Zuckerberg’s ‘The Hacker Way’ letter strikes same tone as Google founders’ IPO letter

Yes, Facebook has finally filed for its IPO. The much-anticipated filing includes plenty of interesting numbers, many of which are huge, eye-popping, astronomical and just about every other superlative you can think of. The Mercury News coverage delves into many of those numbers; this post will focus on the words, more specifically the letter from Mark Zuckerberg included in the S-1 filing. “The Hacker Way” letter lays out the philosophy and vision of the hoodie-wearing Harvard dropout who for many has changed the definition of friendship, the meaning of sharing. And it bears notable similarities to the letter Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin wrote in 2004, when that company — Facebook’s biggest competitor — went public.

A look at ways “The Hacker Way” letter is similar to the “Don’t Be Evil” letter:

The tone of both letters are young and idealistic. Page and Brin were barely over 30 when their companies went public; Zuckerberg is 27. Both the Google founders and Zuckerberg are known to have resisted the idea of going public. Both founders’ letters contain earnest explanations for why they think their companies are different, have higher, long-term missions, are dedicated to doing good.

Zuckerberg: “We’ve always cared primarily about our social mission, the services we’re building and the people who use them. This is a different approach for a public company to take.” The first sentence of the Google founders’ letter, which was written by Page but signed by both: “Google is not a conventional company.” He goes on to say that “serving our end users is at the heart of what we do and remains our number one priority.”

Both companies’ letters attempt to make shareholders understand their culture — the very heart of who they are. For Facebook, that’s the Hacker Way, which Zuckerberg describes as “an approach to building that involves continuous improvement and iteration.” And it’s “also extremely open and meritocratic. Hackers believe that the best idea and implementation should always win — not the person who is best at lobbying for an idea or the person who manages the most people.”

Google’s culture was captured by the oft-repeated Don’t Be Evil mantra. Page: “We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served — as shareholders and in all other ways — by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains. This is an important aspect of our culture and is broadly shared within the company.” Page went on to say the mantra applied to the Mountain View company’s search results and advertising. The former should be “unbiased and objective,” the latter relevant and labeled clearly.

After Google went public, and as it has grown, it has run into many issues its critics have said stray from its original mission. From antitrust investigations about its search and advertising practices to questions about its privacy policies, Google has had to deal with the fact that it’s a giant corporation that some see as no longer living up to its “don’t be evil” pledge. The recent brouhaha over its new privacy policy is a good example. (See Google’s latest controversial move: updating its privacy policy. What will it think of next?)

Now that Facebook is going public, perhaps in May, it will surely run into similar problems. It has already had its share of controversy, also and especially over the way it handles privacy. Last year, it reached a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission over its privacy practices. (See Facebook sorry? Sharing skepticism over settlement.) The Menlo Park company warns in its filing that its phenomenal growth will slow, but it now boasts 845 million monthly active users and has already been around eight years — two years longer than Google when it went public. There are already questions about Facebook’s revenue source, with a Forrester analyst quoted by Wired saying that companies aren’t happy with their return on investment from ads placed on the world’s largest social network.

Size, age and extensive reach can raise questions about a company’s original values and intent; the reality of demands on a public company might force it to reshape its values. It’s something Google has found and Facebook has already gotten a taste of.

Why care about whether Google and Facebook stay true to their stated ideals (if we believe them)? For the masses who won’t get in on Facebook’s hot IPO, or don’t own stock in Google, here’s what’s at stake: Together, Facebook and Google have access to and influence over a vast amount of Internet knowledge and data — plenty of it our personal information, or our work, our creations. It’s vital we pay attention to what they say and do.


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  • RedRat

    My advice to Zuckerberg is to cash out as much of his stock as he can and then stash the cash away in an overseas banking accounts, i.e., the Romney style of investing and get that low tax rate while he can. Then of course he can then begin outsourcing all of Facebook’s jobs overseas, i.e., the Apple style of job efficiency. Hey folks, that is the New American Way, isn’t it?

  • “Now that Facebook has gone public…” — er, no, Facebook became evil long ago. Currently they’re just negotiating with Devil A and Devil B. Either way it’s pure evil.

  • Billy Jean

    Don’t you forgot that Zuckerberg STOLE the idea of Facebook from the Winklevoss twins & from Divya Narendra from Harvard University. In my opinion, Zuckerberg is NOT a good human being (he may be rich in $$ but not in Ethics!!) and can not be trusted!

  • Adam

    Google was once breath of fresh air in the world of microsoft. recently, some gypsies from asian subcontinent have taken over this once noble company. now all google products have new, dark (grey) skin overtones and arrogance spills from everypage. functionality has been severely reduced. for example, you cannot do slideshow with images in google documents, like before.

    there is one important product (youtube) that will see a drastic dive in popularity. recently, certain guy (salar, ka…whats his name) took over as ceo of youtube from chad hurley.

    now they threaten you that all channels will go to a new design on march 7. the design is extremely ugly, distracting, confusing and has poor functionality.

    larry, sergey, eric: mount your google horses!