The New Stuff

The Sad Fate of Friendster

FriendsterRemember when LiveJournal was sold to some Russian company nobody’s ever heard of? The once-great blogging pioneer, which was among the first services of its kind to boast such cool features as comment threading and social networking, eventually failed to evolve and fell to the wayside. Now LiveJournal is nothing more than a mass online group therapy session for wrist-slashing emos.

History repeats itself with another pioneer that failed to adapt. If you’ve been into social networking for a while, then you would remember the Great Friending of 2003. That’s the year when Friendster introduced the concept of the online social networking service, when we all rushed to map out our social graphs online for the first time. Heck, Friendster even owns a patent for social relationships, a dubious patent to say the least.

Sadly, Friendster failed to capitalize on its initial success. Instead, like the proverbial hare in a race with the tortoise, the early starter rested on its laurels and failed to follow through on two very important things:

1) Scalablity. Friendster’s scalability problems started with cache replication errors here and there. Then they got worse. Dozens of friends would disappear at a time. Updates would fail to show up, a no-no in the realtime Web. Eventually, it got so bad that the whole site went down for four days without explanation last year. Friendster’s failure to scale gave MySpace the opportunity to rocket ahead in the social networking space.

2) Interoperability. Facebook introduced its application platform. MySpace introduced MySpaceID. Twitter’s rich APIs spawned hundreds of mashups. While all that was happening, Friendster remained… Friendster, the same old social information silo it always was. That’s how Facebook became the world’s top social network, with 350 million users using Facebook Connect 60 million times a month across the Web. That’s why over six thousand sites across the Internet — from huge sites like The New York Times to tiny sites like my own personal blog — now support Facebook Connect, and not Friendster Connect.

Friendster’s spin doctors would have you believe the site still rules Southeast Asia. That’s a lie. It’s the same kind of lie Carol Bartz tells about Yahoo: commercial strength among the unwashed and disengaged masses. I’m currently typing this post from the tropical paradise of the Philippines, surrounded by all its beautiful women — the most beautiful of whom are on Facebook and MySpace and Twitter. Around here, Friendster is considered the online hangout of the lower class. Think about the kind of people you see on MySpace, scaled down to the third world. You’ll get the picture. That’s why your next social network ad campaign to target Southeast Asia will probably be on Facebook, and not on Friendster.

I actually dread the thought of Friendster rolling out a federated identity service, something like Facebook Connect or MySpaceID or Twitter OAuth. Friendster is filled with moronic teenagers who type in mIzSpElT cAmElCaSe. God forbid Friendster Connect spread them across teh Intarwebz.

Even after all these years, Friendster still hasn’t figured out that it needs interoperability, that social information silos just won’t cut it in the age of the mashup, that it takes more than just fancy layouts and teenybopper marketingspeak to succeed in an interoperable medium like the Web. From its cutesy unreadable logo with vague cloud computing allusions to its Twitter-wannabe front page, Friendster’s new interface looks like a parody of Web 2.0 design motifs.

The most recent ad for Friendster even flies in the face of Metcalfe’s Law, actually mocking Facebook’s popularity and trumpeting Friendster’s status as a hopelessly insular, disconnected, geographically isolated information silo. Apparently, Friendster is only for Asian teenagers with no concept of data portability or people outside their little cliques — and they’d like it to stay that way, thank you very much. White/black/Hispanic people who’ve been spoiled on the power and reach of the Facebook platform aren’t welcome at Friendster’s little kiddie clubhouse.

For all these reasons and more, Friendster has met a fate similar to that of LiveJournal years before: sold off to some Malaysian company nobody’s ever heard of, all for the piddling sum of $110 million. Oh yeah, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is just quivering in his boots. After all, Facebook is only worth $15 billion.

Even Zynga, maker of the popular Facebook game Farmville, makes only $250 million per year. Oh yeah, Zynga founder Mark Pincus is just itching to drop Facebook in favor of Friendster. To quote the new Friendster ad, whoop dee doo.

Let the sad fate of Friendster serve as a lesson to founder Jonathan Abrams, and all pioneers who whine about their supposed entitlements while smart competitors leave them in the dust. Nobody cares if you were the first to do social networking, or blogging, or sliced bread, or fire, or the frickin’ wheel. Seniority does not equal relevance. Evolve or perish.

(Image by Paolo Marinduque.)

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