Friendster: The Greatest Disappointment in Internet History

The social network Friendster is relatively unknown here in Europe. But it was the website that kicked off a craze that was better capitalised on by competitors such as Facebook, who just last week announced they had surpassed 350 million users. The social network that initially took advantage of the work of Friendster was Myspace.

Oddly while the News Corporation owned social network has had its own troubles of late, Friendster has flourished in Asia, culminating in a sale today for an estimated $110 million. This might be a paltry sum compared to the $580 million paid for Myspace in 2005, or the $850 paid for Bebo by AOL in 2008. But does this deal, which has been described as a ‘bummer’ by some, represent better value for money? After all Friendster has amassed 115 million users since its ‘downfall’ in the USA and Wikipedia mentions the firm has received just $45 million in funding since 2002.

Has this deal also signalled the ‘coming of age’ for Web 2.0 start ups? After all this was a firm whose star shone brightly but briefly, disappearing from the west, leading other start ups to exclaim they did not want to be ‘another Friendster’. The firm never disappeared, but retreated and reorganised and has found its niche in Asia where it is currently the social network with the highest number of unique visitors. Perhaps the Friendster story may have some lessons that other social networks can learn as they face plummeting traffic.

A Brief History of Friendster
So where did it all go wrong for Friendster? While the success of Myspace is relatively well known, some have attributed its rise at the expense of the lesser known Friendster. This site was launched to compete with other online dating websites in 2002. However a sudden increase in website traffic, brought not only technical problems as the site could not cope with the increased demand on its service, but also alienated long term users. The older users disliked this influx as it brought, back into contact, acquaintances no longer in their offline social network.

As problems continued on the technical front, new ones began to emerge for the website owners. The dating focus of the site was being diluted as users began to search for former classmates, bands started to advertise gigs and users began to create ‘fake’ profiles of entertainment or sporting icons, also known as ‘fakesters’. The website owners began to delete the ‘fakesters’ and clamp down on non-dating activities on the site. Users, old and new, began to lose trust with the website. Rumours of a new fee based system circulated and users became further disillusioned with the service and began looking for another service that could meet their needs. Friendster and its popularity, in the USA, faded. However, Myspace recognised the failure of Friendster to adapt its service as users demanded, which was to become a key element of the Myspace service. Friendster was once described as the ‘greatest disappointment in internet history’.

But that was the past for Friendster and with new Asian owners the site may become an even greater force in the online world. Just reading this again and looking at how Myspace became more popular than Friendster, could turn out to be Myspace’s achilles heel. Personally, I stopped using Myspace almost 3 years ago because I was tired of reading illegible text on multi coloured backgrounds that took an age to load up. I have only returned on a handful of occasions to check out the odd band, but even for that I prefer to use any other service but Myspace. And since then almost everyone I know has a Facebook account and unless there’s a mass migration back to Myspace I doubt it will ever become my first choice for a social network again. Why is FB more popular? Its simplicity, ease on the eye and its where everyone is.

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