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MARK ZUCKERBERG

BY IAIN S BRUCE

Rattling towards the end of a year which has seen the conclusion of his meteoric journey from hot academic prospect to Ivy League dropout to multi-millionaire, Facebook inventor Mark Zuckerberg will walk into 2008 as one of the internet's most influential and controversial figures.

Less than 60 days after Microsoft handed the 23-year-old a reported $240 million for a 1.6% slice of the social-networking site he built in a Harvard dorm room, the prince of geeks is fighting off his detractors in a fresh bout of controversy. Accused of breaching the privacy rights of Facebook's 59m users with the botched November launch of a new advertising system, Zuckerberg will look back on 2007 with conflicting emotions.

Born into a middle-class Jewish family from upstate New York, from a young age Zuckerberg exhibited all the symptoms of a technology wunderkind. He reputedly began developing his own software applications in the lower reaches of high school, and it surprised few when he was admitted to Harvard in 2002.

Continuing his private computer studies, he fell foul of the college authorities after setting up a website allowing students to rate each other's attractiveness online. Within four hours it had been shut down. Undeterred, he continued to develop his ideas on using the web to connect people socially, and in February 2004 he launched Facebook.

Initially restricted to Harvard students, the site's popularity quickly saw membership extended to other American colleges and by summer Zuckerberg knew he was on to something big. Recruiting fellow geek Dustin Moskovitz and two roommates, he dropped out and launched Facebook on the world stage.

Since then his rise has been meteoric, but mired in controversy. Accusations have been levelled that his invention is actually a pastiche of ideas from other people's websites, and he is the subject of a long-running legal suit lodged by a company which alleges he misappropriated trade secrets.

Fresh-faced, humorous and just a little nerdy, Zuckerberg and his long-term girlfriend Priscilla Chan appear to have weathered the storm well. That said, the ride is not over yet. He has been accused of lying to the New York Times in an interview about the controversial Beacon advertising system and he is faced with many managerial challenges.

Supergeek or opportunist? The jury is still out, but 2008 may well be the year Mark Zuckerberg is finally figured out.

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