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The big chill

With Facebook, Saverin and Zuckerberg changed the way we connect with others. An inside story of what went wrong with them, writes Rajiv Arora.

books Updated: Aug 21, 2009 22:36 IST
Rajiv Arora

In the eighth chapter of the book, one Harvard student says to another, “Go send him an e-mail… Let’s see if this Zuckerberg kid wants to be a part of history.” Today, the 25-year-old ‘kid’ has ensured the world remembers him as the youngest self-made billionaire while Tyler Winklevoss and Divya Narendra, who were making him the offer, have, well, become history.

Today, around 250 million people across the globe are a part of Mark Zukerberg’s phenomenal creation: Facebook. While billions are acquainted with the front end of the website, little is known about what went into its making. The Facebook saga carries on the online media tradition of extraordinary success stories with sketchy personal details. On the face of it, the narrative reads like a neat collation of various Wikipedia entries on the social network. The difference is that it is through the eyes of Eduardo Saverin — the tragic hero of the tale and Zuckerberg’s friend, partner and victim — that we trace the journey of Facebook from its conception to present day.

The Accidental Billionaires: Sex, Money, Betrayal And The Founding Of Facebook
Ben Mezrich
William Heinemann

* Rs 964 * pp 260

Harvard 2003. Saverin and Zuckerberg, two socially awkward sophomores, are trying their luck with girls. While the former relies on conventional ways — joining a prestigious college club and cashing in on his fame of earning millions through ‘hedge funds’ — his geeky friend is happier spending hours in front of his flashing computer screen and sporting a hooded shirt. One day the ‘genius’ decides to avenge the humiliation of being turned down by a girl by making a “hot-or-not” website. He hacks university computers to get pictures of girls. And it pays off. Heavy traffic forces Zuckerberg to shut the website within hours of its launch.

This success draws the attention of fellow Harvard students, the Winklevoss twins and Narendra, who offer Zuckerberg the programmer’s position for their planned Harvard-specific online dating network. Things progress, but in the way only the geek wants them to. So one fine day the entire campus, including the ‘partners’ wake up to find a somewhat similar social-networking website by the name of thefacebook.com, which is ‘a Mark Zuckerberg production’.

Saverin decides to become Mark’s partner, fund the website and keep the innovative project up and running. It becomes an overnight rage, much to the creators’ surprise. This is when things start taking an ugly turn. Success brings problems. Immense success brings bigger problems. So the journey from HarvardConnection.com to Facemash.com to thefacebook.com and finally Facebook.com is laden with deception, backstabbing and shattered dreams. Be it the twins or Saverin, for Mark, “anything that became a threat — no matter the intention — had to be dealt with, because in the end, the only thing that mattered was Facebook”.

The Accidental Billionaires is a typical Mezrich product of a few extraordinary youngsters with innovative ideas intent on revolutionising the world and striking it rich. As with Bringing Down the House or Ugly Americans, Mezrich seems to have fabulised some aspects of this otherwise straightforward tale.

Mark Zuckerberg, states Mezrich, refused to cooperate for the project. So what we have is only Saverin’s interpretation of what Mark had done, which makes the narrative seem lopsided at times. While this does show Zuckerberg in a bad light, one wonders what the Facebook story would have had he acted differently. Mezrich, atleast, doesn’t give Zuckerberg a clean chit. As he says in the book, “Behind every great fortune, there lies a great crime.”