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The Battle For Facebook

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Throughout 2003, Narendra and the twins worked on the site, hiring several fellow students to help them code it. But by that fall, the site still wasn't finished. Then, in November, the entrepreneurs, who'd heard about the rise and fall of Zuckerberg's Facemash, decided to contact the programming prodigy and catch some of his computing heat.

On the phone, Narendra told Zuckerberg the site — called the Harvard Connection — would have two sections: "dating" and "connecting." Students could post photos of themselves, enter personal information and search for links. Narendra and the twins wanted Zuckerberg to do about 10 hours of programming; in re‑ turn, they claim they offered him a piece of the company. That month, Zuckerberg met with the partners, and he agreed to work on the site.

Zuckerberg later claimed that he had no faith in the ability of his partners to pull the project off. "My most socially inept friends at the school had a better idea of what would attract people to a Website than these guys," he scoffed in a deposition. But in his e-mails at the time, Zuckerberg was conciliatory to the partners. "I have most of the coding done," he assured them in November. "It seems like everything is working." Over the next two months, he kept making lame excuses for putting them off — "I forgot to bring my charger home with me for Thanksgiving" — but his tone was cheery, and he promised them that things shouldn't take much longer. Zuckerberg later admitted that he did only a little work on the site in December and none in January.

As the weeks dragged on, the Harvard Connection team started to get anxious. Every time they tried to meet with Zuckerberg, he postponed, blaming his busy schedule. Cameron Winklevoss pressured him to finish the job: "hey mark, drop me a line when you get a chance," he wrote on January 6th. Two days later, Zuckerberg replied with an apology: "I'm completely swamped with work this week. I have three programming projects and a final paper due by Monday." Finally, on January 14th, Zuckerberg met with the twins and Narendra. Despite his previous assurances that all the code for the site was nearly ready, he informed them that they should get another programmer. The Harvard Connection guys were stunned. What happened to all the work they'd been promised?

Zuckerberg has said under oath that he began writing the code for TheFacebook .com, his site's first incarnation, in January, presumably after his last meeting with the partners from Harvard Connection. It took him maybe a week or two, he claims, in between homework and finals. He was inspired, he said, by an editorial in The Harvard Crimson about his Facemash debacle. "It is clear that the technology needed to create a centralized Website is readily available," the paper observed. "The benefits are many."

No matter the timeline, Zuckerberg ultimately dumped his jock overseers and went into business for himself. "I basically took that article that [the Crimson] wrote and made a site with those exact privacy controls, and that was Facebook," he recalled.

But Zuckerberg's memory of the subject is hazy at best. "Really unsure of like when the moment was that it crystallized and I said I'm going to make Facebook," he said in testimony. And what Zuckerberg didn't tell the Harvard Connection guys is that he officially registered the original Facebook site with his Web provider on January 11th — three days before he gave them the brushoff. His lawyers have told the court that it was "on or about" then that he started coding Facebook.

According to Zuckerberg, he enlisted one of his closest friends, Eduardo Saverin, who shared his dorm suite, to think about how to incorporate the site. (A recent book proposal, for which Saverin is likely a primary source, suggests that the two friends hoped to use the site to get laid.) On January 12th, while he was still ostensibly working for Harvard Connection, Zuckerberg e-mailed Saverin and told him the Facebook site was almost complete and it was time to discuss marketing strategies. They each agreed to invest $1,000 in the site, with Zuckerberg owning two-thirds of the company.

Zuckerberg threw himself into programming his new site. In the weeks he spent writing Facebook, he couldn't be bothered to study for one of his courses, "Art in the Time of Augustus" — so he built a Website, posted all of the artwork from the class and then sent an e-mail offering it up as a communal study guide. Within a half-hour, classmates had assembled the perfect study guide. Zuckerberg passed the course.

Unencumbered by class work, Zuckerberg plowed ahead with his new project, isolating and exhausting himself. Facebook launched on February 4th, 2004. "If I hadn't launched it that day," he told the Crimson, "I was about to just can it and go on to the next thing."

The site immediately took off. After 4,000 people signed up in the first two weeks, Zuckerberg and Saverin realized they needed help, fast. They asked Zuckerberg's roommate Dustin Moskovitz to help, and he began to work with them, trying to launch the site at a few more colleges deemed worthy: Stanford, Columbia and Yale. Adam D'Angelo, Zuckerberg's high school inventing partner, also chipped in to help set up databases for the new schools. Around this time, the ownership percentages were renegotiated: 65 percent for Zuckerberg, 30 percent for Saverin and five percent for Moskovitz. Zuckerberg also pulled in Chris Hughes, another roommate, to act as their spokesman. On April 13th, the team filed letters of incorporation. Zuckerberg posted his job description on Facebook as "Founder, Master and Commander [and] Enemy of the State." The empire of the nerds had begun.

The Harvard Connection partners felt burned. "At first we were devastated and climbed into a bottle of Jack Daniels," the three said in a message on their site, "but eventually emerged with a bad headache and renewed optimism. We weren't going to lie down and get walked over." They fired off a letter to Zuckerberg, threatening to bring him before the school's board on ethical grounds. They appealed directly to President Summers, saying Zuckerberg had violated the school's honor code. In May, they launched their own site, with the new name ConnectU, but it went nowhere fast: Four years later, it boasts only 15,000 members at 200 schools.

Zuckerberg, they claimed, not only stole their idea, he intentionally delayed work on their site so he could launch his first. "He boasted about completing [Facebook] in a week, after leading us on for three months," Cameron Winklevoss told the Crimson. "We passed through Thanksgiving, winter break and intersession. He had ample time. He not only led us on, but he knew what he was doing." His brother Tyler, speaking to The Boston Globe after the partners filed a lawsuit against Zuckerberg, was even more direct. "It's sort of a land grab," he said. "You feel robbed. The kids down the hall are using it, and you're thinking, 'That's supposed to be us.' We're not there, because one greedy kid cut us out."

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