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Thursday, April 4, 2013 - 10:56am
A blinking dinosaur eye. A nod to Eminem. A crude effort at connecting friends and "friends of friends." Were these the awkward first steps toward a multibillion-dollar social media empire?
Some online sleuths think so, saying that a newly unearthed Angelfire page from 1999 appears to be the first website ever created by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
"Hi, my name is...Slim Shady," the site's creator wrote on its "About Me" page, referencing an Eminem song released that same year. "No, really, my name is Slim Shady. Just kidding, my name is Mark."
Mark describes himself as 15 years old, having just completed his freshman year of high school in "a small town near the massive city of New York."
All those details match up with Facebook's billionaire CEO, as does the source code on the site's main page that lists "Mark Zuckerberg" as its creator.
The quaintly outdated and charmingly awkward site (witness the creepy animated eye on its home page) showed up Wednesday in a post on Hacker News, the news-sharing site associated with startup incubator Y Combinator.
Immediately, would-be profilers went to work looking for glimpses of a future Web titan in the posts of a teen who liked quesadillas, lasers and making fun of his buddies.
Many pointed to The Web, an app with the name "Mark" in a red box at the center. The creator asks friends to add themselves, then two of their own friends. Those friends can then add two friends of their own, in theory creating an ever-growing network of friends and acquaintances.
Then, there's The Vader Fader. It's a tool to fade text in AOL chat, text and e-mails.
"This is a fader that I made when I was a little bored and somewhat inspired on a long weekend in between finals," the creator writes. "... So take advantage of this fader and tell your friends to download it as well!"
So, is it really Zuckerberg? There are some pretty convincing signs that it might be.
Our favorite comes at the very bottom of the "Vader Fader" page. The second update of the tool got a new name: "Zuck Fader."
The folks at Motherboard, a tech and science site launched by VICE, tracked the e-mail address listed on the site -- Themarke51@aol.com -- back to an account holder with the same screen name that Dr. Edward Zuckerberg, Mark's father, uses frequently.
The source code on the site's main page suggests that it was, in fact, created in 1999. It's hosted on Angelfire's "ny" subdomain for sites in New York state, where Zuckerberg grew up in suburban Westchester County.
"It could also be some strange, quasi-elaborate hoax meant to embarass Zuck with Eminem references and a silly game called 'Cow-a-bungee,'" Adam Clark Estes wrote for Motherboard. "But there's a lot of compelling evidence that this thing is legit."
Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this story.