Stop us if you’ve heard this before: A classmate of Facebook Co-Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg from Harvard University is claiming that some of his ideas were stolen and incorporated into Facebook. Tyler Winklevoss, Cameron Winklevoss, or Divya Narenda? All of them are good guesses, but in this instance, we are talking about Aaron Greenspan.
Greenspan has been in the news before, appealing the dismissal of his case against The Social Network studio Columbia Pictures in June, claiming defamation by omission, as well as staking his claim to the ideas behind Facebook as early as 2007.
So why is this news? Greenspan claims in a post on his blog that he suddenly found AOL Instant Messenger conversations with Zuckerberg from 2004 while searching his archives Sept. 12 for something completely unrelated.
zberg02: i have a question
zberg02: are you interested in doing other things besides the housesystem venture?
ThinkComp: in what context
zberg02: like would you be interested in possibly partnering up to make a site if it would not be incorporated into housesystem
ThinkComp: for the sec? think? or separate
zberg02: separate i guess
ThinkComp: depends on the site i guess
zberg02: well it would be on the new thing i’m working on
zberg02: i could let you know exactly what i was thinking about it, but i’m a little worried that you might just be inclined to want to incorporate it into housesystem
zberg02: which isn’t something i want right off the bat, and maybe not at all
ThinkComp: i guess i’d need to see the advantage of starting on something new
ThinkComp: since i’ve already sort of got a lot going on…
ThinkComp: it’s much easier to just incorporate things where they fit from my perspective
zberg02: well i agree
zberg02: but we disagree on whether or not it would fit into housesystem
zberg02: well really i just want to make sure that we’re not doing the same thing
zberg02: because then neither of us would succeed i think
Greenspan’s blog post is rather lengthy, but here are some of the highlights:
It turns out that my “other” folder contained some of the most important legal evidence regarding the origins of Facebook that I had been trying to find for years, but without much success. I had already scoured the folders I created for the Student Entrepreneurship Council and come up with a number of the AOL Instant Messenger conversations that I had with Mark, but not all of them, and not the most revealing ones. I had also checked my “Aaron” folder, which had another subfolder for Instant Messenger conversations, as well as the large hierarchy of folders containing all of Think Computer’s data, which had even more conversations, but none with Mark. The conversations I remembered having, but could not recall the exact details of, were nowhere to be found, at least until Sept. 12, 2012.
What Mark and I talked about in the months before and after Facebook’s launch is remarkably relevant both for its historical and present value. There is almost as much significance in what was not said as what was.
For starters, it’s striking how different the context is between the way these conversations portray the beginning of Facebook, and how the opening scenes of The Social Network portray the beginning of Facebook. Long after Mark’s angry blog posts that spawned Facemash, there was no talk of girlfriends or breakups, and no talk of finals clubs (even though one indirectly led me back to the conversations themselves). In other words, as we already knew, Ben Mezrich invented material out of whole cloth for his book (upon which the movie was based), and profited enormously from calling it “nonfiction.” He did so mostly at the expense of Mark’s high school friend (and later, Quora co-founder) Adam D’Angelo and myself. When the book and then the movie came out, only Adam had Facebook’s imprimatur to protect his reputation.
As for the “bunch of cool features which [I] don’t think [I] should really mention right now,” Mark was ultimately referring to the same cool features I had built into houseSYSTEM that he had just told me were “too useful.” Aside from the Facebook, the sites had overlapping features for course schedulers, photo albums, message boards, digital posters for student groups, and eventually exchanges for buying and selling on campus and mapping your network of friends.
For the shareholder today who owns common shares of Facebook, Inc. the financial side effects of Mark’s modus operandi should be setting off alarm bells, and loud ones at that. There was a time not too long ago when people believed that Mark Zuckerberg’s “genius” alone would be enough to propel Facebook to the top of the technology industry. Now that the company has lost something like $70 billion of shareholder wealth in a matter of months, making its IPO the worst on record according to Bloomberg, it’s clear that the “genius” label is exactly the kind of empty hype that Mark specifically calculated would be necessary to launch his endeavor in the first place when he said, “[I] think it requires some hype.”
Greenspan also told Business Insider:
It’s not just me, it’s not just the Winklevosses, it’s not just Adam, not just Eduardo (Saverin) It happened a lot, and that makes me concerned for anyone who would trust their retirement savings to him. Aside from that, he admits that it’s based on houseSYSTEM. It’s pretty plain. And I’ve spent the past decade trying to convince people of that so I can get my own career started, and it’s been pretty difficult.
Readers: What do you think of Aaron Greenspan’s allegations?