The following message was sent to David Kirkpatrick, author of The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World
To: David Kirkpatrick
Subject: Factual inaccuracies and omissions in your book
Date: June 20, 2010
For the record:
houseSYSTEM had thousands of members at Harvard (1,875 to be exact), not "hundreds," as you wrote, and it was frequently used during the full school year that it was up and running, despite your claim that it "never got much usage." By the time I shut it down, it had 796 book listings, 45 book requests, 177 item listings, 12 digital posters, and a wide variety of course reviews, some of them anonymous. It was not the most heavily-trafficked web site ever created by any means, but surely these figures constitute more usage than you assert.
houseSYSTEM's handling of passwords (MD-5 and later SHA-1 hashing) was actually quite routine and remains uncontroversial to this day in technical circles. The controversy in Lowell House stemmed from the extremely vocal complaints of one student who did not understand or take the time to ask about the software's design. Your quick depiction of this series of events makes it seem as though houseSYSTEM really did invoke poor technical practices, which is untrue.
You also failed to note that one of the users who spent the most time on houseSYSTEM's Universal Face Book was Mark.
You put words in my mouth and cast me in a negative light by implying that I felt "superior" to Mark at the time that I met him. This is completely untrue. I was quite glad to meet him initially as there were very few students at Harvard College genuinely interested in entrepreneurship. After speaking with him over dinner, as I think I made it quite clear in my book, I reached the conclusion that I did not trust him—a sentiment that was substantiated relatively quickly over the next few months—and that he seemed inexperienced in business, which at the time, he was. This was further evidenced by Mark's repeated inquiries about business and technical matters, which I happily answered, and which you did not mention.
Your description of my claims in Think Computer Corporation's trademark proceedings against Facebook, Inc. also glosses over crucial detail. I never made the claim that I "pioneered" the term "Facebook," as you wrote. Rather, I asserted that "Facebook" was a generic term for a book of faces used as early as 1902, and as such, that it did not deserve federal trademark protection. However, to counter the argument that despite being generic, Facebook, Inc.'s use of the mark could be described as "famous" (a legal technical term)—which did arise as I expected—I also made the factual claim that my use of the term occurred prior to Mark's. This is a fundamentally different claim from having "pioneered" the term, and by misrepresenting my logic your writing makes me appear that much less reasonable.
I would contest Sam Lessin's description of houseSYSTEM as "sprawling," or at least expect an author of your caliber to interview a variety of ideally unbiased sources on a given topic. At the time, Sam ran a competing exchange site for Harvard students that had even less usage than houseSYSTEM. I could not find where this fact was disclosed in your book.
Lastly, I would note that these errors and omissions could have easily been avoided had you contacted me in advance of publication, which would have been the professional thing to do.