Computer guru Mark E. Zuckerberg ’06, of mp3 software fame, is once again bringing innovative programs to the Harvard community. His newest venture, however, has less than innocent intentions. About a week ago, Zuckerberg found himself midterm-free and feeling slightly bored. Instead of turning to XBox or celebratory drinking, the computer whiz decided to create a website to compare Harvard students—but not in the traditional fields of academics and extracurriculars. Instead, Zuckerberg wanted to compare them on their looks. “I thought to myself, that’s an interesting idea,” Zuckerberg explains. “I think people might be slightly offended but whatever, maybe there’s a way to control that.” After three nights of designing the page, Zuckerberg succeeded in creating a Harvard-centric Hot-Or-Not website at www.facemash.com.
When users typed in the website’s URL, two pictures randomly drawn from online Harvard face-books would pop up, and the user would be able to pick which one was hotter. Zuckerberg sent the link to a bunch of his friends for feedback, but somewhere along the line it got forwarded to the IOP mailing list. “From there it was just gone,” says Zuckerberg. When he returned from a meeting a few hours later, traffic on the site had more than quadrupled, and his computer was running so slowly that he couldn’t get it back from screen saver mode.
Reflecting on the site’s popularity explosion, Zuckerberg remarks, “It was basically a mistake. I thought the site was interesting mathematically, theoretically...and the idea of it.” He says, “I didn’t mean for it to be released so quickly because I wanted to control peoples’ being offended by it.” Zuckerberg says that the backlash wasn’t as bad as he would have expected. “People were pretty respectful. They weren‘t like ‘You’re a moron.’” Trying to solve the problem of insulting students, he first attempted to let people opt out of having their picture available. However, realizing that he had perhaps not thought the whole thing through, Zuckerberg shut down the server and terminated the website. Rumor has it that the Ad Board is investigating. But Zuckerberg has yet to hear about that possibility. “Ad board?” he asks. “Do you know anything about it? Cause I don’t have any idea what’s going on.”