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Facebook Founder Accused of Stealing The Idea
engine

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Msg#: 3403883 posted 8:57 am on Jul 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

Mark Zuckerberg, the 23-year-old founder of Facebook, will today be accused of stealing the idea for his enormously popular social networking site from a rival website.

Mr Zuckerberg is being for sued for stealing the source code and design of Facebook from ConnectU.com, a similar, university-based social network which he worked for briefly as a programmer four years ago.

At a district court in Boston, Massachusetts, ConnectU's founders, who were in the same year at Harvard as Mr Zuckerberg, will demand that Facebook be shut down and that control of the site and its profits be handed over to them.

Facebook Founder Accused of Stealing The Idea [technology.timesonline.co.uk]

 

Tastatura

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Msg#: 3403883 posted 9:00 am on Jul 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

[webmasterworld.com...]

zulu_dude

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Msg#: 3403883 posted 9:15 am on Jul 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

No offence meant to ConnectU.com, but does that really look like a site that was ever going to be half as good as Facebook? I struggle to believe that Facebook shares any code at all with ConnectU.

I smell a PR stunt...

Joff

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3403883 posted 10:47 am on Jul 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

Stealing the code = bad, but unless they're counting "<html>" then I doubt there's anything between the two sites that is the same.

Stealing the idea though... surely then all these social networking sites are stealing from each other? Myspace, Bebo, etc all pretty much doing the same thing.

Then what about the Youtube/Google video equivalents?

Bit of a grey area that so it does smell a bit like a PR stunt to me!

vincevincevince

WebmasterWorld Senior Member vincevincevince us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3403883 posted 10:52 am on Jul 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

If there is the slightest bit of foul-play here, then I do hope that facebook is shut down and assets transferred as requested.

There is far too much of this kind of thing going on today. Just because you made your clone a bigger success, it doesn't mean you gain some kind of legimimacy.

Obviously, I don't know the details of this case. If there is no foul-play then of course I would want the case thrown out with costs met by the plaintiff.

I'm sure there is no stolen source code in Facebook now. But if there was in the past, then it is likely that the theft of that code enabled Facebook to retain resources for building other things which made them an eventual success, even if that code eventually left the source, i.e. even if it is now deleted, using it at some time still should see very substantial compensation.

I wonder what the position is of facebook application (plugin/app) creators who have made income from those applications?

jcoronella

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Msg#: 3403883 posted 11:19 am on Jul 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

From what I read, allegedly he was a contractor for them, then before even finishing work on their site launched his own identical site.

WebPixie

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Msg#: 3403883 posted 11:36 am on Jul 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

This is going to be interesting to watch. From a common sense point of veiw it would seem difficult for Facebook to claim that their genesis was separate and in no way related to work done for Connectu. If in fact Zuckerberg was already working on a similar business model why in world would he accept contract work for a site that would be his competition?

This is a good example of why I try and farm out as little work as possible on my projects. A good coder can have a copy of your idea up before you even launch.

ronin

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Msg#: 3403883 posted 12:34 pm on Jul 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

I smell a PR stunt...

zulu_dude may be right on the mark.

Remember when the authors of dodgy pseudo-research volume Holy Blood, Holy Grail took Dan Brown to court over his alleged theft of ideas to write that awful trash The Da Vinci Code a few weeks before the movie was released?

Sales of both books rocketed. (And the additional free publicity probably didn't damage cinema ticket sales either).

Edge

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Msg#: 3403883 posted 12:38 pm on Jul 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

Sounds like the soldier had a better ideal and was more capable than the leadership.

Fortune Hunter

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Msg#: 3403883 posted 12:45 pm on Jul 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

I'm sure there is no stolen source code in Facebook now. But if there was in the past, then it is likely that the theft of that code enabled Facebook to retain resources for building other things which made them an eventual success, even if that code eventually left the source, i.e. even if it is now deleted, using it at some time still should see very substantial compensation.

I think this might be a slippery slope here. After all, how do you prove one, that they used to be code in there from another site unless you have actual screen shots with dates and such, which could be suspect as well. Second, assuming there used to be code in there, how would you prove that they actually benefited from it? How do you know it wasn't other factors we aren't aware of?

If the guy is doing something wrong TODAY then he should have to compensate the company for that. However hunting down people for possible past transgressions in anything and then attaching some type of monetary compensation to it is fraught with problems. I just believe there is way too many variables to the success or lack thereof in any business to be able to claim that source code that may have been in there at some point in the past allowed them to secure a competitive advantage that could never be beat is a little tough to swallow. Proving the claim is going to be very problematic and then determining what, if any, advantage he got from it. Finally, assigning a fair amount of compensation for those damages. It just seems to me that one or more of those steps could create a situation of serious injustice.

jatar_k

WebmasterWorld Administrator jatar_k us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3403883 posted 1:03 pm on Jul 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

I am sure that what facebook is doing now is well beyond the scope of anything connectu had thought of or coded. If there is some idea/code theft then just pay the guy some money and shut him up.

I find the multiple db errors I keep getting on connectu very exciting and though I would add those to my own site, don't tell connectu.

Habtom

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Msg#: 3403883 posted 1:22 pm on Jul 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

I find the multiple db errors I keep getting on connectu very exciting and though I would add those to my own site . . .

...I will be a regular visitor of connectu from this moment for similar reasons.

, don't tell connectu.

. . . if you don't, I won't. :)

rogerd

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Msg#: 3403883 posted 1:32 pm on Jul 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

Just on the face of it, it sounds like a typical "deep pockets" lawsuit. Trump up something embarrassing by stitching together a few facts, and then hope that the bigger entity finds it cheaper to buy you off with a settlement instead of waging a multi-year battle in the courts.

This is particularly effective when a firm might be acquired. It's a lot easier to put this kind f thing behind you instead of dealing with footnotes and indemnifications during the due diligence process. In short, does Facebook want a cloud hovering over a multi-billion dollar payday, or would they pay a few million to make it go away?

Then again, I might be too cynical. Perhaps Facebook DID rip off something from ConnectU. I don't think either was the first social network, though.

[edited by: rogerd at 2:49 pm (utc) on July 25, 2007]

bakedjake

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Msg#: 3403883 posted 1:32 pm on Jul 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

No offence meant to ConnectU.com, but does that really look like a site that was ever going to be half as good as Facebook?

We're not privy to the terms of his contractor relationship, but it likely doesn't matter. The initial proceedings were started 3 years ago so it's not a PR stunt.

Since there's no patent, there's likely very little at stake if he simply "stole the idea". Only a patent is a legal monopoly to an idea.

If he stole code that's a completely separate issue, and one that will not be looked favorably upon, regardless if any of the code is in use now or not.

It will be interesting to see the terms of his consulting contract with ConnectU.

It's a lot easier to put this kind f thing behind you instead of dealing with footnotes and indemnifications during the due diligence process.

A valuation might take a big hit as well.

skunker

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3403883 posted 1:44 pm on Jul 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

you guys keep mentioning that it's connectU's fault for not doing anything earlier. Well, if you read the article, you'll see they tried to litigate Facebook way back when Facebook was just starting off the ground but the case seemed to have been postponned. So, they've been with this from the start. This is not new.

Demaestro

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Msg#: 3403883 posted 2:12 pm on Jul 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

Well i have to say I doubt this lawsuit will work out for them.

Let's be honest....Facebook works... I just hit that site, then hit the search button and got the following error message on a blank white page....not even a message contained in the site skin.

"""We are sorry, but we had a problem connecting to the database server"""

I am sorry but if you aren't even displaying error messages in the skin of your site.... then you aren't even ready to launch yet.

I doubt he took actual code from them... more likely he was inspired by the idea... saw what they were doing wrong... which seems to be a lot seeing as 2 page hits I see a bunch of stuff wrong.... then got started on doing it right on his own... I see nothing wrong with that.... I am sure if he wrote code for both sites they have some similar code...but that almost goes without saying.

This sounds like a petty attempt to gain off someone else's success.

I hope all they end up with is a big legal bill.

Demaestro

WebmasterWorld Senior Member demaestro us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3403883 posted 2:15 pm on Jul 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

Ok I reloaded the page and it gave me a form but all the fields are scattered and not aligned with their tag and the highschool search widget is giving me the "can't connect to database" error.

Facebook is an Ajax thing of beauty... I don't see that implementation at all on this other site.

ogletree

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Msg#: 3403883 posted 2:17 pm on Jul 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

Can you protect ideas like that. I had a good idea about a website and somebody I know copied it and is now making a ton off of it.

vincevincevince

WebmasterWorld Senior Member vincevincevince us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3403883 posted 2:21 pm on Jul 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

I guess the database errors are due to the current surge in traffic. Also worth noting - making use of something badly doesn't reduce your rights to it!

I can write a song and sing it like a sick cat, but it doesn't make it any less mine and any more acceptable for some more able singer to sing it.

Demaestro

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Msg#: 3403883 posted 2:22 pm on Jul 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

I just want to mention as well.....

Dave Thomas founder of Wendy's worked in a little burger diner for years as a child and teenager before opening his first hamburger place.

Imagine if "Example's diner on example street" sued Wendy's cause Dave used to work there and must have stolen the idea about beef on a bun and getting it to customers fast and friendly.

The fact is it is a good idea... Facebook implemented it very well.... this other site didn't.

Gibble

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Msg#: 3403883 posted 2:22 pm on Jul 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

True Vince, but if they write a similar song, about the same topic, in the same genre, and do a wonderful job and have a hit can you sue them?

Demaestro

WebmasterWorld Senior Member demaestro us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3403883 posted 2:23 pm on Jul 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

I can write a song and sing it like a sick cat, but it doesn't make it any less mine and any more acceptable for some more able singer to sing it.

Right but it doesn't mean someone who sang back-up for you can't go and write his own songs and do right what he watched you do wrong.

[edited by: Demaestro at 2:24 pm (utc) on July 25, 2007]

Gomvents

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3403883 posted 2:25 pm on Jul 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

I agree with vince, as a web design / programming company myself it hurts to see people stealing your code / ideas etc. From the start I didn't like this guy who "created" facebook as I could tell he wasn't on the up-and-up. All these college-themed sites run by students are rip-offs in one way or another. They haven't had real world experience... they don't know what they are doing...

Joff

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Msg#: 3403883 posted 2:37 pm on Jul 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

I can write a song and sing it like a sick cat, but it doesn't make it any less mine and any more acceptable for some more able singer to sing it.

But in this case it's not the same song, it's just a song that's about the same subject that may have the same word or two.

Imagine all the songs in the world about love that feature the words "love", "baby", "hold", "heart", etc.

Demaestro

WebmasterWorld Senior Member demaestro us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3403883 posted 2:39 pm on Jul 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

I agree with vince, as a web design / programming company myself it hurts to see people stealing your code / ideas etc. From the start I didn't like this guy who "created" facebook as I could tell he wasn't on the up-and-up. All these college-themed sites run by students are rip-offs in one way or another. They haven't had real world experience... they don't know what they are doing...

Stealing ideas? do you think this guy was the first to think of a social networking site? I think we can say with absolute certainty that this ConnectU site was not the first site of this type. Even if it was are you saying we should only have one?

You can tell someone isn't on the up and up? You should go into police work.

All college sites run by students are rip offs? Wow another case solved... nice work.

jatar_k

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Msg#: 3403883 posted 2:42 pm on Jul 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

it will be interesting to see if they can prove code was stolen, and as Jake mentioned, see the terms of his contract.

ergophobe

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Msg#: 3403883 posted 2:50 pm on Jul 25, 2007 (gmt 0)


Imagine if "Example's diner on example street" sued Wendy's cause Dave used to work there

Imagine if Dave had made off with a truckload of ingredients after having signed an agreement that taking anything off the premises. That would be considered theft.

Like Jake says, it's all about the contract. If he signed an NDA, he's screwed. If he got paid $10/hour as a student programmer to do a few things on a non-contract basis, he's probably in the clear.

I could easily see a student programmer taking such liberties with a project he contracted on and it doesn't matter how much better Facebook is *now*. What matters is did he steal enough code to get up and running and make enough money to actually sustain himself while he hired people to write really good code?

The simple fact is that a lot of kids that age don't mind "borrowing". When I was teaching (at one of the top state institutions in the country), I saw things like

- student papers taken verbatim out of well-known books
- papers cut and pasted from a handful of web pages
- a student who stole another student's paper out of a computer lab printer and turned it in as his own. They had different teaching assistants and didn't realize that the TAs regularly got together to grade.

TA1: "Wow, this guy seems really stupid, but he turned in a great paper on XYZ"
TA2: "Really? I have a really good student who did a paper on XYZ too."

Whoops. This is not to mention that the vast majority of university students see nothing wrong with file sharing of copyrighted music, movies, etc. This is not a generation raised to respect copyright, so frankly, based on guilt by association and the fact that the suit has been pending for three years, I'm betting ConnectU has a case.

Jane_Doe

WebmasterWorld Senior Member jane_doe us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3403883 posted 3:10 pm on Jul 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

Can you protect ideas like that.

I don't believe you can. That is why there are so many TV shows that are similar in the U.S., like Nanny 911 and Super Nanny, there are at least a couple of trading moms shows, and lots of shows similar to American Idol.

jatar_k

WebmasterWorld Administrator jatar_k us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3403883 posted 3:18 pm on Jul 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

the original story in that article gives a little more of the to and fro of the discussion

[daily.stanford.edu...]

Sometime

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 3403883 posted 3:20 pm on Jul 25, 2007 (gmt 0)

If the trade secret (as opposed to a patentable idea for a business process) was disclosed in confidence (through the contracting arrangement) and he took it and used it for his own gain, then ConnectU may have a case. Once the idea is "out there" then the confidence issue becomes moot for anyone else who wants to start a clone.

This 61 message thread spans 3 pages: 61 ( [1] 2 3 > >
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