As headlines go, this one about Facebook rather understates the importance of the events that were unfolding at the time:
“Hundreds Register for New Facebook Website.”
It was written 10 years ago, when Facebook got its first mention in the media. At least, we presume that this article by The Harvard Crimson about student “Mark E. Zuckerberg” was the first scoop on what would later become Facebook.
At the time, the site — “thefacebook.com” — was going viral at Harvard and had 650 users. Zuckerberg said that “he anticipated that 900 students would have joined the site by this morning.”
As told by The Crimson, Zuckberger built the site because he was tired of waiting for Harvard to get its act together:
I think it’s kind of silly that it would take the University a couple of years to get around to it. I can do it better than they can, and I can do it in a week.
Of course, now that Facebook is exactly 10 years old, we all know what happened next. Facebook now has 1.3 billino users, and the entire internet has been redesigned to accommodate it.
When Mark E. Zuckerberg ’06 grew impatient with the creation of an official universal Harvard facebook, he decided to take matters into his own hands.
After about a week of coding, Zuckerberg launched thefacebook.com last Wednesday afternoon. The website combines elements of a standard House face book with extensive profile features that allow students to search for others in their courses, social organisations and Houses.
“Everyone’s been talking a lot about a universal face book within Harvard,” Zuckerberg said. “I think it’s kind of silly that it would take the University a couple of years to get around to it. I can do it better than they can, and I can do it in a week.”
As of yesterday afternoon, Zuckerberg said over 650 students had registered use thefacebook.com. He said that he anticipated that 900 students would have joined the site by this morning.
“I’m pretty happy with the amount of people that have been to it so far,” he said. “The nature of the site is that each user’s experience improves if they can get their friends to join it.”
But Director of Residential Computing Kevin S. Davis ’98 said that the creation of a Harvard facebook was not as far off as Zuckerberg predicted.
“There is a project internally with computer services to create a facebook,” Davis said. “We’ve been in touch with the Undergraduate Council, and this is a very high priority for the College. We have every intention of completing the facebook by the end of the spring semester.”
Davis said that the principle complication with the creation of an official facebook was figuring out how to design an interface so that directory information could not easily be compiled without authorization.
Zuckerberg’s site allows people with Harvard e-mail addresses to upload their pictures and personal and academic information. Just as with the popular website Friendster, which Zuckerberg said was a model for his new website, members can search for people according to their interests and can create an online network of friends.
Lisa H. Feigenbaum ’04 said that she joined thefacebook.com because it provided an open alternative to the password-protected House facebooks.
“If there was a situation where you needed to identify someone for an organisation or a meeting, it would be very helpful,” she said.
Zuckerberg said that the most innovative feature of the site is that people can search for other students in their classes so that they can branch out to form friendships and study groups.
“If you’re in a class where you don’t know anyone and want to ask somebody for help, this is a way to find out the names of people in that class,” said thefacebook.com user Roberto C. Acosta ’05.
Zuckerberg said that the extensive search capabilities are restricted by a myriad of privacy options for members who do not want everyone to be able to look up their information.
“There are pretty intensive privacy options,” he said. “You can limit who can see your information, if you only want current students to see your information, or people in your year, in your house, in your classes. You can limit a search so that only a friend or a friend of a friend can look you up. People have very good control over who can see their information.”
Zuckerberg said that he hoped the privacy options would help to restore his reputation following student outrage over facemash.com, a website he created in the fall semester.
Using without permission photos from House facebooks, Facemash juxtaposed the pictures of two random Harvard undergraduates and asked users to judge their physical attractiveness. The website drew the ire of students and administrators alike, and Zuckerberg shut it down within days of the initial launch.
In addition to the privacy options, Zuckerberg added security features to thefacebook.com that he said will ensure that only the owner of a particular Harvard e-mail account can upload information to the website.
When a person registers to join thefacebook.com, a program checks to make sure that the name of the prospective member matches up with the entered e-mail address. Next, a confirmation message is sent to the e-mail account, and the account is finally activated if and when the owner of the account clicks on an encrypted link back to thefacebook.com.
Zuckerberg said that he was also careful to avoid the potential copyright infringement charges that landed him before the Administrative Board after the creation of Facemash.
“Facemash was a joke, it was funny, but at its root it had its problems — not only the idea, but the implementation. It was distributing materials that were Harvard’s. I was very careful with [thefacebook.com] to make sure that people don’t upload copyrighted material,” he said.
Davis said that thefacebook.com is not necessarily in violation of any Harvard rules.
“There’s nothing inherently wrong with a third party site on which students choose to create a personal network,” Davis said. “If there was a third party site on which students uploaded course syllabi or videos, that could potentially become a property issue with the University.”
Zuckerburg said thefacebook.com has no such capabilities and does not violate University rules.
While Zuckerberg promised that thefacebook.com would boast new features by the end of the week, he said that he did not create the website with the intention of generating revenue.
“I’m not going to sell anybody’s e-mail address,” he said. “At one point I thought about making the website so that you could upload a resume too, and for a fee companies could search for Harvard job applicants. But I don’t want to touch that. It would make everything more serious and less fun.”
— Staff writer Alan J. Tabak can be reached at [email protected]