A funny thing happened on Hacker News today. Seemingly out of nowhere, someone posted a vintage-looking link and the eye-popping title: "Mark Zuckerberg's first website is still on Angelfire." Clicking through takes you back in time to an HTML-tastic homepage with an animated gif of a dinosaur eye in the middle. "Hello and welcome to my page!" reads the text. "The only site where a yellow eye blinks at you."
This appears to be Mark Zuckerberg's old Angelfire page. It could also be some strange, quasi-elaborate hoax meant to embarass Zuck with Eminem references and a silly game called "Cow-a-bungee." But there's a lot of compelling evidence that this thing is legit.
The first piece of affirmative evidence is the email on the bottom of the home page: Themarke51@aol.com. That's a pretty cheesy screen name (pronounced "The Markie 51," I think) but what would you expect from the billionaire in Adidas sandals? To try and get some more details about the account, I went over to Aol Mail, punched in the address and hit "Recover Password." I was hoping for an email, but I got something better: the screen name of the primary account holder. It's ekzooks, a handle that's used all over the web by one "Dr. Edward Zuckerberg." Here's Dr. Zuck's Pinterest page which uses the same name:
This isn't really enough to confirm that Mark Zuckerberg created this site. It is curious that a Google search for that email address only returns pages from the Angelfire site. However, digging into the page's metadata yields yet more clues.
The source code on the home page lists "Mark Zuckerberg" as the author of the page. (There's no mention of his full last name on the front-facing site, though there is an updated version of Zuckerberg's Vader Fader called the Zuck Fader.)
A search through the Wayback Machine also confirms that the page was built in 1999, the year Zuck would've been a freshman in high school. The Angelfire site is hosted in the New York subdomain; the Zuckerberg family lives in Westchester County.
Knowing all those things, this "About Me" text seems pretty believable slash hilarious:
Hi, my name is...Slim Shady. No, really, my name is Slim Shady. Just kidding, my name is Mark (for those of you that don't know me) and I live in a small town near the massive city of New York. I am currently 15 years old and I just finished freshman year in high school.
It's funny because people really made that joke in 1999, and it was funny!
There are also some more nuanced clues that this is indeed Mark Zuckerberg's old Angelfire site. T.C. Sottek at The Verge points out a lightweight Java-based program that's embedded in the site and which is described simply as a "The Web." Its description bears a lot of similarities to Zuckerberg's idea of a social graph, not to mention the very basic functions of Facebook. I'll paste the text in full so that you can comprehend how Zuckerberg might've already been thinking about how to connect people online way back in the 1990s. It's almost too good to be true:
As of now, the web is pretty small. Hopefully, it will grow into a larger web. This is one of the few applets that require your participation to work well. If your name is already on The Web because someone else has chosen to be linked to you, then you may choose two additional people to be linked with. Otherwise, if you see someone who you know and would like to be linked with but your name is not already on The Web, then you can contact me and I will link that person to you and put you on The Web. If you do not know anyone on The Web, contact me anyway and I will put you on it. In order for this applet to work, you must E-Mail me your name and the names of the two people that you would like to be linked with. Thank you!
That too good to be true mantra is something you ought to keep telling yourself as you're exploring this little Zuck-inspired playground. Either this is a very elaborate hoax that manages to nail every single detail, or it really is Zuck's old Angelfire page. It's hard to know if this is the first website he ever built, but given how people used Angelfire at the time, this might be his first appearance in social media — or at least the predecessor to social media.
Either way, it's fun to surf around. The section of the site called "The Best" is, erhmm, the best. Therein are multiple references to Douglas Kim, an online poker whiz who grew up near Zuckerberg in Yonkers, New York and is only a couple of years older. There's Zuck's favorite phrase: "Suck it!" And that ego. Recognize this attitude: "The best - Me"