Katherine Losse was present at the creation. Employee 51 at Facebook, the English major became first a major player in the company's customer service team and then rose to prominence in i18n, Facebook's internationalization initiative. She ended her seven year career there as Mark Zuckerberg's blogger. She mimicked his voice in posts and emails, starting with "Hey Everybody" and ending in world domination.
Now, Losse offers a book about her experience there. Covering the period between 2005 and 2012, she sunk into the soft comfort of corporate life just as early Facebook's miasmic jelly hardened into serious business. Losse, because she's not a wonk, is the kind of person that you want writing about this kind of rise: she writes like she's working out a Lorrie Moore story set at Xerox/PARC and, as a result, she leaves out the nerdiness and attempts to replace it with humanity.
Sadly, editing or elision breaks the story far too often to give The Boy Kings a resounding Like. Take, for example, the central relationship with Thrax, an unnamed programmer with whom she spends an inordinate amount of time. Like a phimosis-suffering Louis XVI, Thrax prefers programming and running around with the geeks to creating a meaningful relationship with Losse. They dance around a kiss for years, and eventually you just don't care.
The rest of the story—the tales of untrammeled growth, the largesse, the haughty boy king Zuckerberg—is painted with the broadest brush. It was as if an editor said "We don't want any of that computer stuff in here" and cast it all out, leaving a husk. For a book about social networks, we don't meet many of the main characters. Names pop up randomly, as if we were reading Losse's News Feed. No one is described in any detail; but maybe we don't need to really "see" a group of man-children "ripsticking" around an empty office at 2am. Losse does the best she can with what amounts to a skein of electronic relationships.
But it also feels like Losse held a lot back. Some corners of the Internet expressed disbelief at the sexism at Facebook, although most of what she describes is nearly neuter: these boy kings can't be sexist, because they're not actually sexed. They're nerds given a little power, and when they have to handle soft skills like talking to girls and being friendly, they fail. The brogrammer, at least in Losse's world, is less bro and more boring.
I can recommend this book as a short slice of life, but if you're looking for a look inside Facebook, or even an understanding of its growth and expansion, you're going to have to wait. Losse isn't that writer, and that's fine. However, if you want to see what it's like to be a liberal arts major among the technologists, Losse has that down completely, almost to a fault. Like her chaste, weird relationship with Thrax, she held herself at a far remove from the goings-on in Facebook and the book highlights that remove starkly and with grace.Next post