July 21, 2010— -- If Facebook were a country, it would be the third largest one in the world. But on the day that the massive social network achieved its most significant milestone yet – crossing the 500 million member mark – the site's young CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, said that it's the users who deserve all the credit.
"It's really the people themselves who have gotten us to this state. I mean, we've built a lot of products that we think are good, and will help people share photos and share videos and write messages to each other. But it's really all about how people are spreading Facebook around the world in all these different countries. And that's what's so amazing about the scale that it's at today," Zuckerberg told ABC News' Diane Sawyer today.
In an interview at Facebook's Palo Alto headquarters, Zuckerberg said the journey from his Harvard dorm room to his new Silicon Valley digs has been "surreal."
When he started the site with some classmates six years ago, the site, then called "The Face Book," was only intended to connect students on one college campus. Since then, it's grown into a global force that is redefining relationships of every kind – from the personal to the political to the commercial and beyond.
"Well, what I think it's doing is giving everyone a voice, right?" he said. "So, back, you know, a few generations ago, people didn't have a way to share information and express their opinions efficiently to a lot of people. But now they do. Right now, with social networks and other tools on the Internet, all of these 500 million people have a way to say what they're thinking and have their voice be heard."
But though Facebook is a transformative company, it has also been mired in myth and legal melodrama.
This fall, a new movie, "The Social Network," plans to give viewers a glimpse of Facebook's earliest days.
Trailers for the film sugest a steamy story about the site and its founders, but Zuckerberg said the truth isn't nearly as intriguing.
"I just think people have a lot of fiction. But, you know, I mean, the real story of Facebook is just that we've worked so hard for all this time," he said. "I mean, the real story is actually probably pretty boring, right? I mean, we just sat at our computers for six years and coded."
Zuckerberg said that though he has no plans to see the movie, he'd seen a part of a trailer. He said it's "interesting," but called the movie and other false reports "distractions."
Zuckerberg Says He Did Not Sign Contract Giving Up Facebook Ownership
"I mean, we can't be focused when people try to say things that aren't true," Zuckerberg said. "I really believe that people get remembered for what they build. … Right, people don't care about what someone says about you in a movie -- or even what you say, right? They care about what you build. And if you can make something that makes people's life better, then that's something that's really good."
Despite Zuckerberg's emphasis on the company's "boring" early days, Facebook, now valued north of $20 billion, has been dogged with claims of ownership.
In 2008, Facebook settled a lawsuit with the founders of the website ConnectU, who claimed that Zuckerberg stole their ideas for a social networking site. Facebook also settled a lawsuit with an early Facebook investor, Eduardo Saverin.
In recent weeks, another would-be owner has come forward.
In a complaint filed last month, Paul Ceglia, the owner of a wood-pellet fuel company in Wellsville, N.Y., alleges that a contract he signed with Zuckerberg in 2003 entitles him to an 84 percent stake in the company.
According to recent reports, a Facebook lawyer said Tuesday that she was "unsure" whether Zuckerberg signed the contract in question.
But in the interview today, Zuckerberg said, "I don't think we -- that -- if we said that we were unsure, I think that was likely taken out of context," he said. "Because I think we were quite sure that we did not sign a contract that says that they have any right to ownership over Facebook."
Zuckerberg declined to answer questions about the company's financial health, but affirmed that the company would never charge members to use the site.
"I mean, this is our commitment to users. And the people who use our service is that Facebook's a free service. It's free now. It will always be free. We make money through having advertisements and things like that," he said.
Facebook Will Sell Stock in IPO When It Makes Sense, Zuckerberg Said
When asked about when the company might go public, he said, "When it makes sense, right. I mean, what we're most focused on is just building these tools that help people stay connected with the people that they care about. And at some point along the path, I think it'll make sense to have an IPO. But we're not running the company to do that. We're running the company to serve more people."
Zuckerberg acknowledged that Facebook had grappled with issues of members' privacy, but said it had arrived at a solution it planned to stick with.
"Yeah. We have made mistakes, for sure," he said. But "I think what people really want is control. … And building tools to make it so that people have the control that they want, that's our job, right. We work really hard to make it is as simple as possible."
Still, he said that though he's proud of the work his company has accomplished, he's concerned that Facebook won't be able to keep up with the amount of opportunity available.
"We can always be innovating more, doing more things. ... I'm just an impatient person, right," he said. "I want to see us, like release all these products very quickly, and-- and that's like-- that's a big thing for-- for our company. We love moving fast, and being bold, and kind of making those big things."