- Hardcover: 335 pages
- Publisher: Think Press; 1st edition (June 1, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1606690000
- ISBN-13: 978-1606690000
- Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.2 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,988,790 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Authoritas: One Student's Harvard Admissions and the Founding of the Facebook Era Hardcover – June 1, 2008
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The Amazon Book Review
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He says he was actually the one who created the original college social networking system, before either side in the legal dispute. And he has the e-mail messages to show it... College classmates describe Mr. Greenspan as extremely bright and an unusually productive software designer... Mr. Greenspan remains extraordinarily energetic and envisions ideas for new projects. --The New York Times
'Authoritas' offers a very vivid view of a person, an institution, an educational culture, and a moment in echnological-economic history created by the internet. I bet that most people who start reading the book will, as I did, keep right on going out of fascination to see how it turns out. --James Fallows, National Correspondent, The Atlantic Monthly
Full of passages the Facebook founder would rather you not read. --Nicholas Carlson, Associate Editor, Valleywag
About the Author
Aaron Greenspan started Think Computer Corporation from his bedroom in Shaker Heights, Ohio at the age of 15. While he attended high school, Aaron grew Think to support more than 150 businesses, individuals and schools across the United States and Canada. He subsequently changed the focus of the company from IT consulting to software development. In October of 2000, Aaron spearheaded the creation of Think Computer Foundation, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization with the goal of helping children through technology. Aaron invented The Facebook while attending Harvard College in September, 2003. He graduated cum laude from Harvard in three years (Advanced Standing) with an A.B. in Economics in 2004. He lives in Palo Alto, California.
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Top Customer Reviews
The stories of inadequate ego-driven teachers and students early on in the book are relayed well. The book's exposure of incompetence, back-scratching and favoritism from supposedly upstanding academic leaders is excellent. This is a good reason to read this book, and for excellently depicting an often overlooked part of academic life, this book deserves 4 stars.
The problem is, that's not why I bought the book. I was expecting a book about the "founding of the Facebook era" as the sub-title suggests. This is certainly not a focus. From 335 pages in all, the name "Mark Zuckerberg" first appears on page 287, and any facts relating to Facebook's rise are within only the last 40 pages and are mostly tainted by disdain.
Initially the author developed a system called CriticalMass that allowed students to rate their satisfaction of different academics at Harvard. Textbook Central, a textbook trading site, followed. Another system called FAStWebmail allowed Harvard students to access their official Harvard e-mail accounts over the Web. These were eventually rolled into a system called houseSYSTEM that included some other features like course preselection and calendars.
For a few chapters after explaining how these systems were developed, the focus is on how the administration and some other students considered houseSYSTEM to be insecure and flawed, due to its pseudo-requirement to have users' official Harvard passwords (in order for the webmail function to work) and a lack of proper SSL (HTTPS) security.
In dealing with these concerns the author showed a lack of technical knowledge. He protested that only an MD-5 hash of users' passwords were stored, but if this were the case, how did his system then access the users' official e-mail accounts? The author doesn't provide a proper level of detail to make a judgment as an independent reader, and the way he portrays it may just be poor.
The author also says "Brian Wong is telling people that MD-5 generates 16-byte hashes, when it doesn't! There are 32 characters in all of them! Each ASCII character is one byte!" MD-5 generates a 16 byte hash (128 bits). That a textual hexadecimal representation of that 16 byte hash takes 32 characters does not make it a "32 byte hash."
The author has a habit of "quoting" his mental monologue, nearly all of which is negative in nature, and assuming whoever he's talking to is either an idiot or out to get him. The author's paranoia (warranted or not) permeates the last half of this book enough to make for uneasy reading. He jumps to exaggerated conclusions. Shortly after the initial security concerns, the university decides that Greenspan needs to delete the password hashes he had collected so far and "forward the list of all those whose information you have collected" in order that those students could have their passwords reset. Instead of complying with this reasonable request, the author rants about how the users table has other information like phone numbers in it and asks "What, do they want those, too?" The e-mail he quotes requested a list of people who signed up for his site, not other details. This doesn't stop the author from eventually sending the whole user table anyway!
On the SSL issue, the text implies that a self-signed certificate was used, but the author appears not to understand the identification issues with this (though those who e-mail him appear to). It's a common theme that the author, IMHO, quotes well-thought-out e-mails and refutes them poorly. He argues that a wildcard certificate would be necessary - costing some $1000, though InstantSSL had them for under $500 at the time - not realizing he could use a regular SSL certificate (under $50) for the password transfer (the parts where security really counted), and a wildcard cookie for cross sub-domain authentication beyond that.
On Facebook, he seems to feel that Zuckerberg's developments, though independent, were a rip off of his own even though Zuckerberg is constantly quoted as remaining separate. houseSYSTEM did have a "face book" feature where pictures of students were located along with their names, but this had no social networking aspect. Zuckerberg's did. Nothing the author relays gives me the impression he "founded" the "Facebook" era.
On page 302, I feel that Greenspan relays a tale of attempting to blackmail Facebook. Despite considering Zuckerburg "inarticulate and naive," he suggested that he join Facebook. When told they needed an engineer with 15 years' experience, Greenspan highlighted Facebook's problems with ConnectU (who were suing Facebook for allegedly copying their idea and stealing code) and suggested that he had "grounds to sue both of you" before suggesting that if Facebook would hire him, he'd be on their side and help the lawsuit go away.
The last 20 pages are dire. The author claims that having a full Facebook profile "would have meant I endorsed intellectual property theft" without realizing that information willingly shared is not "thieved."
Lastly, the author appears to rub most people in the book up the wrong way. Other than his closest associates and his family, almost every social interaction seems to result in the author antagonizing someone or being ignored. In many cases, he relies on his father to write e-mails and letters on his behalf (mostly unsuccessfully), rather than fight his own battles. "If Mark can get $2 billion for my ideas, I should at least be able to get a couple million!" sums up what I see as a jealous individual who, as it happens, has written a gripping and interesting book.
As good as this book is, I sense Greenspan isn't the sort of person to get over a slight easily and it saddens me that he appears restricted him from achieving all that someone with his talents could be.
The writer is, apparently, a talented technologist who cares a lot about things working right and about efficiency. Some of the things he describes having done are worth praising, like the uncovering of the apparent corruption in purchasing computers at his high school.
BUT, and there is a big but (no pun intended), I have NEVER, EVER met a man with such socialization issues like Aaron Greenspan. It seems like every day in his life, from the moment he wakes up until he retires, is a struggle against Orks, Golems and Darth Vader. Most people, when faced with the inevitable rudeness, stupidity and incompetence that we encounter every day, just shrug it off and move on. Not Aaron. Aaron gets mad, his lung collapses, he has shortness of breath and he feels suicidal. His parents seem to scream and yell all the time. He goes on save-the-world crusades, which, as he describes it, he always conducts as a timid, tongue-tied, helpless adolescent. Although he is the writer and he controls the story telling, he comes across as an irritating, insufferable cry baby who cannot deal with the world.
I sat down to read a tale of Harvard hardship and all the details of the Facebook controversy and I ended up mumbling "enough already with the nagging" every other paragraph. No wonder no girlfriend.
If anything, this book serves as a painful reminder of what can happen when one chooses to dwell too deeply on misfortune and lost opportunities. Almost anything else that Greenspan could have done with his time would have been better spent instead of writing this book.
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