Sean Parker's Lasting Influence on Facebook Explained

The scatter-brained billionaire's greatest creation may have been Mark Zuckerberg

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The new Forbes profile on Sean Parker is as much about the founding of Facebook as it is the scatter-brained billionaire played by Justin Timberlake in The Social Network. What's most enlightening about the peek into Parker's daily life isn't the Forbesian insight into what it's like to be a billionaire--the private jet, the sports car, $20 million dollar townhouse, and racks upon racks of designer clothing--but rather how Parker's sphere of influence spins around his brief but unbelievably influential time at Facebook.

The peek into Parker's life is a follow-up of sorts to David Kirkpatrick's portrait of Parker in Vanity Fair last year. Kirkpatrick called Parker a "web oracle," and the Forbes profile gives us some more clues about how this is true. Steven Bertoni writes:

"He can see things most people won't be able to see for a year or two," says Palihapitiya. As Shirven Pishevar of Menlo Ventures describes it: "Parker has access to trends and signals that are invisible to many people. For him it's like hearing a dog whistle." Parker doesn't disagree: "I find a lot of things relevant that aren't necessarily relevant to the world when I'm thinking about them."

One of these things, of course, was Facebook. Arriving in Silicon Valley on the heels of Parker's failed attempt to start his own social network, Plaxo, Facebook was a small scrappy company run by disorganized students. Forbes tells us that Parker deserves much more credit for building the Facebook of today than we've seen before--how he helped "drive Facebook's minimalist look" and "was adamant that the site have a continuous flow and tasks like adding friends be as frictionless as possible."

But Parker propping up Mark Zuckerberg was a much bigger deal. "Still, it's likely his greatest contribution to Facebook was his creation of a corporate structure based on his Plaxo experience--that gave Zuckerberg complete and permanent control of the company he founded," Bertoni says. Zuckerberg weighs in with his own take saying, "Sean was pivotal in helping Facebook transform from a college project into a real company." Moskovitz takes it a step further. "Sean was pretty material in setting up the company in a way that Mark retained as much control as he does," he told Forbes.

Even if he is turning out to be the oracle Kirkpatrick promised, Parker still feels misunderstood. In his profile Kirkpatrick wondered what Parker would think about how he was portrayed by Justin Timberlake in The Social Network. He didn't like it. "I don't mind being depicted as a decadent partyer because I don't think there's anything morally wrong with that," says Parker. "But I do mind being depicted as an unethical, mercenary operator, because I do think there is something wrong with that."

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