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2005 Zuckerberg Didn't Want To Take On The World (techcrunch.com)
140 points by JJMalina on Aug 14, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 49 comments

2005 Zuckerberg also lied point-blank when he claimed that nothing like The Facebook existed at Harvard (1:32 in the video). He knew about it, was a member and heavy user during the period in which he coded his version (http://www.thinkpress.com/authoritas/timeline.pdf). He repeated this false claim in his talk at Stanford's ETL lecture series and I find it absolutely infuriating.

It's also relevant that Mark appears so non-chalant about the whole endeavor in the video. That's more or less how he came off when I spoke to him a month before the site launched, except he was more coy, refusing to divulge what he was actually working on. It didn't sound like a business seeking venture capital financing whatever it was, and so I had no reason to think I should get involved. Nor did I suspect that he was actually willing to torpedo our relationship by copying my work feature for feature, seeking funding without mentioning it, and simultaneously asking for advice. Nor did I suspect anything about the fact that he was searching my Facebook for "winklevoss."

And yes, I've moved on, but each time these lies are uncovered fresh, no one else takes him to task for them.

You really should let this go. People have already made up their minds about facebook, and who created it, and where the ideas came from.

Even if those people are wrong, it doesn't matter. They've already decided.

When people read or hear things like what you're posting in this thread, it reflects poorly on you. Yeah, it absolutely sucks if things played out the way that you say they did, but being upset about it isn't going to improve anything.

To paraphrase a hacker friend of mine:

"Write shit, build shit, write about building shit...let them know you by the trail of [original content] that you leave behind"

The first time I've ever heard of you was in this thread. Right now, instead of knowing you as

"Aaron, a brilliant hacker working on facecash and doing cool things.",

I know you as

"Aaron, somebody who is really caught up on a dispute he had with a college associate almost 7 years ago."

If the latter is the perception you want people to have of you, continue making noise about your dispute with facebook, otherwise, don't.

"You really should let this go. People have already made up their minds about facebook, and who created it, and where the ideas came from.

Even if those people are wrong, it doesn't matter. They've already decided."

Is it just me or is this the completely wrong attitude to take towards history?

Towards history? I'm talking about this one very specific situation.

You're also taking those lines out of context. I'm saying that he is hurting his reputation because things like comments in a hn thread aren't going to change peoples' minds.

"Towards history? I'm talking one this one very specific situation."

Have you ever read a (U.S.) high school history textbook? They bring a similarly simplifying tone to the thousands of singular specific situations in the past and it does everyone a disservice.

"You're also taking those lines out of context."

I'm guilty of this, yes. I suppose what it comes down to is that I do not share your line of reasoning; Aaron's reputation is not hurt in my eyes.

This isn't a high school history text book, this is a conversation some hackers are having early on a sunday morning.

All I can say is you're missing the forest for the trees


Honestly, his comment changed my mind. I hadn't read that "timeline" pdf before. So to me, his comment was very interesting.

I was at Harvard when Facebook launched. Within days, it had a huge, highly engaged userbase which it never lost. HouseSYSTEM, in contrast, never took off. Why do you think that was? I'd argue it had a lot more to do with the differing design and motivation of the sites than press coverage. Students signed up to The Facebook because it was cool, viral, and not officially sanctioned, not because they read about it in the Crimson. HouseSYSTEM was none of those things.

You seem to think that Mark should have (then) asked you to help with Facebook or (today) acknowledge that he learned from HouseSYSTEM. I'd suggest that Mark's heavy use of HouseSYSTEM showed him mistakes to avoid and thereby encouraged Facebook's adoption. Maybe he thought you were too invested in the choices you'd made with HouseSYSTEM to start fresh.

Actually, most of my college friends rarely use Facebook anymore. They haven't for years. Many have terminated their accounts.

I think that you're right that some aspects of houseSYSTEM's design hindered it. However, it was never officially sanctioned.

It's not a 'lie' unless there's no reasonable truthful interpretation. If other similar efforts weren't official, weren't complete in their coverage, weren't feature-equivalent in any dimension, or weren't 'like' Zuckerberg's Facebook in any other salient way, those would all make that statement ("they didn't have anything like that") true enough for an informal summary conversation. It doesn't deserve to be labelled as "lied point-blank".

(The analysis would of course be different if the question were exactly, "was there anything at all that was anything like The Facebook when you created the first version?" But that's not the case here; he's giving a autobiographical coarse narrative view as he saw it. Normal cordial conversation requires generous and magnanimous listeners who fill in the implied qualifiers for a speaker. You are not a cordial and generous listener when it comes to Facebook topics; you have an axe to grind. You detect 'lies' when no other listener would.)

I've read up a lot on houseSYSTEM and it sounded really cool. You should have kept it going.

But yeah, Zuckerburg is a liar about a lot of things. People give him a lot more credit than he deserves. I still believe the Winklevosses about him stealing their idea, it seems like the kind of thing he'd do.

Thanks! It would have been nice, but it was hard to find support at the time (and not much has changed).

The Winklevosses aren't much better for the record. They lied on national television. Compare this (3:45):


Q: Did you contribute information and material to the making of this movie?

A: No, but we actually met with the actors after the filming.

...to this:


"In addition, I can confirm that Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss were interviewed by Mr. Mezrich."

These guys were all made for each other, though I think Paul Ceglia takes the cake for most outrageous.

Even though you built a social network for Harvard first, Facebook beat you. They out-manuevered you. I can completely see it being a huge regret, both not getting as far as Facebook and not joining them early on, but the best thing you can do for yourself is to just get over it and keep building cool stuff.

When you get old and tell your grand-children that story, don't make it one of jealousy and bitterness. Make it something that shows them the potential of small things.

You do not sound like you've moved on, at all.

Well, if some big thing like this passes you by so closely, it's not difficult to understand how it can really end up haunting you. Especially if there was a lot of money and treachery involved.

Most developers (me included) know from personal experience how awful it is to watch someone you consider to be an asshole or a rip-off become very successful. Most of us also know how it the feels to discover that some company recently took off like a rocket with one of your ideas; usually they got the same idea independently, but if they actually copied it from you - that's a very special kind of pain.

That being said, I think it's important to remember the huge success of Facebook is not just based on the initial idea. There were many social networks before Facebook. As painful as it may be to some, the most important thing Facebook did was taking the company from the initial idea to where it is now and from where I stand neither the Winklevosses nor Aaron can really claim they did that.

As a developer and an ideas man myself, this is kind of a hard reality to face as well, because it means that in the end business practices and marketing are exponentially more important than concepts and programming.

"[...] it was just me programming what was a facebook, really, at that time for Harvard [...] they didn't have anything like that. [...] I realized that because I didn't have people's information like a school would in making a facebook, I had to make it interesting enough..."

I think what he meant was that Harvard itself didn't provide an online facebook to its students. Wasn't Harvard supposedly working on a university-run online facebook during that time? Or am I just thinking of houseSYSTEM?

Each of Harvard's houses did provide a Facebook, which is why Mark was able to create Facemash in 2003.

houseSYSTEM's Facebook was the first "universal face book" at Harvard University.

I offered to sell or just give houseSYSTEM to Harvard, and HASCS turned me down, probably because they insisted that everything had to be done in Java using Harvard's internal iSites framework. Instead they built their own version and launched it a couple of years later.

I think that people enjoy listening to short, straightforward stories, without a long preface going into every single gory detail before actually reaching the main part of the story.

Zuckerberg isn't in a court of law, so I'm guessing he's skipping details and bending the truth (or lying) to make his story simpler and easier to understand. He's also probably glossing over things to make his story sound more dramatic and impressive.

Sorry to hear about your history with him though. That sucks. =T

Why did you not keep going with your project?

No one at The Crimson would write about my work except to accuse me of stealing passwords, which in fact was what Mark ended up doing. In contrast, Chris Hughes's French A conversation partner was on the editorial board of The Crimson, and they lived across the sidewalk from The Crimson's then-president.

Sites like these need press to grow. Without press, there's no point.

I've followed a lot of your posts on HN and Quora and created an account just to ask this question: Why do you think you deserve any credit whatsoever for Facebook's success?

Social networking isn't a unique idea. Yes, Mark Zuckerberg and you both created social networks. Yes, he may have borrowed some ideas from your creation. But the most significant innovations which have driven Facebook's success - newsfeed, platform, open graph, likes - came well afterwards. By your own words though you were ready to sell HouseSYSTEM to Harvard. It's unlikely you would have had the vision to make Facebook what it is today.

I know the movie is dramatized but this quote resonated with me: "Look, a guy who builds a nice chair doesn't owe money to everyone who ever has built a chair, okay? They came to me with an idea, I had a better one."


Unless you think I'm going to hunt you down in the middle of the night, you know me in person but secretly hate me, or you work for Mark, I can't think of any reason why asking me a question would require a new throwaway account.

Your question is leading and based on numerous false assumptions.

I offered to sell Harvard a license. From the beginning I wanted to expand the site to other schools. That's why I spent a ton of time making the photo module on the home page (http://housesystem.thinkcomputer.com) modular: so that users could eventually upload their own photos to the photo album of whatever place they were at. I was inspired by the model of the Daily Jolt, which my cousin at Brown showed me during my sophomore year (2002-2003), but I thought it lacked important features. Your assertion about my lacking vision is therefore incorrect, not to mention a little insulting.

I decided not to keep going with houseSYSTEM because I thought I could come up with a better idea than an integrated network for students. And I did. It's an integrated network for businesses, and as beneficial as houseSYSTEM was to the student population, what I'm working on has far more potential when you think about things on a large scale. That requires a bit of vision, don't you think?

I deserve credit because I worked day and night for months to write code for a product called The Facebook that was part of an integrated environment for students, and every feature I created is available in some form on http://www.facebook.com now, which started as an integrated environment for students with similar or identical integration. It's not about inventing social networking at all, and I've never once claimed that.

But as you argue, maybe that's all just as common as building a chair. Even if Mark had never met me, he was influenced by houseSYSTEM. As Harvard tries to teach you from the minute you get there (because it's common sense), it's proper to acknowledge work that has influenced you (as I have in this post, for example). It's improper to plagiarize or make false claims.

It's true, I never had the vision to make Facebook what it is today because I wholeheartedly disagree that what Facebook is today is a good thing. My Facebook would have been far smaller with fewer users, but far better. That's the vision I still have, but I'll have to call it something else when I get around to it.

You should really let this go. Mark was clearly inspired by you and others, but he did something that you didn't, he made something that people wanted. He out-innovated you. It's all about the execution, your idea is nothing but an idea until people are actually using it.

Release what you're working on and wow us, just don't spend your time posting bitter comments on Hacker News every time Mark Zuckerberg is brought up.

The false dichotomy of idea-versus-execution just doesn't seem to go away. Ideas matter a lot. Regardless, in my opinion, there's a really big difference between innovation and deceitfulness, and being deceitful is not the same as "out-innovating," whatever that means.

If the press did its job by holding people accountable, I wouldn't have to say anything at all, but it generally doesn't.

And I did release what I'm working on (http://www.facecash.com). It's not going very far at the moment because California made it illegal as of July 1, but I'm working on changing the law. Also, you seemed to like it last we spoke, so I'm a bit confused.

I think what might be considered sleazy by Ivy League academia standards (taking ideas without attribution, deliberately misrepresenting things to potential competitors in order to maneuver around them) happens all the time in the business world and would mostly be classified as "hustling" by entrepreneurs. For an idea to have value by itself in the business world, it must have patent protection. Otherwise, it is freely copyable without attribution and most of the value is derived in the execution of it. This is different than academia, which is mostly about the proper attribution of ideas (though universities will patent ideas that they deem commercially valuable). While it's a fair point to argue that since Facebook was started at Harvard, the ethics of academia should have applied at the time, it has long since morphed into something well outside of that where the rules about copying and attribution are different.

It's not the the job of the press to hold people accountable, the law should do that, which I think it has in terms of Facebook.

An idea is something waiting to be executed on. No execution and, in my eyes at least, you can't own that idea because how do you know it's unique to you? Everyone had ideas for a tablet, Microsoft created many that were total failures, it took a visionary like Steve Jobs to create the most useful and popular tablet in the world. See my point?

I do like what you're working on, it just seems that every time Mark Zuckerberg is mentioned, you jump in and mention how wronged you were. Move on and put Facebook behind you, you don't want a reputation like the Winklevosses.

We clearly have different notions of the role of the press, so I don't think that's even worth debating.

On the "put it behind you" argument: I think it's sad, but people talk about Facebook pretty much every minute of every day, and I have no ability to make them stop. I ignore 99.999% of what is said. I certainly don't go looking for it. Yet every now and then the press will write something inexcusably wrong that I cannot ignore and that merits correction because it is part of the public record. I've never heard anyone else with direct knowledge speak up. So even though the events of 2003 and 2004 are well behind me, I'm still involuntarily immersed in their effects, and I value my ability to sleep at night very highly.

(No one seems to ask why TechCrunch is posting a six-year-old video of Mark in the first place. Shouldn't they get over the fact that he started it? It's certainly not news, nor is that fact that his views have changed over time.)

Your statements about idea ownership leave me baffled. This isn't about an idea, it's about a product I actually created and publicized.

Ironically, FaceCash is the idea that got PayPal it's first round of funding.

Max Levchin and Peter Thiel initially got funded for a mobile payments application. "We hit this idea of, 'Why don't we just store money in the handheld devices?'...what would you rather do, take out $5 and give someone their lunch share, or pull out two Palm Pilots and geek out at the table?" (Max Levchin interview, Founders at Work, by Jessica Livingston). FaceCash, and especially its "Bill Splitting" feature, is the same idea.

PayPal's application was also "something that can store all of your private data on your handheld device. So your credit card information, this and that" (Same interview). FaceCash allows you to do that, too.

Still, it's not the idea. It's the packaging. Paypal's mobile app was created for the Palm Pilot. Yours is for the mobile phone. Facebook and houseSYSTEM may have been borne out of the same idea, but the packaging is very different.

I have read a bit of your book. Even if I tend to think that reality must be a lot more balanced. I think that overall you are not making enough tantrum. Let me be clear you should go balistic over this facebook story regarding your role. You owe it not only to you but to all the wannabe developpers out there who will end out on this side of the story more often than not. Programmers tend to think they are in the business of developping software. They are in business, period. And all the tricks, connection pulled , poker face etc ..., are SOP in brick and mortar business. Nothing to blink an eye about. But with web business where idea and execution are so intertwined, you should push capitalism american style to reward you whatever the means (media, judicial system, pick your choice ). It is the action of people like you that determine what is fair and what is not. Random thought: winklevii, done nothing , reward fifty kilo grands. Jack kilby , done everything, reward see an inferior OS lock the market under his watch.

Or maybe I've posted twice total on HN in the past and have never bothered to remember the username/password?

Maybe you should also go after Google+. They are also copying many of features you claim as your own. Larry and Sergey surely owe you just as much attribution.

The important lesson here for HN entrepreneurs to take away is that connections can matter as much as a startup's product itself.

If we are to go with the assumption that your houseSYSTEM was feature-comparative to Mark's The Facebook (and for the sake of argument, we'll assume your assessment is accurate), then Chris Hughes' person connections to The Crimson may have very well been one of the significant variables that resulted to your products having radically different futures. While it's a romantic notion to think that a sufficient amount of blood, sweat, and tears will ultimately lead to success, the reality is that an external factor such as getting into Y Combinator or having a well-timed TechCrunch article can (fairly or not) make or break a startup.

Remember to get out of the office once and awhile and network. Simply delivering a product is not enough.

In the timeline you present, how did you get access to the Google sarches Zuckerberg did while he was a student?

If you're talking about the following:

    6:20:09 A.M. EST
    At about six in the morning, Mark Zuckerberg searches for "universal facebook” on Google,
    finding the Universal Face Book on the Quincy House houseSYSTEM web site.
    roam175-29.student.harvard.edu - - [06/Jan/2004:06:20:09 -0500] "GET /facebook/ HTTP/1.1" 200 5436
    "Mozilla/5.0 (X11; U; Linux i686; en-US; rv:1.5) Gecko/20031007 Firebird/0.7"
Then he knows about the search term because of the referrer being logged in his HTTP server logs. This is the standard Combined Log Format. http://httpd.apache.org/docs/1.3/logs.html#combined describes each field if you're curious about the others.

Thanks! I guess now I don't understand how he was able to associate roam175-29.student.harvard.edu with Zuckerberg. But probably that is a small deduction game for such a hacker! (No sarcasm, just in case.)

When a member signed in their hostname was recorded in the database with a timestamp. The Apache logs, database fields and database timestamps match.

Just goes to show, you don't need a grand vision, all you need is a vision you believe is achievable. Once you've reached it, there's always enough juice to re-asses and readjust. With enough luck you will take over the world.

This probably also helps in getting the people around you to take you seriously.

David Kirkpatrick's book, "The Facebook Effect"[1] seems to gel with Mark's vision and attitude about Facebook in this video - that he's an ambitious & smart guy who started with a relatively small idea, and kind of stumbled upon its evolution into a much grander vision.

According to the book and Wikipedia[2], there was even a time when Mark was even more focused on another idea of his, Wirehog. It's possible he may have even had some doubts about Facebook, or lost interest in it for a little while.

And hey, what startup founder hasn't had those thoughts? They're totally natural. I'm sure some have a razor-sharp focus & vision from Day One, but I would never fault a founder for having a few shaky moments of doubt here & there.

[1] http://www.amazon.com/Facebook-Effect-Inside-Company-Connect...

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wirehog

"So, um, like", "So, um, like"...videos like this of Zuckerberg really irritate me. Of course he didn't want to take over the world, he simply saw a profitable idea (after it was given to him by someone else) and took advantage of that. The main reason someone takes an idea that isn't theirs is for their personal gain, not because they truly want to do something substantial. Only someone who has the initial idea, someone who sees the problem area and can see a way to fix it, those are the ones capable of changing the world for the better (ok, ok, the Winklevoss twins probably didn't want to change the world for the better, but at least they had that initial thought). Otherwise, you're left with some d-bag taking advantage of something someone else saw simply for personal, profitable reasons. This video is proof the guy is no 'trendsetter' in technology. Hell, he sounds like a dude who was briefed on what exactly Facebook is 10 minutes before the interview.

How many startups have a long term plan to take over the world from the very beginning? If you interviewed Bill Gates back when Micro-Soft was making BASIC interpreters, would you get the slightest sense of what Microsoft is today? Or Steve Jobs when Apple was selling the Apple II? How about Larry and Sergey when Google was just a search engine? I think they would seem a little more concerned with where their business was at the time and a little oblivious of what it would grow into.

I would be shocked if any of those you mentioned would say "There doesn't necessarily have to be anything more after this" when asked what was next for their company. All mentioned were probably concerned with the current projects at their company during the early times, but all were also probably looking towards expanding their company as well. Oh, and I'd be shocked if any of them would be interviewed with a red 'frat' cup in their hand or with their co-founders doing keg stands as well.

I'll admit, it's hard to imagine any of those guys drinking beer from a keg, out of a red cup. I'm not sure that Zuckerberg's lack of media training and fondness for cheap beer at the time was a bad thing. In 2005 a fair chunk of Facebook's users were doing keg stands and drinking beer out of red cups.

Apple, in its early days, was Woz thinking "hey, I can build a cheap computer" and Jobs thinking "hey, I can sell people Woz's computer". I don't know what he would have said if you asked him what was next. I'm sure the Mac wasn't on his mind, and neither was becoming the most valuable company in the world by selling cell phones.

Similar to how Larry & Sergey were shopping their search engine around for $1 million [0]. They certainly weren't looking to organize the world's information at that time.

[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google#Financing_and_initial_pu...

People really like to try to make him look bad; I mean, is it just me or does this article portray him to be some clueless dimwit that was standing on a goldmine and didn't know it until his face hit the ground so hard that he finally saw the shiny gold stars?

The reality is that it's very difficult to know what ground you're standing on until you dig deep enough to just see it with your own eyes. Predicting the future and investing in that wishful vision is a much more risky strategy than just acknowledging the current moment and trying to lead it closer to where you'd like it to go. I do not know whether he looked at the situation in this type of manner or not, but that's how I justify facebook's success.

As a side note, I wish people would stop pretending they never drank out of a big red cup before.

Of course he didn't want to take over the world. No wonders, most of the so called "Next Big Thing" goes this way...

The irony of "changing the world" is that the ones who've pretentiously bastardized the phrase as a way of hobnobbing with the Web 2.0 elite never do.

The few that actually do change the world don't usually set out with that goal in mind. Either that or they don't go out proclaiming they'll do it. They just do it.

Do you have an anecdote on this topic?

I think Dorsey & Twitter is a good example. He had the underlying concepts in his head from the time he was 12 years old and long before Web 2.0. When he was brought onto Odeo, the idea was to be manifested in the form of SMS alerts. I find it hard to believe that he had what we know today as Twitter in his mind at the outset. Nor do I think his intention was for the service to be used by citizens in a fight against oppressive democracies or in other scenarios which one could reasonably assume had a truly global impact.

Contrast that with the startups coming out of incubators boasting about how they're going to change the world with their.....t-shirt recommendation engine app. Or something of the sort.

And who knows? It might actually be a kick-ass product, have phenomenal revenues & truly help people. But it's not going to change the world.

Maybe it's just my issue with the phrase but I think "changing the world" has become one of those trite, overused Web 2.0 expressions that have become as hollow as a dead tree trunk to early adopters & end users. They've simply heard it too many times before and they know not every company is going to change the world.

The other thing that's troublesome is that it's discouraging people from building cool stuff because they think it's not "changing the world." I've already seen questions on Quora from folks who think their ideas (or even existing businesses) are invalid because they don't feel the company's going to become the next Google or Apple; even though, as someone already mentioned, Larry & Sergey were ready to sell at $1 million for the technology. That doesn't sound to me like someone who wanted to change the world from the very outset.

I don't know. Maybe it's just my issue with the phrase but I imagine there are at least a few folks that feel the same way. Apologies for the tangent.

1:00-1:15 or so. "Find information about you." Heh heh, well that part certainly works now.

I think it's perfectly fine his view changed from '05 to now about the use of Facebook.

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