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How Facebook lost $11 billion dollars

Due to a hefty dollop of technological ineptitude, we know that Facebook is worth $11 billion less Microsoft thought it was.

Yes, we finally know what Facebook is really worth - or, at least, what Facebook thinks it is worth: about $3.7 billion. That would be $11 billion less than Microsoft thinks Facebook is worth, give or take a few hundred million.

How do we know this? A sealed agreement that came unsealed, thanks to the techno-stupidity of the legal experts involved and the magic of copy-and-paste.

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But first, some background.

Back in 2004, ConnectU founders Divya Narendra and twins Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss accused Facebook boy wonder Mark Zuckerberg of stealing their idea for a social network (then called Harvard Connection) after they hired the geeky sophomore to do a little coding for them. Naturally, they sued.

Last April, settled the suit for an undisclosed amount, which we now know to have been $20 million in cash, plus $11 million to $45 million in stock, depending on whether Facebook was worth about $9 a share (its own estimate) or $36 (Microsoft's valuation).

You'd think $20 million in US greenbacks would be enough for anybody, not even counting the stock, but you'd be wrong. After a PI uncovered more allegedly incriminating evidence against Zuckerberg, Winklevoss et al tried to overturn the agreement, thinking they could wring a lot more money out of Plucky Zucky.

Last June a judge said 'no way, Winky'. A deal is a deal. You signed it, you own it. Now beat it.

Then ConnectU's original attorneys - Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges - published a brochure boasting how they managed to squeeze $65 million out of Facebook [PDF], thus breaking the seal on the agreement. California law journal The Recorder broke that story last week.

Associated Press tech reporter Michael Liedtke found the transcript of the legal discussion surrounding that decision. The court had redacted the bits in the PDF file relating to the amount of the settlement.

But then Liedtke copied the text from the PDF file to his word processor and - hey presto! - the redacted text magically appeared, including the discussion about what Facebook thinks its own stock is worth.

(You can do it too -- it's fun for the whole family. Just open this PDF file and look for sections marked REDACTED.)

So now we know the whole story. And with characters like Divya, Plucky, and the Winky twins, it's like a fairy tale - only in this case all the fairies seem to be attorneys, and there are no heroes, just villains.

How do people so stupid get so rich?

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