Zuckerberg: Back from the future
What a day we picked to pitch up at Facebook's Palo Alto headquarters on our journey through the past, present and future of social networking. As we arrived, news was emerging that the founder Mark Zuckerberg had been named Time magazine's Person of the Year.
The place was quietly buzzing with excitement, with Facebookers feeling that, after a year in which rapid growth has been accompanied by oodles of controversy, the award was recognition that their company really was changing the world in the way their founder has claimed.
A sign on the wall of Facebook's headquarters
It might seem strange that Time chose 2010 to crown Zuckerberg as the world's most newsworthy citizen. After all, it was in 2009 that it became evident that Facebook was here to stay and was going to be a web superpower. And this year was when a movie came out painting the Facebook founder as a ruthless, socially-inept monomaniac.
Actually I think The Social Network captured, albeit in an exaggerated and slightly unfair manner, the drive and focus that enabled a man in his early 20s to ignore all the warnings of his elders and betters and build Facebook just the way he wanted it. The fact that such unpromising material - two hours of awkward young men staring at screens - could turn out to be a movie with such a wide appeal may have played a part in Time's decision to choose 2010 to make its central character the person of the year.
It was not, however, Mark Zuckerberg that we'd come to see at Facebook, though my producer Mike Wendling was left scrambling unsuccessfully for his camera when a distinctive figure in jeans and baseball shoes came loping through the lobby, arriving slightly late for another day running the show.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's office
The man we had come to interview probably gave us a far more compelling and articulate account of why Zuckerberg has been such a huge success than the Time Person of the Year himself could.
Chris Cox was studying computer science at Stanford in 2005, and thought Facebook was a passing fad for college kids - until he got invited to an interview at a company which then had 40 employees.
He was so enthused by what he heard about the ambitions of the network that he gave up his studies:
"The energy in the room was just infectious. They were trying to build a very expansive and large vision. That was the thing that drew me in and surprised me As a young person excited by big ideas I just couldn't help but drop out and join."
Far from the frat-house atmosphere you might have expected of a business run by a college drop-out, Cox found his new boss ran a deeply serious operation:
"I just remember Mark as a very quiet, very serious guy who was sitting there working all the time. It was not a very playful, very joyous atmosphere - it was 'guys let's do this thing'."
It's hard to remember now, but in 2005 and 2006, Facebook was not seen by many as the next big thing.
"Nobody was betting on us," Chris Cox told me. "We were a fad, a footnote to MySpace, or a bunch of irresponsible college kids just hacking stuff together."
Each time the business did anything new, both its users and the commentators told Facebook it was getting it all wrong. Moving off the campus and into high schools and businesses was seen as a huge error. "They said it will stop being cool,you will fail - and our users weren't excited about having their younger brothers and sisters at school and then their bosses on Facebook."
Cox was instrumental in the arrival in 2006 of the Newsfeed, which turned Facebook from a simple directory into a social newspaper documenting your friends' activities. "Nobody liked it - I remember my entire inbox filling up with messages saying please turn this off, we hate it."
Through these storms, the man who in the firing-line, from users, investors and the technology bloggers, apparently remained calm:
"Mark has an amazing equanimity about these things. It's one of his defining characteristics. He projects this sense that he's in the future and everything's cool there, and he's come back a few months to where you are just to tell you it's gonna be fine."
As I left, having scrawled my name and a plug for my forthcoming radio series on the giant Facebook wall in the office, I reflected that so far, Mark Zuckerberg had been proved right.
Writing on The Facebook wall
Throughout the various rows over privacy, the concerns about cyber-bullying, the scepticism over whether a social network could ever make money, this quiet, and still slightly awkward man has retained his equanimity.
You may find Facebook one of the curses of modern life, a place where too many people share too much in an unthinking manner, you may believe that it's damaging the minds of a whole generation. But the man from the future keeps coming back to tell his troops and the rest of us "it's all gonna be fine". And for Facebook and its founder right now, things could hardly be finer.