious Harvard students to see the courses other students had signed up for, and the success of his Facemash, which played into students’ penchant for gossip and social validation, had suggested that the time was ripe for an application which enabled users to chart what their friends were doing and to measure their popularity by the size of their social online networks.

Zuckerberg had a vision of how the process might unfold. Moving beyond Harvard and beyond university campuses had been in the works from the very beginning Kirpatrick tells us (34), but first, Zuckerberg wanted to test Thefacebook in other educational communities which had their own homegrown social networks and to make sure the technical capabilities were in place to expand the service. His borrowing and tweaking of features provided by existing platforms such as the user profiles and social network links on Friendster and the away messages of AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), which later became status updates characteristic of Facebook, contributed to the popularity of the software. The fact that it was a tool for exchanging information rather than just a way to find a date and the fact that ex-schoolmates were busy promoting it at their Ivy League universities also carried clout.

Finally, the flexibility and perhaps the constraints built into the software appealed to users. User participation in building the platform was key as Zuckerberg wanted to avoid not only social criticism but also any legal backlash. It was important that the uploading of content be seen to be determined by users and once the software was extended to other campuses, that cross- campus linking be achieved through mutual agreement. Users also needed to know that their privacy was respected; thus the perceived privacy options regarding who could see users’ information became an important although underutilized part of the platform. As well, rather than being a constraint, the requirement to use a real identity gave the software a validity alien to other social networking software in use and Zuckerberg’s insistence that Facebook remain a social networking site which offered an experience enhanced by the number of users persuaded to join it guaranteed growth.

Works Cited

Kirkpatrick, David. “The Beginning.” The Facebook Effect.  New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010. 19-41. Print.


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