September 1, 2007
Who Founded Facebook? A New Claim Emerges
By JOHN MARKOFF
PALO ALTO, Calif., Aug. 29 — Mark E. Zuckerberg is considered the founder of Facebook, the popular social networking Web site estimated to be worth upward of $1 billion.
Three Harvard classmates, the founders of ConnectU, have long claimed that Mr. Zuckerberg stole the idea from them, and they are suing him in Federal District Court in Boston.
Both parties seem to have forgotten Aaron J. Greenspan, yet another Harvard classmate. He says he was actually the one who created the original college social networking system, before either side in the legal dispute. And he has the e-mail messages to show it.
As a Harvard student in 2003 — six months before Facebook started and eight months before ConnectU went online — Mr. Greenspan established a simple Web service that he called houseSYSTEM. It was used by several thousand Harvard students for a variety of online college-related tasks. Mr. Zuckerberg was briefly an early participant.
An e-mail message, circulated widely by Mr. Greenspan to Harvard students on Sept. 19, 2003, describes the newest feature of houseSYSTEM, as “the Face Book,” an online system for quickly locating other students. The date was four months before Mr. Zuckerberg started his own site, originally “thefacebook.com.” (Mr. Greenspan retained his college e-mail messages and provided The New York Times with copies of his communications with Mr. Zuckerberg.)
Later the two students, who both graduated in 2004, exchanged e-mail about their separate projects. When Mr. Greenspan asked what Mr. Zuckerberg was planning and suggested the two integrate their systems, Mr. Zuckerberg responded, a month before starting his own service: “I actually did think about integrating it into houseSYSTEM before you even suggested it, but I decided that it’s probably best to keep them separated at least for now.”