Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg: In It to Change the World?

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Mark Zuckerberg

Kim Komenich/San Francisco Chronicle/Corbis

That’s the take from journalist David Kirkpatrick, who got unprecedented access to the Facebook founder as part of his new book, “The Facebook Effect.”

In the book, released today, Kirkpatrick charts the fascinating story of Facebook’s development, growing outward from a Harvard dorm room in 2004 to a behemoth with nearly 500 million active users clicking around today. But history aside, the book’s real value is in Kirkpatrick’s access to Zuckerberg. After hours spent with the Facebook king, Kirkpatrick portrays Zuckerberg as a coder more than a CEO, a philosopher more than a businessman, a 26-year-old who has consistently avoided selling out because he sees Facebook as his way to change the world.

It’s a perception that is at odds with how Zuckerberg is typically portrayed. I chatted with Kirkpatrick shortly after Facebook released a set of sweeping changes to its privacy controls, a time when many in the press theorized Zuckerberg pushed users to be more open as a way to advance the company’s advertising platform, which is dependent on user interests and data.

Kirkpatrick insists that for Zuckerberg, Facebook has never been about building an advertising platform. “The idea that any of that is done for commercial reasons in order to advantage their opportunities to sell advertising, he considers insulting,” Kirkpatrick says. “This is the Zuckerberg people really need to understand, the guy who is doing it to change the world, not to make money.”

That’s a notion carried throughout the book. Kirkpatrick charts the myriad attempts by Viacom, Microsoft and others to purchase Facebook, and Zuckerberg’s hesitancy to seriously consider a sale at any point, even with offers north of $1 billion on the table. He also shows how Zuckerberg was able to emulate one of his business mentors, the Washington Post‘s Donald Graham, to craft an arrangement where he controls the majority of Facebook’s board seats. That ensures Zuckerberg retains unilateral control over his company — control he uses to keep pushing the world to be more open, not for the revenue but for the social implications.

“I don’t think there’s a company of its scale that sees itself this way,” Kirkpatrick says. “There’s no company of its scale that’s controlled by one individual. There’s no company of its scale that’s run by a 26-year-old who’s doing it because he wants to change the world. There are so many things about Facebook that are bizarrely unique.”

And that gives Kirkpatrick plenty of ammunition for a fascinating book.