Facebook faces lawsuits, competition

(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – Only one year after the launch of the most popular online college directory, thefacebook.com faces lawsuits and competition from mock Web sites trying to get on board this Internet phenomenon.

Connectu.com, a similar online directory Web site launched more than two years ago at Harvard by three sophomores Divya Naredren and twin brothers, Cameron and Tyler Winkelvoss is suing Mark Zuckerman, the creator of thefacebook and fellow peer at Harvard. Zuckerman worked with connectU in its preliminary stages and connectU filed the lawsuit after thefacebook launched due to the close similarities between the two sites.

According to Chris Hughes, the spokesperson for thefacebook, the allegations against Zuckerman are false. He said that while Zuckerman did work on an online database for dating among Harvard students called the havardconnection it was a much different site from the current ConnectU. Hughes said that Zuckerman’s’ relationship with the creators of ConnectU “was informal, in the sense that he was never paid, nor did he have a contract with them.”

Hughes estimates that lawsuit will cost thefacebook over $200,000 to defend, “despite the fact that the claims of ConnectU are absolutely unfounded.” He said that thefacebook is countersuing for “abusing the legal system,” in order to try and regain lost funds.

Despite the battle between thefacebook and connectU, other sites such as myspace.com, etriculate.com, campusnetwork.com and studentcenter.org also exist on the web appealing to interests similar to those on thefacebook.

David Clark, the creator of etriculate.com, launched his site in 2002 before the birth of thefacebook after transferring from Michigan State to Muskegon Community College. He launched it in order to create an easier way to meet people and network at a place where most students were commuters.

“There was no communication, there wasn’t even a school paper and I wanted to know what classes to take, which professors are the best …so I wanted to make a social networking site to get to know people” Clark said.

Etriculate includes a blog page, online shared photo albums, professor ratings and personal profiles. Clark said he thinks the reason his site didn’t catch on three years ago is because people were not as trusting with the Internet as they are today.

“The guys who did the facebook were around at the right time,” Clark said.

With little success at MCC, Clark stopped attending to the site for about a year. However, with the recent wave of new social networking sites popping up, Clark decided to re-launch his site this past Valentines Day. His site offers a one stop shop for blogs, online photo albums and personal profiles and it is also available to any high school or college student.

“Etriculate’s a Web site with a little substance. It’s got tangible things, like photo albums and book exchange,” Clark said.

Clark, now a junior at Ohio State, decided that by offering his site to high school students, he might be able to hook his users early.

“How do we getting people to stop using thefacebook? We just get to them before they start,” Clark said. “We’re finding the best reception now with high school kids, it’s a popularity contest.”

With only 110 members so far, etriculate still has a long way to go before it matches the 1.8 million users of thefacebook, however the appeal remains about such kinds of Web sites.

“Different students use thefacebook in different ways, but in general, college students return to the site to find information on their peers, to make connections with friends and acquaintances, and to communicate with one another. It’s a reference tool and a means for communication. I think that combination — and the fact that it’s fun to use — keeps people coming back,” Hughes said.

“Basically, I think it’s another form of procrastination,” Clark said. Even with the popularity of the facebook, there are still some college students out there who are skeptical of the whole idea.

“Its like, ‘do you want to be my friend?’ If you really need friends, facebook isn’t going to help you,” said sophomore Christiana Scollin of St. Josephs University in Philadelphia.

Scollin said that thefacebook just caught on at St. Joe’s and is “the talk of the town.” She hasn’t joined it yet, because she said, “it’s just not that cool.”

“I don’t want to buy into the stalker methods,” Scollin said. “We don’t need the FBI now, because we have the facebook.”

With the sharing of photos online, blogs and checking AIM profiles, generation y is definitely the generation of the Internet. However, one can only wonder if these increased online interactions will replace the more traditional methods of socializing.

“I’m not going to say that etriculate or thefacebook is going to replace meeting people at bars. Poking isn’t going to replace winking at someone from across the room,” Clark said.

Copyright c2005 U-WIRE via U-Wire

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