Facebook was my idea, says yet another ex-Harvard student

No legal action yet

Another former Harvard student has come forward claiming to have invented a precursor to social networking giant Facebook. Aaron Greenspan has written an unpublished book detailing his claims.

Mark Zuckerberg is the founder of Facebook, a company based on a social networking website that was originally open only to college students. Since opening its doors more widely a year ago it has been a bigger hit among older users than sites such as MySpace or Bebo. Zuckerberg has said that he would not sell his company for less than $10bn.

Three former university acquaintances have recently claimed that Zuckerberg stole the idea for Facebook from them when, they claim, he worked on their college social networking idea, ConnectU.

Now Greenspan, another former student, has claimed that the idea was his. Greenspan set up a Harvard-wide web system used by thousands of students called houseSYSTEM in 2003, six months before Facebook came into being.

He claims that he sent an email to Harvard students in September 2003 announcing a student-finder service within the system that he called the Face Book. The original domain name for Facebook was thefacebook.com.

Greenspan is not yet taking legal action against Zuckerberg, and he told The New York Times that he had declined to appear as a witness when contacted by Zuckerberg's lawyers in the ConnectU case. He said that he had not wanted to become embroiled in the case.

Greenspan has detailed his experiences in a book which remains unpublished. Called Authoritas: One Student's Harvard Admissions, the book covers his creation of the system he invented and the rise of ConnectU and Facebook.

In its introduction, Greenspan says: "In all, it is not a happy story. Those people who I have met who deserve to know shame will find their due portions here … This book is partly a search for justice. You don't write an autobiography in your early 20s unless there's something you need to get off your chest."

In it he hints that he prefers the pen to the court room. "Since our judicial system can't possibly know about all that surrounds us – and it would be overwhelmed if it did – it is my hope that the pages of this book will serve as an adequate, if less severe, substitute," he wrote in the book, which is published online at aarongreenspan.com.

In the book he claims Zuckerberg asked him for some advice while he was setting up a system which, at the time, he would not reveal. He asked Greenspan to join his project, the book claims. Greenspan declined.

The approach came not long after Zuckerberg had been in trouble with Harvard authorities for using the photos from a university year book to create a web application which allowed students to compare each other's looks. The site was called facemash.

Greenspan quotes an email he says Zuckerberg wrote to him, which said: "I was thinking of making an application that would use the Harvard course catalog, but I'm a little worried about the university getting upset after the whole facemash episode."

Greenspan says he suggested integrating Zuckerberg's application into his own houseSYSTEM. "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," he quotes Zuckerberg as saying in reply.

Copyright © 2007, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

Sponsored: Driving business with continuous operational intelligence