It’s mostly about timing. Apple is a story for the decades. Facebook is a story for this year.
In Time‘s online poll, Wikileaks’ Julian Assange was the people’s choice — and would have been ours as well. Steve Jobs was No. 7. Mark Zuckerberg was No. 10.
Anybody who follows Apple (AAPL) can imagine a similar paragraph being written about Steve Jobs, an individual who has shaped our world as much as — if not more than — Mark Zuckerberg, and who has a business model that actually works.
So what does Zuckerberg have that Jobs doesn’t? Let us count the differences:
- A fresh face. Zuckerberg is this year’s “it” geek. Jobs has been around since the late 1970s. (He first appeared on Time‘s cover in 1982.)
- A hit movie. Stengel didn’t mention The Social Network — which was nominated for six Golden Globe awards on Tuesday — but just about every news story about his pick will.
- A cooperative nature. Zuckerberg, as Oprah Winfrey and 60 Minutes will attest, is media-friendly these days. He’ll open his doors to Time‘s Lev Grossman and do that long interview with Stengel. Jobs, by contrast, is extraordinarily stingy with his time in the best of circumstances, and he is believed to still harbor a grudge against Time Inc. for Fortune‘s 2008 cover story “The Trouble with Steve.”
One more thing: Apple is making it very hard for Time Inc. (TWX) to sell magazine subscriptions on the App Store. If the iPad had managed to save the magazine and newspaper industry in 2010 — as many hoped — we might have seen a different face on this week’s cover.
Disclaimer: Just because I’m a contract writer for Fortune doesn’t mean I know what’s going on in the halls of its sister publication. Quite the contrary. Your guess is probably as good as mine.
For Lev Grossman’s Zuckerberg story, click here.
[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]