Imagine if he sought out the most talented, but not yet established, filmmakers in this country--the stars of the film schools, people, festival prize-winners, critically acclaimed directors whose movies have not turned a profit. He invites each of these people to his office in California, where he takes them for a nature walk to explain his dream of a colossal experiment in cinematic collaboration, larger than anything the world has previously seen. Not incidentally, he offers each of them a substantial salary to take part. Most will grab the money or be curious; others will be suspicious of his motives or wary of being tied up and say no. It will take awhile to put together the perfect group, but the entrepreneur is patient and won’t quit until he’s assembled hundreds of people, the best of the best of the best. Of course, sometimes he’ll make the wrong choices, but one thing he’s known for is his decisiveness about letting people go when necessary.
The ultra-wealthy man hires one of the world’s most acclaimed architects alive to design the biggest open office space on the planet, a Xanadu where all these filmmakers can work together. There are no private offices, only a single floor and the owner works in the same gargantuan structure as everybody else.
What would happen if such an abundance of talent were brought together in the same place? Is this clear-eyed passion or mad folly? Would it be an unwieldy mess, a total waste of money and time? Or is there a chance that something wonderful might emanate from this imagination factory? Maybe even something unimaginable and new?
Change “gifted film director” to “visionary hacker” and that is very similar to what Mark Zuckerberg is planning to happen in the Xanadu that Frank Gehry is building for him.
My mind boggles when I visualize Zuckerberg’s huge room, several football fields long, chock-a-block with tech geniuses. What will be born when so many fertile imaginations collide? His venture is so outsized it reminds me of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character in Charlie Kaufman’s “Synecdoche, New York,” rebuilding New York City inside a warehouse. No matter where Zuckerberg’s audacious dream takes him, it’s an artist’s dream, not a businessman’s dream.
While many Facebook-haters cast Zuckerberg in the mold of an arrogant commander like Steve Jobs or a socially uncomfortable nerd like Jesse Eisenberg in “The Social Network,” his lack of impressiveness as a speaker belies his undeniable brilliance, and I actually find him kind of sweet. I believe in his sincerity when he says that “Facebook was not originally created to be a company… it was built to accomplish a social mission—to make the world more open and connected.”
Zuckerberg is the opposite of Steve Jobs. Jobs didn’t want anybody to know what the person in the next office was doing; Zuckerberg doesn’t want there to be offices at all, he wants “hangouts” where people can congregate. Jobs was obsessed with secrecy; Zuckerberg wants his staff to work in transparent ways. Jobs didn’t want anybody to know about his future plans; Zuckerberg loves to talk about them. For example, if you want to sleuth out what companies Zuckerberg is buying and what people he’s hiring, you’re going to have to go to this page in Wikipedia where they are all listed. In the past he was more interested in so-called “acqui-hires,” people taken on solely for their brains, rather than the startups they created (which sometimes pared down their services or shut down altogether, to the chagrin of their users), but lately he has been buying companies useful to mobile, most famously Instagram, but also Tagtile (mobile-based customer loyalty app), Glancee (location app to connect strangers with common interests), Karma (gifting app, which aided the very successful Facebook Gifts), Face.com (facial recognition) as well as many more acqui-hires.
I am particularly fascinated with the acqui-hires, because they are brought in with no specific ideas for how they might improve Facebook. I also believe that the entrepreneurs who do come in with companies attached are also acqui-hires as it is the nature of tech people to follow up a success by moving on to develop new technologies, just like a successful film director often wants to try out something different from what they’re known for.
This venture has been widely reported in the tech media but the mass media hasn’t given much notice to it. It’s a very big deal and it’s sitting right in front of people’s noses. The problem with most people is that they tend to judge a company like Apple or Facebook based on what it looks like at the moment they’re looking at it. They aren’t capable of considering what it might become because they’re not Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg themselves. Therefore Apple could bring out the iPods, iPhones and iPads, and everybody is surprised, until one day it isn’t Apple Computers anymore, it’s just Apple. But why should each one of those things continue be so astonishing when you look at what Jobs had accomplished previously and you knew what a hungry mind he had?
Facebook has over a billion members and is adding a hundred thousand a day. It has changed the lives of many people. What other twenty-something has built a company like this? You have to give Zuckerberg a lot of credit for what he’s already achieved. As for where he’s going in the future, it’s my hypothesis that he hasn’t assembled this group merely to make Facebook “better” any more than Apple brought people into the company in the late 90’s solely to improve the iMac. I believe that the Facebook of the future will be a much more evolved social network, but also an umbrella under which many technological marvels as yet unknown will flourish. I think the idea of Facebook will be something much more expansive than what people consider it to be today.
There are a handful of technological ideas that will transform our lives in the future and I believe many of them will be born in Zuckerberg’s workshop.
Reid Rosefelt coaches filmmakers in how to market their films using Facebook, and lectures frequently on the topic. His credits as a film publicist include “Stranger Than Paradise,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and “Precious.”