Cringely: Should Facebook de-friend Mark Zuckerberg?

It's going to be all Zuckerberg, all the time for the next week or so, thanks to a confluence of events both planned and accidental that are putting Facebook and its barely-old-enough-to-shave founder in the spotlight.

Let's start with the money.

Thanks to an infusion of private equity into Facebook, CEO Mark Zuckerberg vaulted forward to No. 35 on the Forbes list of the world's richest Americans this week, passing Steve Jobs (No. 42) and Rupert Murdoch (No. 38). Until Facebook actually issues stock on the open market, most of Zucky's $6.9 billion is theoretical. Still, it's real enough for him to take $100 million out of his wallet and hand it over to New Jersey public schools.

The timing of this gift is just a scosh suspicious. Zucky's handing over the Big Check on Oprah next Friday, October 1 -- which happens to be the day "The Social Network" opens in theaters nationwide. "The Social Network," of course, has already made headlines for its heavily fictionalized and sexed-up account about how Facebook began.

Salon's Andrew O'Hehir says Zucky probably won't be going out to buy the Blu-ray version as a keepsake:

As played by Jesse Eisenberg in the movie, Harvard sophomore Zuckerberg is a thoroughly unpleasant boy-genius who seems to suffer from a combination of tetanus, an autism-spectrum disorder and a slow-acting intestinal poison.

If nothing else, the movie will revive controversy about how Zucky "borrowed" the idea for Facebook from the Winklevoss twins (voted by their Harvard classmates as Millionaires Most Likely to Star in a Disney Cartoon). Zuckerberg's attorneys tried to buy off the pair with a $65 million settlement in April 2008, only Tinky and Winky (aka Cameron and Tyler) got a whiff of Facebook's real worth and are demanding a larger slice of the pie. Publicity from the movie can only help their cause.

At the same time, Facebook's PR department spent most of the week fending off rumors of a Facebook phone, first ignited by TechCrunch last weekend and piled on by a few thousand blogs since then. This started such a blogflagration that Zuckerberg himself summoned TC doyenne Michael Arrington and editor Jason Kincaid for a rare in-person summit to explain Facebook's mobile strategy and put out the flames. It didn't help. People are still scratching their heads trying to parse out exactly what he meant by this, for example:

Our strategy is very horizontal. We're trying to build a social layer for everything. Basically we're trying to make it so that every app everywhere can be social whether it's on the web, or mobile, or other devices. So inherently our whole approach has to be a breadth-first approach rather than a depth-first one. And we work on all of these different things at the same time, so I'm sure whatever leak you got was probably accurate for whatever the person said. But it was probably just one part of what we are doing. Anyhow. I just wanted to give that context.

So this was a really bad week for Facebook to do a faceplant, but that's exactly what happened. On Wednesday and Thursday of this week, Facebook went down for millions of users. First, there were problems with a "third-party networking provider" that affected about 1 in 4 Facebook users, and yesterday, database glitches forced Facebook to take the entire site offline for brief periods while the company scrambled to fix it.

(Facebook offers a geekier explanation on its engineering blog, for my readers who live and breathe this stuff.)

I gotta say, I'm really happy to not be working in Facebook's media department this week. I'd be handing out valium and practicing my duck-and-cover techniques under my desk.

Bottom line: Facebook has become a very important company in a very short time. Even if you don't care a whit about social networks, enough other people do that they will affect everything you see on the Web and on TV (for as long as those two things remain separate), as well as how you interact with people in the world and at work. Make no mistake about that.

Mark Zuckerberg is the public face of that company. Though he has largely hidden behind his hoodie in the shadows for most of the last six years, he will no longer have that option. I think that's a mistake. He may be brilliant, but he presents poorly. He dresses like a 14-year-old and sweats like a sumo wrestler in a Turkish bath. I don't think people trust him -- and if early reviews are any indication, that's not likely to get better after this movie comes out.

Nobody asked me, but I think Zucky needs to do the smart thing and fire himself as CEO. Do what Larry and Sergey did and hire somebody like Eric Schmidt to steer the ship and take the heat. Create a new title called Chief Geek Officer and drive the technological side. Fade back into the shadows.

I bet before Facebook eventually rolls out that massive IPO, something like this will happen. Remember, you read it here first. And if they make a movie about that, I want $200K upfront and 2 percent off the back-end gross.

Are you planning to see "The Social Network"? Why or why not? E-mail me:

[ Also on InfoWorld: Facebook may be extending its reach further, with plans to kill journalism introduce a Facebook phone. | For a humorous take on the tech industry's shenanigans, subscribe to Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter. ]

This story, "Cringely: Should Facebook de-friend Mark Zuckerberg?" was originally published by InfoWorld.

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