How Big Can Zuckerberg Make the Net?

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How much difference can one company make? Mark Zuckerberg appears to be setting out to test that question with his immodest goal of connecting everyone on the planet to the Internet. While many companies talk about “doing well by doing good,” Facebook’s Internet.org initiative makes most other corporate projects for social betterment look banal.

But such extreme ambition is not illogical. A unique combination of circumstances confers on Facebook a position—and perhaps a responsibility—unlike any other company. Facebook’s site is the most popular on the global Internet. Over one billion people now use it on phones, making it the most popular mobile app as well. The Internet itself, in turn, is an unprecedented tool for social value and growth, transforming business and individual opportunity around the world. Given its popularity, Facebook is likely to grow as Internet usage grows. “Over the very long term,” says Zuckerberg in an interview in his office, “if we can connect everybody in the world—will that be good for Facebook? Of course. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t also good for other people.” While 2.7 billion are currently on the Net, the 9 percent annual growth rate in that figure is, for him, unacceptable.

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