Mark Zuckerberg is Time's Person of the Year

60 Minutes - Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook.
"We have entered the Facebook age, and Mark Zuckerberg is the man who brought us here."

These are the words Time magazine has used to describe the reason it decided to bestow its annual Person of the Year award to Facebook's founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, for 2010.

Zuckerberg, who at 26 is one of the world's youngest billionaires, beat out a weighty field, including: reader's choice winner Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks; Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai; The Tea Party; and the Chilean miners.

Even though Facebook's popularity, and therefore Zuckerberg's legend, began making headlines years ago, 2010 was the year of Zuckerberg for several reasons.

In July, Facebook got its 500 millionth member. (It currently has more than 550 million.) The company also announced a new set of tools that expands its reach further into everyday lives. A popular and critically acclaimed movie about Zuckerberg founding Facebook while a Harvard student, "The Social Network," hit the theatres. Perhaps most noticeably, Zuckerberg made a splashy entry into the philanthropy world, pledging $100 million to Newark public school and signing a pledge to give away most of his estimated $6 billion fortune before he dies.

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Time editor Richard Stengel wrote in an editorial explaining the magazine's choice: "What just happened? In less than seven years, Zuckerberg wired together a twelfth of humanity into a single network, thereby creating a social entity almost twice as large as the U.S. If Facebook were a country it would be the third largest, behind only China and India. It started out as a lark, a diversion, but it has turned into something real, something that has changed the way human beings relate to one another on a species-wide scale. We are now running our social lives through a for-profit network that, on paper at least, has made Zuckerberg a billionaire six times over.

"Facebook has merged with the social fabric of American life, and not just American but human life: nearly half of all Americans have a Facebook account, but 70% of Facebook users live outside the U.S. It's a permanent fact of our global social reality."

Zuckerberg is the rare tech company founder who maintained control of his company over time after heavy outside investment. The Associated Press reports he owns about a quarter of Facebook's shares.

Lately, the social networking site has been introducing new products - one after the next - with the goal, it seems, of turning the entire Web into one big social network, so eventually the Internet will be Facebook, reports 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl.

In 2007, in what was then a rare public appearance for Zuckerberg, he said that "once every hundred years, media changes" and implied that Facebook was at the vanguard of a fresh hundred-year change, reports CNET. Zuckerberg was promptly derided for saying something that was at best reflective of youthful cluelessness and at worst a sign of blossoming hubris. Turns out he only said it a few years too soon.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke received the honor last year. The 2008 winner was then-President-elect Barack Obama. The 2007 winner was Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Other previous winners have included Bono, President George W. Bush, and CEO and founder Jeff Bezos.

Time's "Person of the Year" is the person or thing that has most influenced the culture and the news during the past year for good or for ill.