The over 200,000 users of TheFacebook.com — an online directory system that services 37 colleges and universities nationwide — may soon have to find other means of networking. This month ConnectU.com — a rival website — filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts alleging that TheFacebook.com founder Mark Zuckerberg stole programming codes in late 2003 for use on his own website.
Chris Hughes, a Harvard junior and press secretary for TheFacebook.com refuted the claim and said Zuckerberg's relationship with the ConnectU team was confined to a few hours of programming in December.
One of ConnectU.com's three owners, recent Harvard alumnus Cameron Winklevoss disagreed, explaining, "It doesn't logically add up. Usually a project will take much longer to complete than the meeting to plan it."
He described meeting with Zuckerberg on at least three separate occasions to discuss his work on the website and exchanging 52 email correspondences. The transcript of many of these emails can be found on the ConnectU website.
The dates on the emails span from November 2003 to January 2004. In an email dated Jan. 8, Zuckerberg wrote, "I'll be available to discuss the site again starting Tuesday," according to a copy on the ConnectU website.
The plaintiffs in the case, Cameron Winklevoss, Tyler Winklevoss and Divya Narendra, are seeking at least $75,000 in damages and the forced shutdown of TheFacebook.com.
"The whole idea started as fun. We have all tried to act in good faith but one guy happened to get greedy," Tyler Winklevoss said.
When asked how he could tell the programming codes for the two sites were identical, Winklevoss would only say, "Mark had total access to the programming guts of our website, the sourcecode."
Before turning to the courts, ConnectU founders brought their complaint to Harvard's Administrative Board, a panel similar to the Honor Committee at Princeton. The board ruled that the matter was out of their jurisdiction.
"The president of Harvard University advised us to take our matter to the courts," Cameron Winklevoss said. The defense has not yet filed papers and thus no trial date has been scheduled.
"There are other sites that are similar to TheFacebook.com, maybe I'd use Friendster," Eleni Azarias '08 said. Friendster currently boasts 10,000 users.
Without TheFacebook.com Robert Bernstein '08 said "life wouldn't be harder." But he added, "Facebook certainly is a nice convenience. I use it to check up on people's names and phone numbers."