Baylor network gets mention in Oscar-nominated film

The Oscar-nominated movie, "The Social Network," contains a reference to an online network created by students at Baylor in 2002.

Its creators say it was closer to Craigslist or eBay than Facebook, but a student-run online network started in 2002 could place Baylor University into an Oscar-winning film.

The movie “The Social Network,” screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s account of Harvard University student Mark Zuckerberg and the early days of what became the social media giant Facebook.com, won a best picture nomination Tuesday morning, one of eight collected by the 2010 feature.

As thousands of film-watching Baylor University students, faculty members, graduates and others have noted since the movie’s October release, a Baylor reference occurs about midway in the film.

In 2003, Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) urged Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) to expand his Facebook program to private campuses with similar networking systems, such as one at Baylor University, before others beat them to the punch.

At that time, Baylor had a networking system known as the Baylor Information Network.

But Micheal Pettibone, one of BIN’s creators, said their system was different from Facebook.

“The idea was never about interconnecting campuses, but connecting Baylor students to the university,” Pettibone said. “We were probably closer to what the two guys who sued the Harvard Connection (Zuckerberg rivals Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss) had in mind than what Zuckerberg did with Facebook.”

The BIN was a student online service that integrated e-mail, a message board, for- sale notices, campus news and more. It ran from 2002 to 2008 before more robust online services such as Facebook and eBay made it extraneous.

“It was a valuable experience for us and for the students who built it,” said Randy Woodruff, Baylor assistant vice president for video and electronic marketing. “It gave us a better understanding of social media.”

Woodruff now runs the university’s Facebook page, which numbers more than 44,000 friends.

The BIN started in fall 2002 when Bradley Pierce, then a 19-year-old sophomore running for internal student body vice president, wanted some sort of universitywide information network with which Baylor students could vote in campus elections, keep in touch with campus news and activities, sell used textbooks and other items, and publish faculty evaluations.

“That kind of ballooned into BIN, although we never did get faculty evaluations on there,” recalled Pierce, now an Austin-area attorney with Heritage Defense.

Upon winning election to Baylor student government, Pierce started looking for technical help to implement his computer plan. Computer science major Pettibone answered Pierce’s query. Both wanted the blessing and help of the Baylor administration and found that in Woodruff, then the university’s new director of Internet/Information Systems.

Woodruff provided some resources, but largely let students design and run the BIN. Pettibone and three other Baylor students found a similar, more-developed project at the University of Oklahoma, tagged the Sooner Information Network, and used its open source code as a starter.

“We had to change its name to BIN. We thought (SIN) was something we couldn’t bring on campus,” Woodruff said.

The Baylor vice president hired Pettibone after his graduation in fall 2002 to get BIN off the ground. A core of students then ran the network with administrative oversight.

A security breach in late 2007, plus the fact that it was taking more effort and resources to educate incoming students about BIN, helped pull the plug by early 2008.

“It’s listed on my resume. We definitely had a lot of fun with it,” said Pierce, 28, who said he hasn’t seen “The Social Network.”

Pettibone, 29, works in enterprise software in the Dallas-area offices of software giant Oracle and watched the movie on DVD this month. He knew, however, of the film’s Baylor shout-out back in October.

How? More than 100 messages from college friends — all on his Facebook page.

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