Book about Facebook's beginnings may dim spotlight on privacy

The Facebook Effect may give social network site and CEO Zuckerberg some good press

With a book about the rise of Facebook hitting shelves Tuesday, industry watchers say this could take some focus off the social network's recent privacy troubles.

The Facebook Effect, written by Fortune magazine technology journalist David Kirkpatrick chronicles the story of what began as a college idea and grew to become a social networking phenomenon. The Facebook Effect also takes a look at Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who reportedly gave the author hours of interviews.

"Mark Zuckerberg was a short, slender, intense introvert with curly brown hair whose fresh freckled face made him look closer to fifteen than the nineteen he was," Kirkpatrick wrote about a college-age Zuckerberg in the first chapter of his book. "His uniform was baggy jeans, rubber sandals--even in winter--and a T-shirt that usually had some sort of clever picture or phrase. One he was partial to during this period portrayed a little monkey and read 'Code Monkey.' "

So far nothing controversial has come out of the book, and that, according to analysts, is good news for a company and a CEO that have been taking it on the publicity chin lately.

"I don't think any publicity is good publicity, especially for a well-known brand like FaceBook," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research. "This is non-negative publicity, however, and that is good. If it gets the media to pay some attention to something other than FaceBook's flaws, that is good for the company."

The company has been getting more than its usual share of bad press during the last few months, ever since it released tools that enabled the site to easily share user information with third-party Web sites. Users and online pundits were quick to point out that they didn't all want their data shared so widely. They also contended that Facebook's privacy controls were so complicated and frustrating that it was difficult to limit other people's access to their information.

As the tumult grew, U.S. senators got involved, a complaint was made to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and Facebook even called an all-hands-on-deck privacy meeting with its own employees.

Then just as some users were appeased with new, simpler privacy controls, Zuckerberg made a not-so-savvy presentation at a conference last week that reignited the controversy about the site.

"In general, this book is relatively friendly to Facebook and provides a perspective that should improve the image of the founder and the company," said Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group.

"The publicity surrounding this book appears to be spinning positive, which should help the company, Enderle said. "This is an area of high interest and the book appears to be a good reference for folks thinking of becoming more expert in social networking. Given it puts Zuckerberg in a favorable light, the more people who read it, the more his image should improve."

Enderle, who's added the book to his reading list, said it may be helpful that Zuckerberg and his company are painted not as evil, just "young and foolish."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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