The Winklevosses and Narendra find out about thefacebook.com when they read a press release in The Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper.
Tyler: None of us knew about it until we picked up the [Crimson]. We read this article that says ‘thefacebook launched by Mark Zuckerberg,’ and we sort of stepped back and were like, ‘Well, that sounds like our idea…’
According to Gao, who looked at the HarvardConnection code afterward, Zuckerberg had left the HarvardConnection code incomplete and non-functional, with a registration that did not connect with the back-end connections.
After several weeks of saying he was busy with other work, Zuckerberg meets with the Winklevosses and Narendra in his dorm room, allegedly confirming his interest and assuring them that the site was almost complete. On the whiteboard in his room, Zuckerberg allegedly had scrawled multiple lines of code under the heading “Harvard Connection,” and this would be the only time they saw any of his work.
The brothers and Narendra meet Zuckerberg in the dining hall of Harvard’s Kirkland House, where they explain the HarvardConnection website, the plan to expand to other schools after launch, the confidential nature of the project, and the importance of getting there first. During the meeting, Zuckerberg allegedly enters into an oral contract with Narendra and the Winklevosses to become a partner in HarvardConnection.
Although his attorneys have denied that any formal discussion about compensation or ownership of Harvard Connection took place, Gao would later tell the court:
I told him that [Narendra and the Winklevosses] would either pay him on a rolling basis or take him on as a partner with the possibility of taking an equal stake. He became visibly excited. He told me that he wanted the latter option … because he thought the Harvard Connection website had the potential to reach out to a very large user base.
He is given the private server location and password for the unfinished HarvardConnection website and code, with the understanding that he will finish the programming necessary for launch. Zuckerberg allegedly chooses to be compensated in the form of sweat equity.