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How Did Facebook Originate?

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On July 15th, 2010, as Facebook.com was about to cross the once unthinkable threshold of 500 million registered users worldwide, the full trailer for the October 1st, 2010 Columbia Pictures drama about the company’s origins, The Social Network, was released. For better or worse, this adaptation of the May 4, 2010 book The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich is set to become entrenched in the public consciousness as a de facto origins account of a company valued in April 2010 at $22 billion.

Company co-founders Mark Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskovitz were quick to react. “It is interesting to see my past rewritten in a way that emphasizes things that didn’t matter and leaves out things that really did,” commented Moskovitz via an Internet start-up created by several former Facebook employees. Zuckerberg meanwhile stated that he wished the movie had never been made and dismissed some inflammatory Instant Messages now coming back to haunt him as pranks.

As Facebook has grown exponentially since its founding at Harvard University in 2003, a number of subsequent lawsuits have also brought into question the exact circumstances of the company’s origins. In July, 2008, a Federal District Court Judge in San Jose, CA enforced a $65 million settlement between Facebook and three former Harvard classmates of Zuckerberg – Divya Narendra and twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss – who claimed the young computer whiz had secretly developed Facebook while hired by them to create another similar social networking site, ConnectU. Two years later, in July 2010, another plaintiff, Paul Ceglia, surfaced with claims that an April 2003 freelance web programming contract entered into with Zuckerberg included the provision of a majority stake in Facebook.

The truth may never be known about how sophomore student Zuckerberg designed his modest college student registry, TheFacebook.com, in 2003 and 2004. But what is certain is that 2010 is the year when it has been most dramatically rewritten, thanks to The Social Network and a series of explosive investigative reporting pieces released in March.

Facebook went live on February 4, 2004 as TheFacebook.com and immediately became popular as a personal information text and images registry, taking hold first with students at Harvard and soon finding favor with users on other Ivy League college campuses. At the time, Zuckerberg was just 19 years of age, a much younger starting point than that of Microsoft founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen or Google co-creators Sergey Brin and Larry Page.

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