Online Facebooks Duel Over Tangled Web of Authorship

According to his job description posted on thefacebook.com, Mark E. Zuckerberg ’06 serves as the popular website’s “Founder, Master and Commander [and] Enemy of the State.” But a trio of Pforzheimer residents would like to add one last title to that resume: thief.

Divya K. Narendra ’04, Cameron S.H. Winklevoss ’04 and Tyler O.H. Winklevoss ’04—the proprietors of ConnectU.com, a competing online network released last Friday—have launched a campaign to discredit Zuckerberg, claiming that he stole his college facebook idea while writing code for their site.

The seniors said they first conceived of the idea for an online directory to connect students at Harvard and other universities in December 2002, and enlisted Sanjay G. Mavinkurve ’03 to write its code. But after his graduation and the departure of another designer, Victor Y. Gao ’04, from their team last November, the three turned to Zuckerberg to complete the portion of their site devoted to student-alum networking.

“We worked with him for about three months,” Cameron Winklevoss said. “We met with him at least two to three times in Kirkland House and we exchanged 52 e-mails. He agreed to finish our site, specifically the professional side of it.”

But according to Zuckerberg, the time commitment that such work would entail was never clearly conveyed during any of those conversations. While he was told that only six to 10 hours of coding would be involved, it quickly became clear that the site, then known as Harvard Connection, was far from being published.

“They kept talking about releasing it [in November],” Zuckerberg said. “But all their graphics were still taken from copyrighted sources. It was clear that it was nowhere near release.”

“Now that they are claiming that I took the stuff from them—it’s completely false,” Zuckerberg said.

With the two sides’ understanding of their working relationship out of sync, expectations of cooperation quickly diverged and communication disintegrated.

Thinking his involvement to be nothing more than that of an occasional contributor and citing more-important computer science projects and a series of mishaps, Cameron Winklevoss said Zuckerberg fell out of contact and completed little of the work expected of him by ConnectU.

“The thing about it is, in The Crimson article he boasted about completing [thefacebook.com] in a week, after leading us on for three months,” Cameron Winklevoss said. “We passed through Thanksgiving, winter break and intersession. He had ample time. He not only led us on, but he knew what the was doing.”

The two parties held one final planning session Jan. 15 in Kirkland dining hall, four days after Zuckerberg officially registered his site, unbeknownst to Narendra and the Winklevosses, after which no further construction was done on the site.

During that meeting, Zuckerberg conveyed that he was working on other personal projects, but did not elaborate, citing what he perceived to be the distinction between the two sites.

“To the extent that I understood their site, which was not a great extent, it was a dating site,” Zuckerberg said.

But the “semantic” distinction, as the ConnectU owners called it, was lost upon them on Feb. 8 when they learned of thefacebook.com’s launch in The Crimson—a perceived insult they claim was only aggravated when they discovered the actual status of their site.

“When I looked at the code, it wasn’t complete and it certainly was not functional,” Gao said. “I don’t know whether they had agreed for Mark to finish it...but it didn’t run completely. The registration did not work. You could go in, the fields were there, but you couldn’t actually register. It didn’t connect with the back-end connections.”

Featuring fields whittled down from ConnectU’s original registration queries and a noticeably similar layout, Cameron Winklevoss said, thefacebook.com’s presentation smacked of cloning—a point which all three claim became even more clear as Zuckerberg’s site expanded.