Postcards

How the power players do it - by Fortune senior editor at large Patricia Sellers

When Zuckerberg decided Facebook is a business

May 18, 2012: 12:51 PM ET

"Originally, we were not planning on expanding or anything." - Mark Zuckerberg, August 2006

As Facebook (FB) launched its IPO this morning, I plowed into my archives and found notes from Mark Zuckerberg's visit to Fortune six years ago. The Facebook founder was a 22-year-old Harvard dropout and virgin CEO. I was reporting a cover story about MySpace, then the hottest social-networking site on the planet.

Zuck had a plan to change that balance of social-networking power.

"We have almost nine million members," he noted on that Fortune visit, soon after realizing that Facebook could extend beyond college students. Facebook had launched 11 months earlier in high schools, "and that's grown faster than the college market," Zuckerberg told me. "We don't want everyone," he cautioned. But the notion of connecting the world was clearly germinating. "The desire to have access to people around you is a universal thing," he said.

Back then in 2006, the Facebook founder painstakingly noted how his social network differed from MySpace. "There's a large emphasis on authentication," he said about Facebook, noting its privacy options. Compared to cooler, more freewheeling MySpace, "We make sure that you belong in the community that you say you do." He added: "You have complete control over your information, who sees what." Zuckerberg defined Facebook as "a utility."

Moreover, he tackled a key question that potential investors have asked forever since: Is Facebook a tech or a media company? "We're a tech company, not a media portal," he said, adding proudly, "We're all a bunch of computer dorks."

This morning, I shared my six-year-old Zuckerberg notes with Jessi Hempel, Fortune's resident Facebook expert and the co-author of a terrific recent cover story about the company. Jessi notes that Facebook today is ever more a media company, reliant on  advertisers like Procter & Gamble (PG) to grow. Zuck had better hope that other big spenders don't follow General Motors (GM), which recently announced it will no longer spend to advertise on Facebook.

Regardless, it's clear which social network has won the race for global domination. In my archives, I also found notes from a 2006 interview with Ross Levinsohn, who was then a key executive at Rupert Murdoch's News Corp (NWSA) and is now the new CEO of Yahoo (YHOO). Levinsohn told me six years ago that News Corp had looked at Facebook but chose to buy MySpace instead because it had more potential, at a cheaper price. Murdoch told me at the time: "We think we can extend MySpace around the world and it can be a major force globally."

Sometimes the little guy wins.

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About This Author
Pattie Sellers
Pattie Sellers
Senior Editor at Large, Fortune
Executive Director of MPW/Live Content, Time Inc.

Pattie Sellers has written more than 20 Fortune cover stories including "Marissa Mayer: Ready to Rumble at Yahoo," "Muhtar Kent's New Coke," "Oprah's Next Act", "The $100 Billion Woman" (Melinda Gates), and "Gone with the Wind" (Ted Turner). She co-founded Fortune Most Powerful Women and oversees the Fortune MPW Summit, the preeminent gathering of women leaders in business and beyond—and programs such as Fortune MPW Entrepreneurs and the Fortune-U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership. Pattie also develops Live Content across Time Inc. Her blog, Postcards, is about how power players lead and navigate their careers. Pattie won Time Inc.'s prestigious MVP award for her performance in 2012.

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