It still remains a mystery where Mark Zuckerberg got the inspiration to create his notorious Facebook. Alex Demas, A Greek schoolmate who attended high school with the Facebook founder, is among the few people who know about the first “facebook” that ever existed online.
The idea had been around before Zukerberg’s creation, but the glory goes not to who thinks it first but who does it first. The young CEO who created facebook.com while he was at Harvard keeps a low profile and still lives in a one-bedroom apartment in Palo Alto, CA. He avoids most interviews with the media, and answers questions about Facebook’s origing in a laconic way.
Now, more people believe that the inspiration for Facebook came from Zuckerberg’s high school years, not from Harvard. Schoolmates from Zuckerberg’s high school are almost positive that the main idea for Facebook came from the Phillips Exeter Academy, which publishes a photo address book every year that is known among students as “the facebook”. Phillips Exeter Academy is a co-eduational independent boarding school for grades 9-12 and postgraduates, located in Exeter, New Hampshire.
ReadWriteWeb.com reports that “In Zuckerberg’s senior year, the student council, headed by student body president Kris Tillery, successfully lobbied the administration to have the school’s IT department put the full contents of Exeter’s Photo Address Book online. By the time Zuckerberg graduated, the website was put up at http://student.exeter.edu/facebook, with the URL directory (i.e. “facebook”) named after the students’ pet name for the physical book and effectively shortened to something useful.”
In exclusive interview, we talked with one of Zuckerberg schoolmates and former Exonian, the 25 year-old Alex Demas who tried to shine some light on the genius’ high-school years.
How was life at the Exeter Academy?
Life at Exeter was interesting, to say the least. I arrived as a new junior (or “upper”, as it is called at PEA) so I was only there for two years. I was placed in a house called Dow with four other new uppers, three seniors and three post graduates. Obviously the Academy is incredibly challenging, but I eventually learned how to manage my time with classes on the weekend and playing two sports (2002 swimming high school All American and 2002 first team All New England in Water Polo).
How did you meet Mark Zuckerberg?
I met Mark because he was in the house across the lawn from mine. I didn’t really know him all that well as he was quite shy and kept to himself, usually doing work and writing code in his room.
What was «facebook» for the Exonians?
Facebook for us was just like it is now, minus the photos, newsfeed, messaging and the necessity to “friend”. We could create a profile that everyone at the school could see. You could search for people and sort the results by dorm, class year, etc. You could set your relationship status to “single”, “in a relationship” and even “looking for random play”, which everyone knows about now!
Do you think this is where Zuckerberg got the idea for facebook?
It most definitely is, in my mind. I won’t even be able to say for sure, but I think everyone of us Exonians believes this is where he got the idea from. There are too many similar characteristics for it not to be where he got the inspiration for Facebook. I think he’s clearly used his smarts, ambition and creativity to make it what it is today, however.
What is your view on the lawsuit that other classmates filed against him Zuckerberg claiming rights to facebook?
Personally, I don’t know much about it. I know that they charge that they had verbally contracted him to write code for ConnectU and that he went alone by himself and wrote code for Facebook, which they claim to be just like their idea. However, I find it hard to believe that he didn’t already have an idea of what he wanted to do in his mind.
What type of person is the Mark you met at school?
His reputation amongst most people was that he was very intelligent, quiet and, for lack of a better word, a computer nerd.
Do you keep in touch? Reunions maybe?
I wrote him via Facebook once when I was a summer teacher’s assistant at Dartmouth asking him when he thought Facebook would get to my college, Middlebury. Other than that, I have had no contact with him since high school. He did not attend our five year reunion.
Where are you from?
I grew up in Tucson, Arizona but I was born in Princeton, NJ. My family now lives in Hanover, NH (dad is a doctor at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center) and I guess I now consider myself a New Yorker.
What is your Greek background? What part of Greece does your family come from?
My Yaya’s mother’s side if from Teleponisus in a town called Amaliatha (spelling??). Her father is from Missolonghi. My Papou’s parents are from the Turkish parts of Greece and eventually moved to Thrace. My dad is full Greek but I am only half as my mom is Anglo-Saxon.
What is your career?
I work in Hispanic marketing on the agency side. I handle mostly digital media planning and buying for accounts like Continental Airlines, Tecate, Heineken, Kraft, etc.
Photo Credit: Alex demas – Special Thanks to Steffan Antonas