When Mark Zuckerberg speaks, everyone listens. Not just because he happens to run the world's largest social network, but also because he has a tendency to let slip some of his personal philosophy on privacy, connection, and sharing at an ever-increasing pace.
That's why scholars at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee are listening to and recording everything he says and archiving it in The Zuckerberg Files, an online repository of the Facebook CEO's every public utterance.
The site has an academic purpose, but it's also concerned with playing the watchdog. "By gaining a better understanding of how Facebook's founder and CEO conceives of his own company's role in the policy and ethical debates surrounding social networking, we will be better suited to critically engage in a dialogue on privacy and Facebook, inform design and policy recommendations, and increase user awareness and literacy," the site reads.
It's an important initiative, too. Zuckerberg's thoughts on social networking have always had an air of controversy -- for instance, when he said, "Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity."
But more importantly, his vision for the world dictates what kinds of policies Facebook mandates for its billion plus user base and the way the site maneuvers privacy in its mission to connect every human on the planet. Tracking Zuckerberg as he and his company mature into corporate staples will prove insightful in a number of key battlegrounds, from the next inevitable public outcry over a Facebook update to legal battles on US soil and beyond.
The Zuckerberg Files, which launched last Friday, already contain more than 100 full-text transcripts and nearly 50 videos of the 29-year-old billionaire's public appearances, media interviews, earnings calls, and more. But it's not for everyone. Though it's an open-access public archive, it's hosted on the university's digital commons and administered by Michael Zimmer of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's School of Information Studies. That means those interested need a reasonable enough reason to look into Zuckerberg's oral history. To gain full access, the site instructs people to submit their contact information along with a description of their research or purpose.
Zimmer, as a scholar studying social media, ethics, and privacy, has a history with the social network as one of its principal researchers. With The Zuckerberg Files, that research and the work of many others will now have a treasure trove of material to help peer inside the brain of social networking's biggest advocate.
So while Mark Zuckerberg has gotten over his ambivalence towards public speaking, you can be sure he will be treading lightly when it comes to opening up about touchy subjects like privacy from here on out.