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HARDBOUND

Zuckerberg's con?
Author Ben Mezrich continues with the Cameron Winklevoss story in his latest follow-up book to The Accidental Billionaires

Walking into the fishbowl forty minutes later was one of the most surreal moments in Cameron Winklevoss's life.

Mark Zuckerberg was already seated at the long, rectangular table in the center of the room. It seemed to Cameron that his five-foot-seven-inch frame was propped up on a thick extra cushion placed on his chair — a billionaire's booster seat. Cameron felt vaguely self conscious as he closed the glass door behind him; he could see Tyler and his lawyer taking seats directly behind him on the other side of the glass. Farther down the hall, he saw Piazza, and then Zuckerberg's lawyers, an army of men in suits. Most of them, he recognized; certainly he couldn't forget Neel Chatterjee, of the firm Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, a man so protective of his precious client (and what the twins might have to say about him) that when the twins had been invited to take part in a fireside chat at an internet conference in 2008, Chatterjee had appeared in the audience, presumably so that he could keep tabs on what they said. Chatterjee and the rest of the lawyers had yellow legal notepads, though Cameron had no idea what they would be writing down. As far as he could tell, the glass conference room was soundproof, and to the best of his knowledge, none of them were lip readers. The conversation would be between him and Zuckerberg no mediator, no lawyers, nobody listening in, nobody to get in their way.

Zuckerberg didn't look up as Cameron approached the other end of the conference table. The strange chill running down Cameron's spine had little to do with the overzealous air conditioning. This was the first time he and his former Harvard classmate had seen each other in four years.

Cameron had first met Zuckerberg in the Kirkland dining hall in October of 2003, when he, Tyler, and their friend Divya Narendra had sat down with him to discuss the social network that they had been building over the previous year. Over the next three months, the four of them had met several more times in Zuckerberg's dorm room, and exchanged over fifty emails discussing the site. However, unbeknownst to the twins and Narendra at the time, Zuckerberg had secretly started working on another social network. In fact, he registered the domain name thefacebook.com on January 11, 2004, four days prior to their third meeting on January 15, 2004.

Three weeks later, he'd launched thefacebook.com on February 4, 2004. Cameron, Tyler, and Divya had only learned about it soon after, while reading the campus paper, the Harvard Crimson Cameron soon confronted Zuckerberg over email. Zuckerberg had responded: "if you would like to meet to discuss any of this, I am willing to meet with you alone. Let me know...." But Cameron had passed, feeling the trust had been irreparably damaged; what good could come of it, reasoning with someone who was capable of acting the way he did? The only thing Cameron had felt they could do at that point was rely on the system-first, by petitioning the Harvard administration and Harvard president Larry Summers to step in and enforce the honor codes pertaining to student interactions clearly delineated in the student handbook, and then, when that failed, reluctantly turning to the courts and now here they were, four long years later....

Cameron had reached the table and lowered his oversize frame into one of the chairs before he finally looked up, the tiniest sliver of an awkward smile touching his lips. It was incredibly hard to read someone who had no discernable facial expressions, but Cameron thought he detected a hint of nervousness in the way Zuckerberg rocked forward, his legs crossed beneath the table at the ankles, a mere glimmer of human emotion. Surprisingly, he was not wearing his signature gray hoodies perhaps he was finally taking this seriously. Zuckerberg nodded at Cameron, mumbling some sort of greetingOver the next ten minutes, Cameron did most of the talking. He started by extending an olive branch. He congratulated Mark on all that he had accomplished over the past few years since Harvard. How he'd turned thefacebook.com — a college-based social network that had started as a small, exclusive website connecting Harvard kids with one another — into Facebook a worldwide phenomenon that had moved from school to school, and then country to country, engaging at first millions, then billions of users, eventually drawing in more than one fifth of the people on planet Earth, who were now willingly and regularly sharing their personalities, pictures, likes, loves, and lives on a network that showed no signs of slowing.

Cameron held himself back from saying the obvious: he, Tyler, and Divya believed, deeply and firmly, that Facebook had actually risen out of their own idea — a website initially called Harvard Connection, later renamed Connect, that was a social network of its own aimed at helping college students connect with one another online. Cameron, Tyler, and Divya had come up with the Harvard Connection out of their frustration with how narrow their campus experience had become. Freshman year was one big melting pot. Hell, it was during freshman week that Divya met Cameron by chance in Harvard Yard and invited him to his dorm room to play electric guitar. From that day on they were fast friends. Over time, however, these serendipitous social collisions seemed to fade on campus as everyone got busier and busier. It was hard to extend your group of friends beyond your dorm, your sport, or your major. The twins and Divya lamented this and set out to fix it. The Harvard Connection — ConnectU — a virtual campus  — would recast campus life online with none of the physical barriers and rigid, impermeable social bubbles that existed in the off-line world. Freshman year could start all over again, but this time everyone would be much the wiser — youth wouldn't be wasted on the young.

 

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