- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 16, 2012

When Hollywood set out to tell the story of how Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook, it enjoyed the flexibility of portraying a man who, despite his social network’s worldwide reach, was all but unknown to the public.

A year and half later, the movie “The Social Network” and the attention that followed have dispelled much of the mystery surrounding Zuckerberg, sketching out the essentials of his story line. But as Facebook promotes the vision of its 28-year-old CEO as part of this week’s first-ever sale of stock to the public, one of the most striking features of his persona is the contradiction between the public and private that remains at its center.

Zuckerberg avoids questions about himself and once sued a magazine for publishing documents revealing details from his past. Yet he is the architect of a revolutionary platform built on people freely disclosing information about themselves, offering up the stuff of everyday life as worthy of the biggest stage.

Facebook was not originally created to be a company,” Zuckerberg wrote in a letter, included with a regulatory filing needed for the initial public offering. “It was built to accomplish a social mission _ to make the world more open and connected.”


Zuckerberg has built Facebook, which could be valued at up to $104 billion by the stock offering, into an international phenomenon by stretching the lines of social convention and embracing a new and far more permeable definition of community. Along the way, he’s proven deft at recognizing the way people use social networks, reshaping and expanding Facebook’s capabilities to draw in more users.

On Friday, Facebook will begin trading on the Nasdaq Stock Market under the symbol “FB.” Zuckerberg will remain the company’s largest shareholder. His personal stake in Facebook will be worth around $19 billion.

Living in a rental home even after he was a billionaire on paper, Zuckerberg isn’t known for an extravagant lifestyle. He famously wears jeans, T-shirts and plain hoodies. He bought his Palo Alto, Calif., home for a reported $7 million _ fancy but not outlandish for the pricey suburb near Stanford University and San Francisco. He lives there with his girlfriend, Priscilla Chen, and their Hungarian Puli dog, “Beast” (which incidentally has its own Facebook page).

Now, even as investors take a stake in Facebook, its future remains contingent on a leader who is reluctant to reveal himself.

“It’s all in one guy’s hands, that’s what makes it so interesting,” said David Kirkpatrick, author of “The Facebook Effect,” a book chronicling Zuckerberg’s story that was written with the cooperation of the man and his company. “It is a one-man show.”

Zuckerberg, who grew up in the New York suburb of Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., began writing computer code when he was 10 on an Atari computer, devising games and enlisting friends to do the graphics. As a senior at Phillips Exeter Academy, he and a friend created a Web tool called Synapse that built personalized music playlists by automatically determining listener’s preferences. Microsoft reportedly offered the pair nearly $1 million, but they turned it down.

Soon after arriving at Harvard in 2003, Zuckerberg created a site called Coursematch that allowed students to choose classes by showing what their classmates were doing. Then, in the fall of his sophomore year, he hacked into the online “facebooks” of Harvard’s residential halls to create Facemash, a site that encouraged students to rank their classmates’ looks.

The university’s Administrative Board called him in for a hearing, but let him remain at the school.

In early 2004, former classmates said, the normally sociable Zuckerberg all but vanished for a week, emerging from his room to urge his friends to join a new creation called The Facebook.

Stephanie Camaglia Reznick, then a freshman at Harvard who was the 92nd to sign up, said Zuckerberg quickly gained notoriety. She recalled when, arriving for the first day of a discussion group for an introductory psychology class, eyebrows went up when Zuckerberg’s turn came to introduce himself.

“Someone said, `Great, you’re the Facebook guy!’ And he was so embarrassed,” says Reznick, now a medical student at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. “He really played it down.”

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