Facebook Was the ‘Next Google’

by on October 5, 2010 · 6 comments

Since I contributed $10 to the $23 million The Social Network grossed nationally this weekend, I see no reason not to blog some thoughts on the film.

First of all, the movie, which purports to be a history of the founding of Facebook, succeeds wildly as entertainment. As you may have heard by now, the film basically posits that if its founder, Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg, had not been dumped by his girlfriend for questioning the academic credibility of her school, Boston University, Facebook may never have existed at all.

Whether or not the film’s facts are straight on this is another matter. Nonetheless, it is not my purpose to comment extensively on either the film or its veracity, other than to recommend it highly as long as you ingest the story and characters with the copious grains of salt.

But some facts the film depicts are undeniable. The most significant for my purposes here is that the idea that became Facebook was germinated in the fall of 2003, just six years ago, and, as a website, was launched on the Harvard campus in February 2004.

This coincidentally is the same time I started my work as an analyst in telecom policy circles. In that period, Facebook has gone from a fairly localized Ivy League phenomenon to encompass 500 million “friends” and made social networking a significant dimension to the online experience.

Yet, even now, in the face of this one incredible example, I find myself, as I was six years ago, still challenging the assertion that the telecom industry is re-consolidating into a monopoly and that regulatory policies such as network neutrality are required to ensure innovation thrives for consumers, connectivity grows and applications remain inexpensive or free.

In fact, one of the rallying cries for network neutrality is that it is needed to ensure the viability of the “next Google.”

Well, Facebook was the next Google, and what it and its founders have accomplished, completely devoid of Internet regulation, is extraordinary. Moreover Facebook’s success is testimony to the free market counterclaim that network neutrality is a government solution in search of a problem.

On the technical side, as the film covers in broad strokes, Facebook’s biggest resource requirement was server space. That’s what Zuckerberg and his friends need most of their start-up capital for. In the film, as was the case in real life, access to bandwidth, which net neutrality proponents say carriers have monopolized into artificial scarcity, never is an issue.

Despite all the alleged backstabbing and double-crosses the film depicts, at no point does an evil telecom executive show up and demand a king’s ransom for the right to use its network. Zuckerberg’s biggest fear is a server crash, not the threat of being stuck in an “Internet slow lane.” On the contrary, throughout the film, broadband access to Facebook is taken for granted. Broadband wireless connections work flawlessly. When a character says he viewed the video of a regatta on Facebook within minutes of the race’s conclusion, the filmmakers assume audiences will accept it without further exposition.

So, while the film presents Facebook’s founders as dysfunctional, it does not extend that judgment to the telecom and Internet industry. My enjoyment of the film was enhanced—and I hope yours is, too–by its tacit acknowledgement that, in America, a high-tech idea still can go from a dorm room to household word within six years, and that there is no broadband monopoly bottleneck strangling start-ups, whether or not they are fueled by beer and bad break-ups.

  • ML

    Woah, “devoid of government regulation”? That might be true regarding net neutrality, but companies like Facebook – and pretty much any other website with user-generated content – would never thrive unless the CDA 230 immunities were in place – aka “government regulation”.

  • georgeou
  • Steven Titch

    I would argue that CDA 230 is not Internet regulation. CDA 230 is legislation that exists to protect web sites like Facebook from any legal liability stemming from what members post–in essence protecting freedom of speech on the Web. CDA 230 is not coercive and it does not require Facebook take a specific actions to be compliant or face fines or prosecution.

  • http://www.angryblog.org/ Brian Patrick Moore

    That definition of regulation would seem to imply that say, if pot were legalized, that the lack of legal repercussions against pot users would be a form of government regulation. It's fine if you want to define the term that way, but most people don't. You can debate that, but I don't think the average person would look at situation A: where governments prosecute websites for user generated content and B: where they don't and say that (B) was the example of “regulation.”

  • Jim Harper

    Well put. CDA Section 230 was about apportioning liability for wrongs committed online. That's very different from government regulation in its strong sense: a central authority saying what you can and can't do.

  • http://www.angryblog.org/ Brian Patrick Moore

    Yeah, I mean I guess you could say that anything like that was “regulation,” including property rights and the justice system, but I'm not sure that most people would define it that way.

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