Prior to 2004, each dorm or house at Harvard had its own, structurally unique, online database.
Considering that there are 17 freshmen dormitories and 12 upperclassmen houses, this made it difficult to track down someone's email address or phone number if you didn't know where that person lived.
Above is fake Mark Zuckerberg compiling data from each one individually in The Social Network in order to build Facemash.
In an article published in The Harvard Crimson on February 9, 2004—five days after Facebook launched—Zuck described some of the motivation for creating the site:
“Everyone’s been talking a lot about a universal face book within Harvard,” Zuckerberg said. “I think it’s kind of silly that it would take the University a couple of years to get around to it. I can do it better than they can, and I can do it in a week.”
College officials, however, also claimed that an internal facebook was also in the works:
“There is a project internally with computer services to create a facebook,” [Director of Residential Computing Kevin] Davis said. “We’ve been in touch with the Undergraduate Council, and this is a very high priority for the College. We have every intention of completing the facebook by the end of the spring semester.”
Finally, on September 17, 2004, Harvard's internal facebook launched
As reported by The Crimson:
“We certainly didn’t launch this college facebook to compete in any way with thefacebook.com or to respond to thefacebook.com,” Davis said.
[Student council rep Andrew] Stillman said the two online facebooks serve different purposes.
“thefacebook.com is good for social networking whereas if you just want to look somebody up, the new facebook site is more useful,” Stillman said.