Mark Zuckerberg

The fresh-faced founder and CEO of social networking site Facebook – has shot to the top of this year’s silicon.com Agenda Setters list. This is the first time 23-year-old Zuckerberg has featured at all, let alone at number 1. It’s a measure of the phenomenal breakthrough year it’s been for the website he set up in 2004 that he’s come from nowhere to land squarely in the top slot.

Zuckerberg is arguably the embodiment of what 2006’s Agenda Setters panel described as “the next generation” – ranked in second place last year. The 2006 panel described the generation as “more networked”, “more open” and “more fickle” than previous ones.

Zuckerberg actually started work on Facebook while still a student at Harvard, and famously dropped out to concentrate his energies on his web 2.0 baby.

Facebook began life as a tool for Harvard’s student base, before being opened up to other US universities and employers, and then last year to anyone in the world with an email address.

Membership of the site has been growing apace ever since, and while it still trails rival MySpace, there is talk – in the UK at least – of Facebook catching up soon.

Earlier this year, Zuckerberg opened the door to third-party developers, presenting Facebook as a platform for building businesses on. This move led to something of a gold rush as developers fell over themselves to carve a space on the site, creating a bewildering variety of apps – some 3,000 to date. One panellist described this web ecosystem as a “Facebook universe”, saying Zuckerberg has “outflanked a lot of innovators”.

While Zuckerberg cannot claim to be the pioneer of social networking on the web – MySpace was not only set up before Facebook but also opened itself up to third-party developers before its upstart rival – his strategy and product design have dramatically raised the profile of online social networking. Facebook appeals to a broader cross-section of web users, even to the point of creeping into corporate environments.

One panellist observed: “If a MySpace screen comes up at work it is embarrassing but if Facebook comes up it kind of looks like a proper application. I have a sense that there has been a tipping point in which social networking has become attractive to a whole bunch of people who aren’t very technical, and Zuckerberg gets a carrot for that. It’s quite a big shift.”

Another panellist added: “You have to be an Agenda Setter if you have produced something which the whole world is talking about and nobody else has done it in the same way.”

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