Monday, September 24, 2012

Hidden in Plain Sight: Zekira and the Battle for Facebook

A long and complicated essay was posted last week by Aaron Greenspan, one of the people who claim that Mark Zuckerberg stole the idea for Facebook from him (link).  Most of the essay is focused on Greenspan's vast reservoir of dislike for Zuckerberg.  I didn't read the whole thing; it's about as entertaining as listening to me complain about the stuff Microsoft did to Apple in the 1990s.

But what did stand out to me was the start of the essay, where Greenspan reports that just this month he found copies of IM conversations he had with Zuckerberg when Facebook was conceived in 2004.  Greenspan writes:

"It turns out that my Other folder contained some of the most important legal evidence regarding the origins of Facebook, Inc. that I had been trying to find for years, but without much success. I had already scoured the folders I created for the Student Entrepreneurship Council and come up with a number of the AOL Instant Messenger conversations that I had with Mark, but not all of them, and not the most revealing ones. I had also checked my "Aaron" folder, which had another sub-folder for Instant Messenger conversations, as well as the large hierarchy of folders containing all of Think Computer Corporation's data, which had even more conversations, but none with Mark. The conversations I remembered having, but could not recall the exact details of, were nowhere to be found, at least until September 12, 2012."

The files stayed lost for eight years because they were buried in a flood of other documents Greenspan had saved.  Most people who save documents end up with this problem.  You can't know what you'll need in the future, so you save everything.  But the more information you save, the more difficult it is to find anything when you need it.  It sounds like Greenspan was unusually rigorous in the way he organized his files, but no amount of careful organization can help you find something if you don't remember where you put it.

This is one of the problems that a context manager should solve.  In addition to helping you recall the context around current events (meetings you're going to, people you know, etc), it should help you go back in time and recall your context around past issues.  I think that if Greenspan had been using Zekira, he could have found those files in under a minute.  And who knows, maybe the legal wars over Facebook would have turned out differently.

I'm not saying you'll end up in a legal fight over the origins of a leading web property, but you never know.  What I can promise is that the more successful you get, the more likely it is that you'll desperately need to find some files or messages you saved, and Zekira will be able to help you.

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