Techies as Person of the Year Are Rare

At just 26, Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder and chief executive of Facebook, is joining a select group of presidents, kings, Popes, dictators, freedom fighters and other influential people selected by Time magazine as Person of the Year.

But Mr. Zuckerberg is only the third technology mogul to be chosen by Time, following Andy Grove, the former Intel chairman and chief executive, in 1997, and Jeff Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon, in 1999, at the height of the dot-com bubble.

Bill Gates was named by Time in 2005 (along with his wife Melinda Gates and the musician Bono) for his philanthropic activities, not his role as Microsoft founder. And technology itself made appearances in 1982, when Time named the computer as Machine of the Year, and in 2006, when the magazine declared that You, as represented by the individual content creator on the Web, was its Person of the Year. Neither Steve Jobs, the founder and chief executive of Apple, nor the Google founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, have received the honor.

As Time has become less influential, so has its Person of the Year designation. Nevertheless, it highlights a powerful influence on our lives. Time said it picked Mr. Zuckerberg “for connecting more than half a billion people and mapping the social relations among them; for creating a new system of exchanging information; and for changing how we all live our lives.”

Not everyone agrees with the choice, however. WikiLeaks founder and owner Julian Assange was also a likely candidate, and many people in the comments over on Time think his accomplishments are far more important that Zuckerberg’s.

Some commentators view the award as not only an acknowledgement of Facebook, but of Web 2.0 in general. McKinsey Quarterley reported yesterday that for the first time it is decisively proved that companies using Web 2.0 technologies intensively gain greater market share and higher margins. The immense efficiency gains are largely on the back of employing these technologies to increase the connectedness and the amount of information shared amongst the people in a firm and its environment. In this sense, the award to Zuckerberg may seem more timely and appropriate.

Mr Zuckerberg, estimated to be worth $6.9bn (£4.4bn), is the youngest billionaire in the world, one of the richest people in the US, and earlier this month he became one of the latest billionaires to pledge to give away the majority of his wealth. He is one of 17 new people to support a group, founded by Bill Gates and his wife along with Warren Buffett, which encourages America’s wealthiest to publicly promise to donate to charity.

New York Times, 15.12.2010, BBC, 15.12.2010

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