The Facebook founder is cited for affecting the lives of more than half a billion people

Credit: Courtesy Time Magazine

The guy with more friends than anybody has been named Time magazine‘s Person of the Year: Mark Zuckerberg, the controversial, 26-year-old founder of Facebook, the newsweekly announced Wednesday morning.

Winning the honor over such short-listed names as WikiLeak’s Julian Assange (the favorite in a readers’ poll), the Tea Party, the Chilean Miners, Apple’s Steve Jobs and Afghanistan leader Hamid Karzai, Zuckerberg on his own Facebook page describes his personal interests as “openness, making things that help people connect and share what’s important to them, revolutions, information flow, minimalism.”

As Time tagged Zuckerberg’s on the Web site of the Today showTime editor Rick Stengel made the announcement of Zuckerberg’s selection on the NBC morning program – “More than half a billion people on the planet live in a world created by Mark Zuckerberg. The good news is, their friends all live there too. Zuckerberg founded the social networking site Facebook in his college dorm six years ago, but 2010 was the year that Facebook reached critical mass, both in sheer quantity of users and in its presence (through its ‘connect’ features) all over the Web.”

The profile continued, “Zuckerberg spent much of the year fighting privacy concerns, and this fall he had to shake off a movie that depicted him as an alienated loner, hacking to get girls. But the world’s youngest billionaire has no plans to slow Facebook’s growth, nor does it show any sign of stopping.”

That movie is The Social Network, which, besides doing well at the box office, is an Oscar Best Picture frontrunner. In the past week it’s been honored, too – having been named Best Picture of the Year by the National Board of Review, the New York Film Critics Circle and critics’ groups in Toronto, Boston and Los Angeles. In addition, the movie and its leading man, Jesse Eisenberg, who plays a hard-boiled Zuckerberg, received Golden Globe nominations.

Time‘s Person of the Year tradition harkens back to 1927, the year the magazine (which, like PEOPLE, is today part of Time Inc.) was launched. The first Person was aviator Charles Lindbergh. Others named throughout the decades have included Franklin D. Roosevelt (1932, 1934 and 1941), Adolf Hitler (1936), the American Fighting Man (1950), the Generation Under 25 (1966), American Women (1975), and, during their terms in office, Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, both Bushes, Clinton and Obama.