Aaron Greenspan could be where Mark Zuckerberg is sitting right now. When we caught up with him, in Palo Alto, he was staring at his computer, dialing up his Internet phone service to call a customer. But Greenspan is CEO of a small startup called Think Computer that he's currently operating out of his house. Mark Zuckerberg, of course, is CEO of social-networking juggernaut Facebook.
The two are separated by about five miles, and roughly four billion dollars of paper net worth.
It wasn't always this way. Greenspan and Zuckerberg were classmates at Harvard and took a 10-person computer science seminar together. They worked very closely for awhile, and that's where the problem comes in. Greenspan claims he came up with the initial idea (and term) for "Facebook," and never got credit for it.
At Harvard, Greenspan developed a website called HouseSystem. One of its key features: a "Universal Face Book." When Facebook tried to register a trademark for its name, Greenspan challenged it -- a move which sparked the now-settled lawsuit.
Talking to Greenspan, you get the feeling that he was probably willing to let bygones be bygones, and start his new company. But whenever he tried to even mention that he had a hand in Facebook, he says he was treated badly. As in, comments like, "you're the next Unabomber," or, "I wish you had never been born" (ironically, of course, the open, freindly 'net can be very cruel as well).
Nobody is talking details, but Greenspan and Facebook have, at long last, come to an agreement. Both are wishing each other well, although Greenspan says that, while Zuckerberg's number is "in my cell phone," they still aren't talking. And, although Greenspan was one of the earliest people to sign up for Facebook, his profile has been down for a long time now (because of another disagreement), and he doesn't seem too desperate to bring it back up.
I asked Greenspan if he would invest in Facebook. He says probably not, calling the business model "a bit risky."