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This chapter is from the book

The Early Days

What would become the world's most popular social network only a few short years after its launch all started in February 2004 when Mark Zuckerberg launched "The Facebook," originally located at thefacebook.com (see Figure 1.3). Before becoming the richest person in the world under 25, Mark Zuckerberg was a sophomore at Harvard University when he developed The Facebook.

Figure 1.3

Figure 1.3 The original login screen to TheFacebook.com that launched on February 4, 2004 for Harvard University students only.

The Facebook came about after, during the previous semester, Zuckerberg created a Harvard version of a popular rating website "HOT or NOT." Zuckerberg called it Facemash, and it was intended to allow students at Harvard University to compare other students based on their online dorm Facebooks.

At the time that Zuckerberg was creating Facemash, HOT or NOT, as shown in Figure 1.4, was a popular rating site, founded in October 2000 by James Hong and Jim Young, that allowed users to vote whether pictures of people that were submitted to the site were HOT or NOT. As the HOT or NOT website describes

  • HOT or NOT is the original place to rate, date, and hook up with single people 18–34. With millions rated using HOT or NOT's proprietary "RATE" feature, HOT or NOT is the official home of hotness...users can "MEET" other members through HOT or NOT's exclusive DoubleMatch™ dating engine. HOT or NOT also offers other fun options such as real-time chat, virtual flowers and gifts, and HOTLists™, which let members share their passions through personal selections of over 220,000 pictures of bands, movies, sports, TV shows, products, and hobbies.
Figure 1.4

Figure 1.4 One of the original landing pages for HotorNot.com, which, at the height of its growth, would bring in annual revenue of approximately $5 million.

At its height, HOT or NOT raked in an annual revenue approximated at $5 million with net profits of $2 million. Whether, at the time, HOT or NOT had already hit this success, and if they had, if Zuckerberg had known about it, the service was still very popular among college students. Therefore, it is no surprise that Zuckerberg saw an opportunity to create a private, internal network similar to the popular rating service, reserved only for Harvard students. Also, the basic tenets of the service aren't features that would be hard for someone who had been coding their entire life to create.

The Facemash site launched on October 28, 2003 but was shut down by Harvard administration officials only a few days later because, to gain access to the pictures, Zuckerberg had hacked Harvard's computer network and copied over each of the nine residential houses' databases of ID photos. So, how did a HOT or NOT knockoff eventually iterate to become the world's largest and most popular social network to date?

It all started when Mark Zuckerberg added the site to the Kirkland House email list, which, at the time, was only approximately 300 people in total. However, from that single email, and Zuckerberg sharing his latest creation with a few friends, thefacebook.com spread so quickly that within the first month of its launch more than half of the undergraduates at Harvard during spring 2004 had signed up.

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