Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Mark Zuckerberg

Four years ago, he had a good idea in his dorm room. Today you know that idea as Facebook.

The Internet is about people connecting to people, whether for business, politics or socializing. That's something we've all been doing since long before the Internet existed. The real accomplishment is to make those connections so versatile and different that they create a social network that not only reflects your life but maybe expands it. Mark Zuckerberg, 23, the creator of Facebook, has done just that.

Working from his dorm room at Harvard in 2004, Zuckerberg launched Facebook as a campuswide system and later expanded it to other colleges. The site exploded nationally and globally, and with that came tens of millions of dollars from investors, buyout offers from Yahoo! and Viacom, and a worldwide community of Facebook users.

All that happened because Zuckerberg has remained true to his vision, focusing on building a community rather than on a mere exit strategy which is why those buyout offers have been declined. Facebook also provides a flexible information ecology, offering a fairly open system that allows users to add small applications to pages. As a result, members are starting to run businesses via the Facebook platform, including loan systems and music distribution.

There are challenges, including "Facebook fatigue," which results from just too many invitations. Then, of course, there are issues related to monetization; investors are patient, but not forever. Facebook, however, just keeps growing, with more than 70 million active users so far. That's a lot of people connecting via Zuckerberg's vision which is just what that vision was always about.

Paul Allen

He created the first complete brain atlas. Now he's giving the data away.

If the brain is science's great frontier, you need someone to lead the expedition someone with smarts and curiosity, not to mention a large bank account to finance the journey. In the terra incognita of the brain, that's Paul Allen.

Co founder of Microsoft, owner of three sports teams and lead backer of SpaceShipOne, which in 2004 made the first private manned space flight, Allen, 55, is also head of the Allen Institute for Brain Science, which was founded in 2001 with the goal of mapping the brain, cell by cell and gene by gene. His scientific team began with the mouse brain and finished the job in 2006, posting all the data online. Scientists everywhere now have a free neural GPS to learn where and how specific genes are expressed a vital tool for studying similar functions in human brains.

The institute has now begun its own effort to map human gene expressions, hoping for insight into the molecular basis of consciousness and creativity. Allen founded his institute in the belief that with the right tools you can transform the speed of science itself. Not many people accomplish that even once. Allen is doing it yet again.