Why isn't there a Steve Jobs of social networking?

Last week, Mark Zuckerberg revealed that Bill Gates is his hero and role model. Indeed, Facebook has become as ubiquitous as Windows. But why isn't there an Apple-style competitor?

Cheshire Cat? Daniel Terdiman/CNET Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

While you might once have been dreaming of being the next Joe Montana, Michelle Kwan, Thomas Keller, or Michael Buble, Mark Zuckerberg had very different aspirations.

He wanted to be Bill Gates.

This touching -- and, to some, slightly uncomfortable -- revelation emerged at last week's TechCrunch Disrupt conference .

Why did Zuckerberg want to grow up to be a powerful man who tried to make sure, one way or another, that the whole world used his products?

Because, perhaps, Zuckerberg simply liked the idea of making sure, one way or another, that the whole whole world used his products.

Now he has it. Facebook is a company that has wrapped its allegedly likable tentacles around so many people and so many businesses that few can imagine life without it.

Facebook is social networking because it is. Just as Windows was software because it was.

Was.

It seems odd is that there isn't a Steve Jobs of social networking to tell Zuckerberg that he has, say, no taste.

There isn't a Steve Jobs who can look him in the face and say, as Jobs once said of Gates: "Bill is basically unimaginative and has never invented anything, which is why I think he's more comfortable now in philanthropy than technology. He just shamelessly ripped off other people's ideas."

There isn't a Steve Jobs of social networking who has devised a more attractive, simpler, more human -- and perhaps more secure -- way to allow people to share their baby pictures with their shamed Aunt Hilda in the Outer Hebrides.

You might tell me that they exist somewhere. You might happen to adore WhatsApp, Highlight, Ban.jo or even Google+.

You might say that these all approach social networking in a slightly different way, making the mobile experience more local and somehow more engaging.

You might insist that Path, the supposedly more intimate and private social network, is the true competitor. Yet this company seems often mired in troubling controversy. There's even a debate as to how many people actually use it.

It could be that social networking will fragment into a thousand tiny pieces, each representing one little circle of people's lives.

Currently, though, Zuckerberg is the public face of all social networking. In perception and actuality, he doesn't have much real competition. He'd like to have a little more Twitter about his brand. He'd like to have a little more Snapchat.

But, at heart, he counts his billions of users and dollars, while trying to influence public policy in a way that just happens to further solidify his power base.

In a business that so values the idea of disruption and breaking things, it's quite a failure that no bright and engaging mind has come along to put a visible crack into Facebook.

As Jobs proved, creating a new spirit in an existing industry can turn heads quite quickly. Taking elements that exist and presenting them in an entirely different way works.

Once upon a time, they said it would be too difficult to get away from Windows. Then it began to happen.

It's odd that the new Bill Gates doesn't yet have anyone to truly tweak his cheek.

 

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