How To Poke 40,000 Facebook Users in 2005

Facebook was just coming out while I was at the university, or The Facebook as it was known then.  Originally it was rolling out to university students first.  So for better or worse I got to experience a little bit of that while I was still in school.  It had a few features you don’t find in Facebook anymore, like a picture of The Fonz in the top right-hand corner (I’ve added the black and white image for context, the blue is what used to be there):

trueFonzieIt also had a feature “Poke” where you could poke people, then the next time they logged in it would tell them who had poked them.  Facebook had a FAQ at the time and one of the questions was about the meaning of the poke.  They claimed that it had no intended connotation, they just put it in there to see how people would use it.

Well without trying to examine too much why a university student would want to poke all 40,000 students in their school, merit debates aside, let just look at how to do it.

The file I grabbed it from was dated September 28, 2005.  This is really simple, we are just going to login, then synchronously generate poking URLs and call them.  You’ll see in genloginurl that the domain at the time was “”  Every school had its own domain.  Also you’ll see that we are generating the URL with a number that represented the user we are poking.  This is why it was so easy to do since everyone got a number assigned to them when they setup an account, so we could just roll through the numbers.  The other little caveat that makes this just out of the reach of dead simple is that you’ll notice I was using the CookieClient library.  When you logged-in; cookies were set in your browser and they were read when performing things like poke, so I needed a way to keep them around.

The response for the poking was pretty amazing.  Here are some incidents that resulted:

  • I was offered a pet rat from someone who didn’t want it anymore.  I had mentioned on my page that I liked rats.
  • I got a job offer from a local web hosting company.  I can’t remember who they were, the guy was really cool though.
  • I got alot of homophobic messages.  The undefined poke feature had a very clear meaning to these people and they didn’t like being on the receiving end of a poke from another man.
  • The next day I would see people get shocked when they saw me as my face snapped them into recognition.
  • I got 2 messages from a girl, they went something like this: “Hey, I saw that you poked me ;-)”  “Hey!  I saw you poked my roommate too!  What’s the big idea!?”
  • Someone called my parents house trying to get me to show up at the Registrar’s Office at 9PM at night, creepy.
  • I had one of my DJ mixes linked on my Facebook page, the first track was Milosh – Time Steals the Day.  From the 40,000 I poked, only one actually would mention the mix later and she and her friend would became fans.  Years later I think she eventually would do the Peace Corps and track me down online to get an emergency backup of the mix while she was abroad.

I remember the next month seeing there was another kid that did the same thing but he did messages and he did it across universities.  I think he asked for a buck… that might just be my imagination wanting to remember it that way.  I also saw later that he was doing a tour of university campuses.  I kind of regret not going to see what he said, “Hey, I’m the guy that asked you for a buck on The Facebook, ask me anything.”