Love to the Innovators, Part 2: InCircle invented Facebook, didn’t they?

All this talk in the blogosphere about who invented Facebook. Shouldn’t the credit go to the 3 guys who built InCircle for Stanford students and alumni back in 2002-3? Two of their names were Orkut Buyukkokten and Tyler Ziemann. I don’t know the name of the third guy,

InCircle was one of the first social networks, and the first to limit members by email address. A Stanford Alum showed InCircle to me in 2002 or early 2003 (I can’t remember) and told me that 80% of the people he knew from Stanford were on it in about 3 weeks after it launched. These three founders realized it was a good idea and wanted to start a company to pursue it. At the time, 2002 or 2003, no venture capitalist would fund a consumer Internet company, so they made it an enterprise software company and called it Affinity Engines. (Remember, this was way before Friendster and way way before Facebook)

The goal of Affinity Engines was to sell the software to colleges to run their own student and alumni networks. One of the three founders, whose first name is Orkut, left Affinity for Google to pursue the social network idea there, dropping the email exclusivity and college focus. The other two kept running Affinity Engines and then sued Google over Orkut.com, claiming Orkut stole code from Affinity Engines. Sound familiar?

If you search GoodTree for — Orkut “Affinity Engines” — it’s easy to find the whole story. Here’s an excerpt from the Wired article in June 30, 2004:

After graduating from Stanford in 2001, [Orkut] Buyukkokten and fellow graduate Tyler Ziemann built a social-networking service called Club Nexus, which they sold to Stanford for use by the university’s undergraduates, according to the lawsuit. Club Nexus was a success, and Buyukkokten and Ziemann subsequently decided to form Affinity Engines and design a product for the Stanford Alumni Association called inCircle. As a developer of social-networking software for university students and alumni, Affinity Engines was among the first players in what has become a very crowded field. Today, social-networking services like Friendster, Tribe, LinkedIn and orkut attract millions of users by giving them a way to easily connect to friends and friends’ networks of friends.

Seems that the “college-social-network” idea is a bit like King Tut’s tomb. Whoever opens it is cursed with lawsuits. Many have tried this idea, and it seems only one has succeeded. (By the way, I may have this story wrong in places. It was a long time ago, and I’m working off my own memory of it, so if I’m wrong, in places, please let me know)


2 thoughts on “Love to the Innovators, Part 2: InCircle invented Facebook, didn’t they?

  1. Good insight…I think too often the focus is on the code base, and not the business savy and street smarts of the people behind the products.

    Facebook has had to make a lot of good decisions to get to where they are today.

  2. Pingback: A Brief History of Social Networks « stopmebeforeiblogagain

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