Thursday, November 29, 2007

Deep Read: The Case Against Facebook - AKA Mark Zuckerberg's little problem

Did Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg build his $15 billion business on a stolen idea?

It's not a new charge, but 02138, the Harvard magazine, takes a fresh look at the evidence leveled against Zuckerberg by several classmates who are suing him. It's hard to read it and not come away with the impression that Zuckerberg did some pretty unethical stuff, and then lied to cover his tracks.

There are two main questions at hand: Whether Zuckerberg, who was supposed to be working on a rival social-networking site in the months before he debuted Facebook, actively stalled his supposed collaborators to get a head start; and whether he purloined the code he was supposed to be perfecting.

On the first question, the answer seems to be yes. At a minimum, Zuckerberg has misrepresented when he started work on Facebook. Zuckerberg has said he didn't begin until Jan. 14, 2004, when he informed the founders of Harvard Connection that he would no longer be working for them. That was always suspicious, as Facebook went live less than three weeks later. And indeed, reports 02138, court documents show that Zuckerberg had already registered his domain by Jan. 11, and on Jan. 12 he emailed a partner to say the site was almost complete.

As for the code, Zuckerberg has said "[t]here is really good documentation" that Facebook's code was not based on Harvard Connection's. But it turns out there's not:

Zuckerberg has been on notice since September 2004 to preserve information relevant to the case, but for some time Facebook claimed they couldn't produce a shred of source code from when Zuckerberg first began working for Harvard Connection, the original Facebook code, or even the Facebook code in October 2004, one month after the original suit was filed. Zuckerberg's lawyers have held that nearly all the early Facebook code has disappeared, wiped from outside servers long ago or lost on missing or corrupted hard drives.

02138 has posted documents from the case here. Here's the details:

Mark Zuckerberg's Harvard Application (PDF)

Mark Zuckerberg's email to Harvard’s Administrative Board (PDF)

Mark Zuckerberg's testimony #1 (PDF)

Mark Zuckerberg's testimony #2 (PDF)

Facebook Statement of cash flows 2005 (PDF)

Cameron and Tyler Winkelvoss's testimony (PDF)

Mark Zuckerberg's online diary (PDF)

Statement of damage done to La Jennifer sublet (PDF)

Media Blog - Mixed Media by Jeff Bercovici: Deep Read: The Case Against Facebook -

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