Together with his college roommates and fellow Harvard University students Eduardo Saverin, Andrew McCollum, Dustin Moskovitz, and Chris Hughes, he launched Facebook from Harvard University‘s dormitory rooms. The group then introduced Facebook onto other campuses nationwide and moved to Palo Alto, California shortly afterwards. In 2007, at the age of 23, Zuckerberg became a billionaire as a result of Facebook’s success. The number of Facebook users worldwide reached a total of one billion in 2012. Zuckerberg was involved in various legal disputes that were initiated by others in the group, who claimed a share of the company based upon their involvement during the development phase of Facebook.
At Ardsley High School, Zuckerberg excelled in classics. He transferred to Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire in his junior year, where he won prizes in science (math, astronomy and physics) and classical studies. On his college application, Zuckerberg claimed that he could read and write French, Hebrew, Latin, and ancient Greek. He was captain of the fencing team. In college, he was known for reciting lines from epic poems such as The Iliad.
Zuckerberg began using computers and writing software in middle school. His father taught him AtariBASIC Programming in the 1990s, and later hired software developer David Newman to tutor him privately. Newman calls him a “prodigy”, adding that it was “tough to stay ahead of him”. Zuckerberg took a graduate course in the subject at Mercy Collegenear his home while still in high school. He enjoyed developing computer programs, especially communication tools and games. In one such program, since his father’s dental practice was operated from their home, he built a software program he called “ZuckNet” that allowed all the computers between the house and dental office to communicate with each other. It is considered a “primitive” version of AOL‘s Instant Messenger, which came out the following year.
According to writer Jose Antonio Vargas, “some kids played computer games. Mark created them.” Zuckerberg himself recalls this period: “I had a bunch of friends who were artists. They’d come over, draw stuff, and I’d build a game out of it.” However, notes Vargas, Zuckerberg was not a typical “geek-klutz”, as he later became captain of his prep school fencing team and earned a classics diploma. Napster co-founder Sean Parker, a close friend, notes that Zuckerberg was “really into Greek odysseys and all that stuff”, recalling how he once quoted lines from the Roman epic poem Aeneid, by Virgil, during a Facebook product conference.
During Zuckerberg’s high school years, under the company name Intelligent Media Group, he built a music player called the Synapse Media Player that used machine learning to learn the user’s listening habits, which was posted to Slashdot and received a rating of 3 out of 5 from PC Magazine.
By the time he began classes at Harvard, Zuckerberg had already achieved a “reputation as a programming prodigy”, notes Vargas. He studied psychology and computer science as well as belonging to Alpha Epsilon Pi, a Jewish fraternity, and Kirkland House. In his sophomore year, he wrote a program he called CourseMatch, which allowed users to make class selection decisions based on the choices of other students and also to help them form study groups. A short time later, he created a different program he initially called Facemash that let students select the best looking person from a choice of photos. According to Zuckerberg’s roommate at the time, Arie Hasit, “he built the site for fun”. Hasit explains:
We had books called Face Books, which included the names and pictures of everyone who lived in the student dorms. At first, he built a site and placed two pictures, or pictures of two males and two females. Visitors to the site had to choose who was “hotter” and according to the votes there would be a ranking.
The site went up over a weekend; but by Monday morning, the college shut it down because its popularity had overwhelmed one of Harvard’s network switches and prevented students from accessing the Internet. In addition, many students complained that their photos were being used without permission. Zuckerberg apologized publicly, and the student paper ran articles stating that his site was “completely improper.”
The following semester, in January 2004, Zuckerberg began writing code for a new website. On February 4, 2004, Zuckerberg launched “Thefacebook”, originally located at thefacebook.com.
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 in response.
Following the official launch of the Facebook social media platform, the three filed a lawsuit against Zuckerberg that resulted in a settlement. The agreed settlement was for 1.2 million Facebook shares that were worth US$300 million at Facebook’s IPO.
Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard in his sophomore year to complete his project. In January 2014, Zuckerberg recalled:
I remember really vividly, you know, having pizza with my friends a day or two after—I opened up the first version of Facebook at the time I thought, “You know, someone needs to build a service like this for the world.” But I just never thought that we’d be the ones to help do it. And I think a lot of what it comes down to is we just cared more.