Mark Zuckerberg: Revenge of the Nerds

According to a report in the Bits blog over at the New York Times, the long-running lawsuit between Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and a couple of his former Harvard classmates could soon be coming to a close, with a legal settlement between the two sides. This particular brouhaha (or is it more of a kerfuffle? I can’t really tell) has been going on for several years now, ever since Facebook really started to take off with university students, first at Harvard and later elsewhere.

If you’re not familiar with this particular drama, the lawsuit was filed by Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, a pair of identical twins (and Olympic class rowers) who claimed that they created something similar to Facebook while at Harvard — called ConnectU — and hired Zuckerberg to do some programming for them. The Facebook founder stole that code, they alleged, and used it to start his own competing network.

I find this case fascinating, but not just because it involves Facebook and boy wonder Mark Zuckerberg. It also seems like a classic case of coat-tail grabbing to me, by a couple of guys who could have walked out of the pages of GQ magazine or the Abercrombie and Fitch catalogue, to judge by the photos in the in-depth feature in 02138 magazine. The piece was the subject of a court battle over information drawn from Zuckerberg’s journal, like his Social Insurance Number and his parents’ address.

The Winklevoss twins seem almost too good to be true, like villains from a wacky romantic comedy, with their Harvard rowing-crew background and identically tousled hair and athletic good looks. Zuckerberg, meanwhile, is the programming dork — the awkward guy with the glasses, who manages to outwit the jocks and triumph over adversity, and make a few billion dollars to boot. All Zuckerberg needs is the gorgeous starlet to fall for him and everything will be complete (unless she already has).

I’m not a lawyer, but from my reading of the case, the Winklevoss twins and their partner didn’t have two clues to rub together, and Zuckerberg got tired of trying to help them and started his own thing. Similar idea? Maybe. That’s life. I wish the Winklevoss boys nothing but the best in their future endeavours — maybe a social-network for Austrian rowers with an interest in stylish clothing and expensive hair products?

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