hand on head - b&w

The Social Network, and what's difficult about it

I guess it's natural, if you're someone like me - someone who's been close to (and part of) a few online startups, and someone who's been an avid user of various online social platforms from the earliest days - to want to write up your reactions when you see a movie like The Social Network. This won't be a movie review, though, I don't think. I mean, as a film, it's a fine piece of storytelling with good dialogue and good acting, beautiful sets and many solid directorial decisions. So that's about as much of a review as I feel it needs. If you haven't already, I'd suggest you go see it.

When you do see it, though, I want to know what you took away from it. Because I was pretty conflicted. I saw the dynamics of growth and loyalty pitted against one another, not because of flawed young personalities, but because of an institutionalized idea of what it means to succeed, and while I believe that's a common dilemma, I want to believe that it doesn't have to be.

I also saw the premise of innovation as a hybrid of plagiarism and derivation, and maybe there's something to that, but it's a pretty disappointing thought. I've thought a lot about creativity and innovation lately, and I do think it's often a marriage of two or more existing ideas that yields a novel outcome, but how novel the idea need necessarily be before it's innovative: that's the rub. In the case of this story, what was allegedly ripped off was itself a derivation: a Match.com for Harvard students, as the Mark Zuckerberg character says a few times. And at least in this retelling of the story, the Match.com-iness of the prototype of thefacebook.com didn't enter the equation until minutes before launch, and even then only as a marketing angle, not as a core feature.

And even when movie-Zuckerberg is conceptualizing thefacebook, he already has MySpace and Friendster to compare it to and contrast it with. It's not entirely new, it's just a little different.

And yet it's $25 billion dollars' worth of different. So which nuance is responsible for the value? Probably not any one nuance, but a whole magical set of nuances and circumstances that lined up just right. And as a student of innovation, that's both inspiring and frustrating.

On a side note, I get a funny reaction when I see Silicon Valley startup culture portrayed in movies or TV, and I think "I want to go there and be part of that." I forget, almost, that I sort of have been there and been part of that. But only sort of: I wasn't an entrepreneur, I was only along for other entrepreneurs' rides. I think the yearning has more to do with the fullness of it, and the large-scale-ness of it: of starting a company like Facebook and seeing it through to undeniable success.

I don't know what I envy so much about it: the pace, the genius, the accomplishment, or maybe a combination of it all. But I do know that as much as I love Nashville and want to see startup culture thrive here, it will never have that same thrill. That's OK, I guess: folks trade off that thrill for a quality of life in Nashville and other similar places that's harder to attain in the Bay Area due to cost of living and that same pace of work and competition.

Anyway, it feels only right to post this to LiveJournal, since that's where Mark was doing his blogging in the movie. I also haven't posted anything here in who-knows-how-long.

So who's seen it? What did you think?

Comments

Execution

Kate,

Loved your comments regarding derivation. It's amazing how the smallest tweaks can make such a huge difference. So many factors come together to create the sweet spot. My only critique of the movie is the bimbos. None of that during my startup phase...

Re: Execution

There really was a rampant sense of sexism throughout. I wasn't sure why that was important to convey. Possibly it was meant to reflect the attitudes of the key players whose own attitudes towards women were clearly painfully immature. But it was certainly noticeable that there wasn't a single intelligent contribution to the story made by a female character, not even by the two female students who were in attendance at Bill Gates' talk and, it might be inferred, therefore might have known something or at least been curious about technology. Maybe it was Sorkin's acknowledgement of the gender discrepancy in high tech entrepreneurship. I dunno.

(Anonymous)

The Social Network

You have convinced me to go see it...I will come back and post thoughts once I have. Love your writing Kateo.

B. Wolf

Re: The Social Network

Thanks Ben! I'd love to read your thoughts once you've seen it.

creativity

Love your thoughts about creativity and innovation - reminds me of Scott Adams' (Dilbert's creator) definition of creativity (and only slightly toungue-in-cheek): Creativity = Theft + Disguise

There's more than dumb luck involved though, when one idea catches on, and another doesn't. I'm sure you're familiar with Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point? And of course, one of my favorite one-liners: "If a new product or technology makes it easier to do something, then it will replace the old one." Or, in other words: "If the perceived pain of adopting a new thing is LESS than the perceived pain of the current thing - there is NO resistance to change."

Re: creativity

There's still something kind of magical about it, though, when almost all other factors are equal and somehow one thing pulls out so clearly ahead of the rest. As Bill referenced above, it's usually down to execution, but execution can mean so many things and since focus in one area might mean distraction relative to the rest, it's still amazing to think someone can push exactly the right buttons to set something up for success.
I'm not seeing very many films in the theatre these days, but I just might go see this one. It sounds really interesting, despite (or perhaps because of?) the fact that it tells a story that's radically different from my own life and interests.

-J
I'll be very curious to hear your take, both as a Sorkin fan and as someone who doesn't work in this space. Karsten really seemed to enjoy it, so that seems like a sign that it appeals to non-dotcommers as well as the rest of us freaks and geeks. :)
hand on head - b&w

February 2011

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