'Dorm room chit-chat' won't win Facebook fraud case

By Stephen Foley

Just as the last pockets of resistance finally gave out and it seemed that everyone in the Western world had resigned themselves to a profile on Facebook, word came through that the online networking phenomenon might face a court-ordered shutdown.

The tech industry's tweenies are at war over just who invented Facebook.

Mark Zuckerberg, the 23-year-old Harvard student who launched it in 2004 as a way for his classmates to keep in touch, stands accused of pinching the idea from two fellow students, pretending to work for them on their social networking project but in fact using the computer code to create Facebook and stymie the development of their site, called ConnectU.

But not so fast. We'll not be getting our real lives back just yet, because the noticeably irritated Boston judge charged with adjudicating the dispute warned that ConnectU's case is "gossamer thin".

Judge Douglas Woodlock has given the site's founders n athletic twins called Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss and their friend Divya Narendra two weeks to come up with something fleshier.

He warned them that "dorm-room chit-chat does not make a contract".

If and when the suit goes away, the T-shirted, sandal-wearing Zuckerberg will no doubt be under siege from giant media companies keen to buy him out.

Facebook, which boasts more than 30 million users against ConnectU's 70,000, last year turned down a $US1bn bid from Yahoo!. This is hardly the first time that the origins of an internet phenomenon have been contested.

Both MySpace and Wikipedia have had their share of disputes.

Harvard dropout Mark Zuckerberg, 23, favours sandals, jeans and fleece sweaters.

He turned down a �A3;500m offer for Facebook and says he wants it to remain private. Some claim he is holding out for �A3;1bn, although a sale would be very difficult with a lawsuit hanging over the firm.

MySpace's Tom Anderson, 31, has 193 million friends. He and MySpace co-founder Chris DeWolfe gained an estimated �A3;5m each when they sold the parent company in 2005 to Rupert Murdoch, for whom Anderson now runs the business.

The pair are also working on a MySpace record label. The twentysomething founders of YouTube became millionaires hundreds of times over when their video-sharing website was sold to Google for $1.65bn last October.

Less than two years before, Chad Hurley and Steve Chen had set out to find a way to share footage of a dinner party.

- THE INDEPENDENT

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