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Facebook saga intrigues Norwell businessman

Posted by dinouye  October 21, 2010 09:47 AM

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Like a lot of other people, Norwell resident Tony Pacella was drawn to see ‘‘The Social Network’’ the first weekend it opened in theaters.

Pacella, part-owner of both the Scituate Country Club and Universal Pipeline & Paving Corp., wanted to learn more about arguably the most famous, financially successful dropouts in Harvard’ s 200-year history.

books.jpgThe movie was interesting, Pacella said, because of its multiple plot lines and multiple relationships. But for him, the success story of Mark Zuckerberg was made all the more compelling by the film’s portrayal of the visionary chief executive of Facebook as someone who was simultaneously power-hungry and greedy, as well as socially inept and easily manipulated.

Pacella, like many movie critics, questioned the accuracy of both the portrayal of Zuckerberg and the events that led this complex young man to squeeze out his best friend and Facebook cofounder, Eduardo Saverin, when the social networking site went global. That led Pacella to seek out the book on which the movie is based.

The 2009 book, ‘‘The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook — A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal,’’ was written by another Harvard alum, Ben Mezrich. It tells the story of how on one alcohol-infused night, two brilliant, socially awkward Harvard undergrads hacked into the university’s computer database and created an online system that rated all females on the campus.

Out of the rubble, which included crashing the university’s server and school disciplinary charges, emerged the framework from which Facebook was born.

Pacella, a lifelong reader and member of a family of readers, said that while he understood upfront that Mezrich’s book probably wouldn’t be a hard-hitting analysis of Facebook’s origins, he also hoped it would not turn out to be a totally one-sided account.

Mezrich’s narrative goes on to relate the story of how best friends Zuckerberg and Saverin fielded their differing visions for Facebook, a lawsuit from two Harvard classmates claiming rights on behalf of their own rival social network, the courting of venture capitalists, and eventually the insidious, progressive involvement of slick Silicon Valley entrepreneur Sean Parker.

Perhaps most important, the book tries to detail the ultimate disintegration of the once valued friendship between Zuckerberg and Saverin once Parker became Facebook president.

While it is an entertaining read, a real problem remains for people like Pacella, who are truly interested in learning the facts about the evolution of Facebook from dorm-room project to Silicon Valley success. By his own admission, Mezrich had absolutely no contact or cooperation from Zuckerberg in the writing of this book and relied heavily on Saverin.

Pacella is left with questioning ‘‘the book’s informational accuracy and portrayal of Zuckerberg, when it is based on such a necessarily biased viewpoint.’’

Whether Zuckerberg is in fact a conniving genius with a failing moral compass, or an incredibly brilliant, albeit nerdy, American success story isn’t entirely the point, according to Pacella.

‘This young guy is certainly one of the more interesting characters of the decade,’’ he said, ‘‘and is worth reading about.’’

Nancy Harris, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist with practices in Wellesley and Norwell. She can be reached at dr.nancy23@gmail.com.

Click here to read her previous columns.

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