A lawsuit filed earlier this month against a group of Harvard undergraduates may put an end to one major time-wasting technique for students at Yale and across the country.
The suit alleges that Thefacebook.com founder Mark Zuckerberg, a Harvard sophomore, breached his contract with the founders of rival Web site ConnectU.com and made use of their source code to launch his own site after committing to work for them.
The suit asks the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts to close Thefacebook.com and award its profits to the plaintiffs as damages.
“Mark’s relationship with them was never a formal affair,” said Thefacebook.com spokesman Chris Hughes, a Harvard junior. “He spent a few hours working on their Web site over the course of December.”
Divya Narendra, Cameron Winklevoss and Tyler Winklevoss, all of whom graduated from Harvard last May, founded ConnectU LLC and launched ConnectU.com in May.
Zuckerberg released Thefacebook.com in February.
In a letter published on ConnectU.com, the site’s founders outline the history of their effort to create an online social network and refer to “ups and downs” in the process.
“We’ve cycled through several programmers, even one who stole our ideas to create a competing site, without informing us of his intentions,” the letter reads in part.
Thefacebook.com allows members to post profiles and view their social networks. Students from approximately 100 colleges and universities may join the site, which has become immensely popular.
Cameron Winklevoss declined to comment on details of the suit but said he and his partners are “dissatisfied” with events surrounding their business relationship with Zuckerberg.
Although the creators of Thefacebook.com and ConnectU.com have been disputing the issue since last spring, ConnectU.com’s founders did not file suit until Sept. 2.
Prior to the lawsuit, Neandra and the Winklevosses complained to both Harvard’s administrative board and its then-President Lawrence Summers, the Harvard Crimson reported in May. Both the board and Summers deemed the case outside the university’s jurisdiction.
Hughes said that both the administration’s reluctance to address the situation and general community support indicate that the charges are “completely unfounded.” He said he thinks the lawsuit is part of a strategic effort to impose a heavy financial burden on Thefacebook.com and will probably cost the company over $100,000.
While Thefacebook.com generates revenues from advertising, Hughes said, it is still a young company and the money goes to cover the costs of servers and other expenses.
“We hopefully will make a profit in the future, so that we can be attractive to investors so that the site can continue to improve,” he said.
Cameron Winklevoss said that despite losing the “first-mover advantage,” ConnectU.com offers features that Thefacebook.com does not, such as a book exchange. He said users seem highly satisfied with the site.
“We’re pretty happy with the way things are going right now,” he said. “We think we have a healthy growth rate.”
Winklevoss said ConnectU.com’s total membership is approaching 15,000.
Hughes said he “seriously” doubts that the plaintiffs will succeed in their effort to shut down Thefacebook.com.
Many Yale students said they enjoy using Thefacebook.com and would be sorry to see it go. Rachel Harrington ’06 said Thefacebook.com has helped her get back in touch with friends from high school.
“I think I would be sad if it got shut down, just because I use it a lot when I’m procrastinating,” Harrington said.