The Difference Between Ideas And Execution -- And What's Missing From 'The Social Network'

from the too-bad dept

By pretty much all accounts, The Social Network sounds like a fantastic movie (which is what you'd expect from Aaron Sorkin). At this point, it's been made clear a hundred times over that it's a work of fiction, rather loosely based on the truth, rather than an accurate depiction of what actually happened in Facebook's early days. However, Larry Lessig does an excellent job highlighting why, even as it's a great movie, it's dangerously misleading about how innovation works. The key point, as we've made in the past, Facebook -- the idea -- wasn't anything special. There were tons of social networks out there. What made it special was the execution, which Facebook did like no one else has done before or since.

Except, as Lessig notes, in the movie, a totally different portrait is painted. One where execution is meaningless, and only ideas and lawyers seem to matter:
In Sorkin's world--which is to say Hollywood, where lawyers attempt to control every last scrap of culture--this framing makes sense. But as I watched this film, as a law professor, and someone who has tried as best I can to understand the new world now living in Silicon Valley, the only people that I felt embarrassed for were the lawyers. The total and absolute absurdity of the world where the engines of a federal lawsuit get cranked up to adjudicate the hurt feelings (because "our idea was stolen!") of entitled Harvard undergraduates is completely missed by Sorkin. We can't know enough from the film to know whether there was actually any substantial legal claim here. Sorkin has been upfront about the fact that there are fabrications aplenty lacing the story. But from the story as told, we certainly know enough to know that any legal system that would allow these kids to extort $65 million from the most successful business this century should be ashamed of itself. Did Zuckerberg breach his contract? Maybe, for which the damages are more like $650, not $65 million. Did he steal a trade secret? Absolutely not. Did he steal any other "property"? Absolutely not--the code for Facebook was his, and the "idea" of a social network is not a patent. It wasn't justice that gave the twins $65 million; it was the fear of a random and inefficient system of law. That system is a tax on innovation and creativity. That tax is the real villain here, not the innovator it burdened.
It's too bad, if not surprising, that the film decides to celebrate this tax on innovation and creativity as if it makes sense.


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    Ed Kohler (profile), Oct 5th, 2010 @ 5:02pm

    Execution gets a nod

    One scene where execution gets a nod in the film was when Zuckerberg tears into his CFO for freezing the bank account. He explains that Facebook never goes down, which is one of the factors that is contributing to its success.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 5th, 2010 @ 5:06pm

    Have you actually seen this movie? The Winklevoss characters are taken to task directly, at least three times (twice by the Zuckerberg character and once by the President of Harvard) for pursuing a reward over not having built Facebook. They are not sympathetic characters in the film.

    The real question the movie fails to ask is: what did Zuckerberg et. al. do (that their competitors didn't) that was worth billions of dollars?

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Oct 5th, 2010 @ 6:39pm

      Re:

      He failed to send Rupert Murdoch a gift basket. :)

      Other than that, it was all buzz. He was catapulted past competitors through mind share. If you remember, everyone was getting greedy with the intrusiveness of ads. Mark knows what kind of experience he wants, and of course, we all do. The formula is simple really; do the dogs like the food?

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 5th, 2010 @ 5:15pm

    Funny how Lessig instantaneously goes from "We can't know enough from the film to know whether there was actually any substantial legal claim here" to stating whether there was in fact any substantial legal claim.

     

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      Mike Masnick (profile), Oct 5th, 2010 @ 11:33pm

      Re:

      Funny how Lessig instantaneously goes from "We can't know enough from the film to know whether there was actually any substantial legal claim here" to stating whether there was in fact any substantial legal claim.

      Actually, he doesn't. Read it again.

      He doesn't focus on the legitimacy of the specific legal claim, but focuses on the overall legal framework that would allow such a result *no matter what* the specifics of the legal claim were.

       

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    stinger (profile), Oct 5th, 2010 @ 5:18pm

    I Agree

    Amen.....Brother!

     

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    JC, Oct 5th, 2010 @ 5:27pm

    you are an idiot.

    That was the entire point of the movie - if they had a legitimate claim. *See every other movie/book/article regarding this same theme. "Flash of Genius" details a decade+ long fight for intellectual property, which you dumbly label "innovation and creativity". you're a lawyer? wow.

     

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      Mike Masnick (profile), Oct 5th, 2010 @ 11:37pm

      Re: you are an idiot.

      That was the entire point of the movie - if they had a legitimate claim.

      That's not what Lessig is saying. He's not discussing the legitimacy of their claim, but the overall legal framework that allows someone to get $65 million for an idea they didn't execute on.

      See every other movie/book/article regarding this same theme. "Flash of Genius" details a decade+ long fight for intellectual property,

      Hmm? I'm not sure what one has to do with the other, but we discussed Flash of Genius elsewhere. Another example of an incredibly misleading movie.

      which you dumbly label "innovation and creativity".

      Lessig did. I didn't (trouble reading?). But, I'm confused at what you're trying to say. You're suggesting the concept of intellectual property is *more important* than innovation or creativity? Really? You do realize that the entire point of copyrights and patents were to promote innovation and creativity. One is a function of the other, and it sounds like you might have it backwards.

      you're a lawyer? wow.

      Um. No. I'm not. What else would you like to get wrong today?

      Also, in the interest of full disclosure, any interest in revealing your employer?

       

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    Qyiet (profile), Oct 5th, 2010 @ 5:35pm

    Old world looking at the new world

    Listening to This Week in Tech on the way to work this morning they (admittedly by quoting another source who I can't remeber) made the same point. The entire framing of the movie was off.

    The comparison they made was of a skilled English playwright in writing about the Americas during its independence. It would all be framed in from the old world view, and while still being a good piece of art.. would often miss the point.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 5th, 2010 @ 6:33pm

    I refused to even watch that crap fest. I've been watching the whole thing unfold from day one. I was, in fact, working on an app platform when FB launched. I had the same ideas, many in the industry at that time did as well. Apps were gonna be big and we all wanted in on the social apps business. Mark, simply made it happen first, and most notably within context that resonated with the masses. The megalomania of Murdoch provided huge opportunity, and did to MySpace, what he seems intent on doing to the Times.

     

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    out_of_the_blue, Oct 5th, 2010 @ 7:20pm

    I see: the *real* world is where a twenty-something gets a billion

    bucks for no visible product. Is there *really* that much value to advertisers in confirming consumer reasearch done for decades? I know you're always on about making money from "free", but Facebook is just too close to magic.

    Anyway, since there is in fact *no* product except use of a networked computer, whatever is real about Facebook comes out of the larger economy, it's just a massive amount of inconsequence piled up, combined with a bizarre yet adequately effective collection mechanism. It's *not* business, doesn't increase overall wealth, just re-distributes it.

     

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    Not That Chris (profile), Oct 5th, 2010 @ 7:48pm

    Spoiler Alert

    Snape kills Facebook...

     

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    scarr (profile), Oct 5th, 2010 @ 8:42pm

    "Celebrate this tax on innovation and creativity"?

    I don't think it celebrates it. I think it acknowledges that "tax" as the reality of the situation (even in the fictionalized version). The lawyer even makes the argument the settlement cost is merely a "speed bump", and that's why he should pay and move on with his life.

    I think the movie did a great job of not making anyone seem particularly great or right in what they did. It showed the negative aspects of everybody, and left it to the viewer to draw his/her own conclusions about what is "right".

    That said, I walked away shouting at my girlfriend, "WHY DID THEY GET $65 MILLION FOR DOING NOTHING?!? AN IDEA IS NOTHING! IT'S ALL ABOUT EXECUTION!" She was more bothered by me at that point. :P

     

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    Stephen Pate, Oct 6th, 2010 @ 12:05am

    The Social Network

    Does the story mean you didn't see it? "By pretty much all accounts, The Social Network sounds like a fantastic movie (which is what you'd expect from Aaron Sorkin)."

    If so your story is a straw man.

    The movie doesn't make those point about lawyers and suing people. It paints the people who sued Zuckerberg as parasites.

     

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    abc gum, Oct 6th, 2010 @ 5:15am

    Facebook, The Movie

    Upcoming releases:
    - The Smell From AOL
    - The Hole That Digg Dug
    - Murdock Madness

     

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    Advertising Advice Guy, Oct 6th, 2010 @ 7:45am

    execution vs. parasites

    The 'execution' here is literally work. We should all consider that out-sized reward when choosing business partners. The people on the receiving end of that 65 mil were simply near the original project and didn't do the actual work.

     

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