The question is not “have you been on facebook today”, but, “how many times?” It’s no secret that undergrads are prone to Internet addiction, but Thefacebook.com is now one of their most frequently used resources.
For instance, you wake up on Saturday morning, squint at the name and number scrawled on your hand, and are immediately baffled. You wonder who the person is, what he looks like and maybe even where you met him. What’s a girl to do? Not to worry, Thefacebook is an online student community, which keeps college students connected to friends at their school and even at other universities. This is a place offering pictures and profiles of almost everyone you’ve ever met, or would want to meet.
Nowadays, countless college students are using this site to network, not to mention helping them put a name with a face. Beginning in the winter of 2004, Harvard computer science major Mark Zukerberg and some of his friends developed an idea for a group networking Web site designed specifically and exclusively for college students. The site calls itself “an online directory that connects people through social networks at colleges and universities.” The inventors put a new spin on the old cut-and-dry student directories.
“[Mark] wanted to combine an idea for a universal online database with an interactive social networking interface,” said Chris Hughes, co-founder and press representative. “The idea was sort of an extension of the traditional college facebooks with terrible freshman ID photos and boring information. After a few weeks of work and many late-night dorm-room conversations with the rest of us – the four other guys who started out working with Mark – Thefacebook was released at Harvard.”
Unlike other social networking sites like MySpace.com and Friendster.com,, Thefacebook is only accessible with a college e-mail address, which can be a refreshing change to some students who want to keep their online contacts limited to people their own age.
“It makes me feel safer that the people I’m talking to are around my age … and I would hate if 13-year-olds were exploiting themselves on it,” explains pre-med freshman Brenna Wilson. Although other networking sites sometimes have a required age minimum of 18 to register, this isn’t always a fail-safe plan to prohibit underage users. Thefacebook is a more secure way to get in touch with friends and classmates without any hassle.
“It has helped me find people in my classes, where I am able to ask for assignments in case I miss a class, and it also is a great way to meet new people and make new friends … the only drawback is that not all schools are on it yet,” Wilson said. Ever since Thefacebook was introduced to the Harvard University community, it’s been spreading rapidly, yet there are still plenty of schools that are not yet included in one of the most popular college Web sites around. The creators take suggestions to add schools that aren’t yet part of Thefacebook, and offer to notify students who have proposed a school once it is added.
Once registered on Thefacebook, you can make your own profile and view other ones that include everything from what music people are listening to, who they are dating, what movies they’re watching, and what groups they’re in.
When it comes to groups on Thefacebook, it seems like anything goes. The themes range from political to athletic. During the 2004 presidential race, the involvement and enthusiasm of young people could be seen by the groups supporting a particular candidate. Are politics not your thing? Then maybe try joining one of the many Homestarrunner fan groups, based on another Web site that’s all the rage among undergrads. There’s Fhqwhgads for you Strongbad lovers, and Teen Girl Squad, perfect if you just can’t seem to get enough of “what’s-her-face.” Believe it or not, even a group entitled “I love Peanut Butter” is thriving with 102 members (and three groupies) who apparently all loved the idea of paying homage to the most delicious spreadable thing out there, as far as they’re concerned. Through these groups, you can find complete strangers that have the same interests as you without even meeting them, yet knowing you could. This can be a more rewarding and logical way to communicate online for some students, as opposed to starting a friendship through AIM with a person thousands of miles away that you’re never going to meet. However, it’s not all coming up roses for the innovative guys who started the online phenomenon.
Even with its success and popularity, the site isn’t immune to controversy. It is facing legal issues regarding who actually originated the concept for thefacebook. Its founders are currently involved in a lawsuit with ConnectU.com, another social-networking site. ConnectU was created by Divya Narendra, Cameron Winklevoss and Tyler Winklevoss, who are also Harvard students. They claim Zukerberg was originally working with them to develop a similar Web site, but then made the idea his own by creating Thefacebook with other students. The creators of ConnectU sued Zukerberg and Hughes, alleging they stole the concept of ConnectU as well as the source code.
“There is no truth behind ConnectU’s lawsuit,” Hughes said.
Zuckerberg’s relationship with the creators of ConnectU was informal, Hughes said. He said Zuckerberg was never paid and did have a contract with ConnectU.
Hughes also said the lawsuit may cost Thefacebook approximately $200,000 in legal fees. Thefacebook is countersuing ConnectU for these costs.
ConnectU could not be reached for comment.
According to Hughes, Thefacebook is in no danger of being shut down. He also assures that the site will continue to be free of charge despite their legal fees: “Thefacebook will not have user premiums,” Hughes says. Those of you who can’t remember life before facebook can breathe a sigh of relief.
Lisa Thompson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.