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Front page for The Stanford Daily – Meetings can’t revive online Facebook- October 5, 1999 by Nadira Hira

Student designers plug away at Steamtunnels site without student pictures

By Nadira Hira
Contributing writer
Tuesday, October 5, 1999

The student designers of a Web site that features an online Facebook have temporarily halted their efforts to put Stanford students pictures on the Web without prior consent.

Seniors Aaron Bell, Lawrence Gentilello and Tuyen Truong – the designers of The Steamtunnels: Stanford’s Underground (http://steamtunnels.net) – and members of the University administration met Sept. 23 to discuss the possibility of re-establishing the Facebook component of the site, which had been shut down the week before at the University’s request.

Based upon issues of liability, Bell, Gentilello and Truong, known on the Web site by screen names Drunken Master, DJ Monkey and The Sultan, respectively, have decided to fold on the Facebook issue for now.  However, they will continue exploring ways to revive the online Facebook in a manner that addresses the University’s concerns of privacy, safety and copyright.

The issue had been tabled from the previous week to accommodate the arrival of this year’s freshmen.  In the Sept. 23 meeting, the administration and students hoped to look more closely at the issues that concerned both parties and, specifically, the possibility of recreating the Facebook component of Steamtunnels in a form that complied with University guidelines.

“The meeting went well,” Gentilello said.  “It was well organized, and I felt like were on a level playing field this time.”

Bell said that, in the first meeting, the administration spoke at length about the temporary nature of shutting down the Facebook component of the site.

But he said that in the second meeting the University’s approach had not changed, despite the designers’ cooperation, and that administrators were not interested in working with the designers to change the situation.

Dean of Students Marc Wais called the meeting a “very cordial” one.  “[The students] seemed to understand and agree with our concern regarding student privacy and safety,” he said.  “Secondly, we again repeated the conditions under which the University would allow them to generate a Facebook component, namely prior notification of students and submission of original photos by those students.”

One of the University’s original objections to the site’s Facebook component, third after student privacy and safety, was violation of copyright in the use of the Facebook photos.

The site’s designers initially questioned this concern, arguing that only the format of a compilation such as the Facebook can be copyrighted and, furthermore, that the photos were the individual property of the students who submitted them and not the University’s.

In order to address these questions, the University brought a copyright lawyer to the second meeting.

“[She] know here stuff and brought up a technicality that we were unfamiliar with,” Gentilello said.  “[She] said that the publisher adjusted the tones, lightness and brightness of the pictures, which thereby imparted a thread of proprietary content into the photos. ”

Despite the loss of the site’s Facebook component, Steamtunnels still includes a radio station, a restaurant guide and a comparison textbook shopper.

Wais emphasized the viability of the site in its current form, saying the University was impressed by the designers’ concept.

“It is my belief that the students who developed this Web site were well-intentioned in trying to provide Stanford students with a useful tool in assessing information about fellow students and community resources, such as local restaurants,” Wais said.  “I have found the Web site to be interesting, fun and informative.  It has the potential to be another great resource of information for our students.”

Read on for San Francisco Chronicle articles about the Stanford Facebook.

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