Mark Zuckerberg wrote Facemash, the predecessor to Facebook, on October 28, 2003, while attending Harvard as a sophomore. The site represented a Harvard University version of Hot or Not, and according to The Harvard Crimson, Facemash “used photos compiled from the online facebooks of nine Houses, placing two next to each other at a time and asking users to choose the ‘hotter’ person”
To accomplish this, Zuckerberg hacked into the protected areas of Harvard’s computer network, and copied the houses’ private dormitory ID images. Harvard at that time did not have a student directory with photos and basic information, and Facemash attracted 450 visitors and 22,000 photo-views in its first four hours online. That the initial site mirrored people’s physical community – with their real identities – represented the key aspects of what later became Facebook.
The site was quickly forwarded to several campus group list-servers, but was shut down a few days later by the Harvard administration. Zuckerberg was charged by the administration with breach of security, violating copyrights, and violating individual privacy, and faced expulsion. Ultimately, however, the charges were dropped. Zuckerberg expanded on this initial project that semester by creating a social study tool ahead of an art history final, by uploading 500 Augustan images to a website, with one image per page along with a comment section. He opened the site up to his classmates, and people started sharing their notes.
The following semester, Zuckerberg began writing code for a new website in January 2004. He was inspired, he said, by an editorial in The Harvard Crimson about the Facemash incident. On February 4, 2004, Zuckerberg launched “Thefacebook”, originally located at thefacebook. com.
Just six days after the site launched, three Harvard seniors, Cameron Winklevoss, Tyler Winklevoss, and Divya Narendra, accused Zuckerberg
of intentionally misleading them into believing he would help them build a social network called HarvardConnection. com, while he was instead using their ideas to build a competing product. The three complained to the Harvard Crimson, and the newspaper began an investigation. The three later filed a lawsuit against Zuckerberg, subsequently settling.
Membership was initially restricted to students of Harvard College, and within the first month, more than half the undergraduate population at Harvard was registered on the service. Eduardo Saverin (business aspects), Dustin Moskovitz (programmer), Andrew McCollum (graphic artist), and Chris Hughes soon joined Zuckerberg to help promote the website. In March 2004, Facebook expanded to Stanford, Columbia, and Yale. This expansion continued when it opened as well to all other Ivy League schools and Boston University, New York University, MIT, and gradually most universities in Canada and the United States.
Facebook incorporated in the summer of 2004 and the entrepreneur Sean Parker, who had been informally advising Zuckerberg, became the company’s president. In June 2004, Facebook moved its base of operations to Palo Alto, California. Facebook received its first investment later that month from PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel. The company dropped The from its name after purchasing the domain name facebook. com in 2005 for $200,000.
Facebook launched a high school version in September 2005, which Zuckerberg called the next logical step. At that time, high school networks required an invitation to join.