Thursday, October 20, 2011

Mark Zuckerberg

The Story of the Founder of Facebook

The story behind the world's most popular social networking site has a bizarrely Australian twist. In 2004, aboard the yacht of a Sun Microsystems executive, the Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and friends apparently dined on a koala.

Or so says Ben Mezrich, the multimillionaire American novelist who has built a career – and scored several lucrative film deals – from charting the success of young geeks who strike it rich.

"Whenever I see a young person with a Ferrari I try to follow them to find out how they made their money," Mezrich told the Herald.

       Some of the more saucy tales were destined for the big screen, such as Zuckerberg and the early Facebook investor Eduardo Saverin getting busy with groupies in adjacent bathroom stalls. Or the time Zuckerberg was picked up by a Victoria's Secret model at a San Francisco party.
But it's difficult to separate fact from fiction.
Zuckerberg refused to be interviewed for the book and many of the salacious tales appear to have been provided by Saverin, who was pushed early from the company and became embroiled in a legal battle with Zuckerberg.
Mezrich frames the story around Zuckerberg and his co-founders creating Facebook as a way to pick up women, to party and to get into a private Harvard club. Zuckerberg is portrayed as a back-stabbing genius with a fetish for Asian women.
The book is marketed as non-fiction, and Mezrich insists it is a true story based on interviews with hundreds of sources and extensive court documents. But he admits some scenes and dialogue were based on a "best guess" from what sources told him.
In his 2002 book Bringing Down the House – the story of six MIT maths geniuses who scammed Las Vegas casinos with Blackjack card-counting techniques – Mezrich admitted to fabricating some characters and situations.
But despite reviewers calling his latest work "non-fictionish" and "fluffy lad lit", Mezrich's narrative non-fiction style – he likens it to Hunter S. Thompson – is well received by Hollywood.
Bringing Down the House was turned into 21, starring Spacey. The Accidental Billionaires film will be directed by David Fincher (Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) and reportedly has a $US47 million ($56.5 million) budget.
"I always think of a film as I write the book. I write very cinematically. I'm not interested in people sitting in front of computers," Mezrich says. "I'm into the salacious details and I love the sex and the money – that's sort of been my genre from the beginning."
But the business wranglings are equally enthralling. Controversy has followed Zuckerberg since his 2003 launch of Facesmash, a "hot or not" site featuring photos of Harvard students after Zuckerberg was rejected by a young woman.
Zuckerberg was almost kicked out of Harvard for raiding the university's network and downloading private ID pictures for his Facesmash website. "Perhaps Harvard will squelch it [Facesmash] for legal reasons without realising its value as a venture that could possibly be expanded to other schools (maybe even ones with good-looking people . . . )," a young Zuckerberg wrote presciently at the time.
Once Facesmash transformed to Facebook, Zuckerberg's former Harvard classmates, the twin Olympic rowers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, sued him claiming he stole their idea and source code for Facebook when they asked him for programming help in 2003. The case settled last year for $US65 million, chump change for Zuckerberg considering the 25-year-old is now the world's youngest billionaire, based on Facebook's most recent valuation of $US6.5 billion.
Last year, another Zuckerberg Harvard buddy, Aaron Greenspan, who was working to develop a social networking site around the same time as Zuckerberg, petitioned to have the Facebook trademark cancelled. He claimed he came up with the Facebook name and that Zuckerberg stole some of his ideas.
Greenspan and Zuckerberg settled for an unknown amount but not before Greenspan was able to release Authoritas, his account of Facebook's inception.
Facebook has refused to publicly buy into the argy-bargy, disputing the accuracy of Mezrich's book but not commenting on specifics.
Mezrich cannot understand why Zuckerberg would take issue with being portrayed as an intelligent if socially awkward chick magnet. He does not regret his year-long failure to speak with Zuckerberg because the latter would have tried to airbrush some of the more saucy details.
And Mezrich stands by the koala yarn. "It was a time in their lives when they were running around being wooed by every venture capitalist in Silicon Valley . . . these were just kids who were given something and they thought it was part of their adventure.

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