Time magazine has named Mark Zuckerberg the person of the year. No surprise there: Zuckerberg has presided over the astounding growth of the most popular social network in history. He has been canonized – or demonized, depending on your perspective – in a major Hollywood flick. And he has weathered a string of successive Web security debacles, all the while keeping Facebook leaps and bounds ahead of its competitors.
Ben Mezrich, the author of "The Accidental Billionaires," told the Monitor this summer that Facebook is "such a huge part of our lives, it's such a quickly growing company, that any critique falls flat. Unless [the Facebook staff] does something really phenomenally stupid, and I can't see for the life of me what that would be, a certain age group is going to keep using the site. That's the brilliance of Facebook."
But as the staff of Time magazine knows, there's nothing like a controversial person-of-the-year pick to drive up newsstand sales. And Zuckerberg is no exception. In fact, judging by the swirl of blog posts and Twitter messages that have followed the Time magazine announcement, plenty of folks think Time should have bypassed Mark Zuckerberg – and hoisted the honor on WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange instead.
So is there a case to be made for Assange? Well, yes. According to the poll results published by Time, Assange was the number one pick among readers, with Zuckerberg coming in a distant tenth place. (Lady Gaga was number three, in case you were wondering.) And while Zuckerberg has changed the way Web users worldwide communicate, Assange may have altered the very course of world events.
"[W]hy Zuckerberg in 2010? It's hardly a move demonstrating insight or foresight," Richi Jennings of Computeworld wrote today. "Last year, or 2008, perhaps. But really, was 2010 the year of Facebook? Of course not: it was just riding the inevitable momentum built up in earlier years. Time has clearly demonstrated that it has zero understanding of how social networks work."
Perhaps anticipating the backlash over the Zuckerberg nomination, Time's Richard Stengel wrote this week that "Zuckerberg and Assange are two sides of the same coin. Both express a desire for openness and transparency. While Assange attacks big institutions and governments through involuntary transparency with the goal of disempowering them, Zuckerberg enables individuals to voluntarily share information with the idea of empowering them."
And then, in a kind of backhanded shot, Stengel added the following: "Assange sees the world as filled with real and imagined enemies; Zuckerberg sees the world as filled with potential friends. Both have a certain disdain for privacy: in Assange's case because he feels it allows malevolence to flourish; in Zuckerberg's case because he sees it as a cultural anachronism, an impediment to a more efficient and open connection between people."
Over to you: Julian Assange or Mark Zuckerberg? Drop us a line in the comments section, and if we get enough responses, maybe we'll publish our own informal poll.