Entrepreneurs

Here's how 19-year-old Mark Zuckerberg described 'The Facebook' in his first TV interview

Mark Zuckerberg, right, with Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, at Harvard Yard in 2004.
Justine Hunt | The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Mark Zuckerberg, right, with Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, at Harvard Yard in 2004.

It's hard to remember a time when you needed to explain Facebook to anyone.

Today, the ubiquitous social network is among the world's largest and most influential companies, with a market value approaching $500 billion and more than 2.2 billion monthly visitors.

On April 10 and 11, its co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg answered questions from members of Congress about how elections consultancy Cambridge Analytica was able to harvest the personal information of 87 million Facebook users without their consent ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

But, nearly 14 years ago, just a few months after launching the website that was then called "TheFacebook," 19-year-old Harvard student Zuckerberg went on CNBC to explain the premise behind the still relatively unknown website in his first ever television interview.

CNBC's "Bullseye" host Dylan Ratigan invited Zuckerberg on the show because "college networking websites," as he called them, were "perhaps the next big thing."

During the interview, which aired April 28, 2004, Zuckerberg described his nascent website as a place to "find some interesting information about people."

When the site had launched in February of that year its creators "were hoping for maybe 400 or 500 people" to join, Zuckerberg said on "Bullseye," but the social network had already reached 100,000 users in just a couple of months.

"Who knows where we're going next?" the teen entrepreneur told CNBC.

He said he was looking to add hundreds more universities to the site by the end of that year.

"From there, we're going to launch a bunch of side applications, which should keep people coming back to the site, and maybe we can make something cool," Zuckerberg said.

When CNBC's Becky Quick then asked Zuckerberg, "What is TheFacebook exactly?" the future billionaire described the site as "an online directory that connects people through universities and colleges through their social networks there.

"You sign on, you make a profile about yourself by answering some questions, entering some information, such as your concentration or major at school, contact information [like] phone numbers, instant messenger screen name, anything you want to tell," he explained.

Most importantly, Zuckerberg added, users identify their friends who are already on the site and then connect with those friends (and their friends, and so on) online. As he told his university newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, days after TheFacebook's launch, "The nature of the site is that each user's experience improves if they can get their friends to join it."

Zuckerberg told CNBC, "[Y]ou can browse around, and see who people's friends are, and check out people's online identities, and see how people portray themselves and just find some interesting information about people."

Looking back, Zuckerberg's early attempt at defining what would become the world's largest social network seems quaint.

It is also interesting to hear Zuckerberg casually narrate the process of users freely entering personal information upon joining a site that would eventually leverage that same data to make billions of dollars each year from advertisers looking to reach Facebook users online (Facebook reported $39.9 billion in advertising revenue in 2017) and lead to the current Cambridge Analytica scandal.

In fact, in his 2004 interview with The Harvard Crimson, Zuckerberg was intent on assuring early users that their personal data was safe in Facebook's hands.

"There are pretty intensive privacy options," he said, referring to users' ability to limit who can view their profiles. "People have very good control over who can see their information."

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