Friendster is an interesting phenomenon. The premise of site is that it’s easier to meet and become friends with folks if you are somehow connected to them. This is common sense and much validated by my experience–one of the things that made meeting folks in hostels when traveling was that you knew you had at least one thing in common with them: you were interested in travel. And this is true of other clubs and special interest groups–the Elks, adult sports teams, volunteer organizations, book discussion groups–all these are venues for adults to hang out with other people, knowing they have a common interest (which is whatever the purpose of the organization is).

Friendster takes this to a new level by making the social connections, by which we all have benefited, automated. Instead of having to introduce all my college friends to all my friends in Boulder, I can just invite both the Friendster, and let them check each other out. Of course, this is a pale imitation of true networking, but it’s a start. And, as many folks can attest, something that starts out as a simple on line friendship can become as deep and real as any other.

What’s interesting to me is that the level of effort to ‘get to know’ someone is very much reduced. You just look at their profile and you see what’s important to them. It’s almost as though there’s another level of friendship being created–you know more about these people than strangers or acquaintances, but less than real friends. I’ve had people email me, asking me to be their ‘friendster.’ This level of familiarity is disintermediated (I can operate entirely virtually) and permanent (unless I delete my profile, it’s going to be there as long as Friendster is around) and public (anyone connected to me can see my profile–family, friends, enemies). This means that the level of intimacy and sharing on Friendster is drastically less than you’d find at other ‘meeting places,’ including a house party.

Another interesting topic is: how the heck is Friendster going to survive. They’ve obviously put a lot of time and effort into their software. (For that matter, the members of Friendster have also put in a substantial time and data commitment.) How can the website make money (at least enough to make the site a wee bit faster)? I can see four ways:

1. Selling user information. Not very palatable, and I think this would drastically affect the quality of information that folks would be willing to give them. I’m not a big fan of giving corporations something valuable of mine to sell, and my connections definitely are valuable to me. In terms of selling information generated by users, by posting anything to Friendster, I grant them “an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, fully paid, worldwide license to use, copy, perform, display, and distribute such information and content and to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such information and content, and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing.” In terms of selling information about users, their privacy policy doesn’t mention the possibility, other than specifying that if they change their use of personal information, they’ll email us.

2. Advertising–they already have some on the site, but we’ve all seen how profitable advertising funded websites are. Even if you’re getting a tremendous number of hits a day, the advertising has to be very focused to be successful.

3. Selling subscriptions. This is definitely coming down the pike. It will be interesting to see how many folks bail. Personally, the content on Friendster just isn’t compelling enough to pay for. If I wanted to stay in contact with old friends, especially in the age of free long distance on the weekends, I’d just call them.

4. Affiliation with product vendors. This would be easy to implement (after all, Friendster is already capturing book, movie and music info about users), wouldn’t impinge on current usage, and would offer a valuable service to users. Frankly, I’m surprised they haven’t done it already.

I like Friendster, and I like the idea of a new set of folks to ask questions of, interact with, and send email to. But I’m just not sure how long it’s going to survive. Enjoy it while it’s here.


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