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Rival Throws Sour Grapes At Facebook Founder

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It seems Facebook.com founder Mark Zuckerberg stepped on a few toes on his way to the top, and those toes are swinging back around to catch him in the pants. The young CEO (22) was recently chastised by an old rival, who doled out some backhanded advice while he was at it.

You may never have heard of Aaron Greenspan, CEO of Think Computer, who attended Harvard with Zuckerberg. Unlike Zuckerberg’s slacker portrayal by the Wall Street Journal, Greenspan founded Think Computer at the age of 15, and later graduated cum laude from Harvard in 2004, in just three years with a degree in Economics. With the success of Facebook.com in 2004, Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard.

A few weeks ago, when Zuckerberg was facing a Facebook coup over the addition of a news feed that members called an invasion of (public) privacy, Greenspan popped up with an invitation to his newly launched college-targeted social networking site, CommonRoom.com.

The press release, issued on September 13th, waxed philosophically about the shortcomings of the greater Internet, specifically with the designers that assumed users would be trustworthy, causing a “real world” system of checks and balances to be ignored. But the gem is in release’s introduction, where the seeds of sour grapes are made evident.

“In the wake of the controversy surrounding Facebook and privacy concerns this week, Facebook’s Zucker(berg) has one more worry coming back to haunt him from his Harvard past — CommonRoom from Think Computer Corporation. In CommonRoom, software pioneer Aaron Greenspan, the creator of the original face book at Harvard (houseSYSTEM), combines his previous software projects into a site that unifies student and alumni life.”

What past is he talking about? A flashback to Harvard’s The Crimson, the college’s news organization, reveals the recent news feed revolution wasn’t the first time Zuckerberg incited a campus riot. In February 2004, Zuckerberg was better known at Harvard for a creation called “Facemash.”

From The Crimson:

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 that article, Zuckerberg is said to have expressed frustration with the creation of “an official universal Harvard facebook,” so he decided to launch his own, a site he created “after about a week of coding.”

In the above passage, “House facebooks” seems to refer to a Website created by Greenspan that he called houseSYSTEM, and which Greenspan says predated Facebook.com by four months. In an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg, Greenspan pushes his karmic comeuppance.

Remember that web site you signed up for at Harvard two days before we met in January 2004, called houseSYSTEM – the one I made with the Universal face Book that pre-dated your site by four months? (You left it out of your speech at Stanford, which is why I ask.)

Well, I’ve re-launched it as CommonRoom (http://www.commonroom.com), and just like its predecessor, it has all sorts of features that might seem familiar: birthday reminders, an event calendar, RSVPs, how you know someone, photo albums, courses, posters

After all, when you saw all of those features in houseSYSTEM three years ago, you called them “too useful,” but I stood by them as valuable. Fortunately, even though I shut down houseSYSTEM, I can still use those same features on Facebook – and I didn’t even have to write any more code!


Aside from subtly calling Zuckerberg a thief, Greenspan went on to advise him to take the Yahoo! money ($900 million – $1 billion offer) while he still can. His reasoning: now that Facebook is opening up and going corporate, its user base could pack it up and leave.

“You attracted the cool crowd by building a cool site, one that catered to what students wanted, not what investors wanted. It follows that if you re-align your interests, your users will re-align theirs.”

Greenspan insinuates that the $100 per user Yahoo! is willing to pay Facebook is overvalued already, considering that college students are broke and imagines that purchases beginning with a Facebook ad are rare. But he smacks Zuckerberg again, toward the end, by mocking Zuckerberg’s apparent demand for $200 per user.

The value of social networking sites has been debated since the explosion of MySpace.com, for which News Corp. paid $580 million, a price some considered much too low. But critics argue that the social networking sites are at risk of the coolness factor, with a crowd as fickle as fashion that could jump to another site just as easily.

That appears to be what Greenspan is counting on as he invites Facebook users concerned about a corporate future to join CommonRoom.

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  • http://www.google.com/notebook/public/02173162008403014492/BDSMKQgoQ_ePB4Jwj Sarah

    thanks! i wasted a good part of yesterday until i found this article.