Based on a concept modeled after John Guare's play, then movie, Six Degrees of Separation, Friendster allows you to establish a social network of friends. Then you can tap into their friends, their friends' friends and so on out to four degrees from yourself. The initial goal was for dating, but Friendster has become a social gathering place for any type of relationship.
Friendster was created by a 33 year old former Netscape software engineer named Jonathan Abrams. Having tried a few online dating sites, he found them "creepy". He decided to attempt to make something that more closely replicated how people really meet people - through their friends and related social connections.
The name Friendster was born out the connection of the words 'friend' and 'Napster'. Napster helps people make electronic connections to exchange information and Friendster attempts to do the same for friends.
Started in his living room and launched in March of this year, costs for the creation of Friendster have been kept to a minimum. Abrams won't discuss his start-up figures. His company numbers somewhere around ten engineers and only moved from his home to an office in July.
Currently, Friendster continues to be in beta mode and is free to use. It has not been disclosed when the site will start charging a subscription fee. They've begun to experiment with selling products [t-shirts, lunchboxes, hats] as a money making venture. He also claims that signing up will always be without cost, while other services may require a charge.
There has never been a press release nor advertising sent out for Friendster. The site relies purely on word of mouth / viral marketing.
As of early November, Friendster reported approximately 3 million members. They also just secured $13 million in venture capital last month, which brings their valuation to about $53 million. Not bad for a year's work.top
Explicitly spelled out on the main page, the purpose is...
Friendster is an online community that connects people through networks of friends for dating or making new friends.
You can use Friendster to:
Meet new people to date, through your friends and their friends
Make new friends
Help your friends meet new people
Create your own personal and private community, where you can interact with people who are connected to you through networks of mutual friends. It's easy and fun!
Friendster's demographic tends toward the urban, liberal, technologically literate 24-35 year old. Through the use of listing favorite books, films and other interests, there is a leaning to draw attention to those that are witty, interesting in their tastes or quirky.
As news of Friendster has spread, it has been reported in weblogs, via instant messaging and through e-mail. It is an electronic service for a generation that has grown up with technology. There is a strong community of users, in particular, in the larger, more hip, urban areas of New York and and San Francisco.
As of early November, Friendster has signed up more than 3 million members. Site traffic has risen dramatically since March, which can be seen on this graph from Alexa.com. It is particularly interesting to compare Friendster with Tribe.net to see how the competition is gaining.
Due to their unexpected popularity, one downside has been the network traffic. As more people joined the service, it has become slower during peark hours. The site briefly collapsed under the weight of its traffic in July.
Anyone can join Friendster. The trick, however, is not just to join, but to get your friends to join so as to build your social network.
This is the initial screen that pops up once you log in. It shows your currently displayed picture and, more importantly, the current count in your social network. The number represents the number of friends you have, their friends, their friends' friends - out to four degrees.
As can be seen by the photos displayed in the sidebar, there is a certain social capital to be gained through particulary interesting, funny or strange photos.
Also displayed here is the Bulletin Board. Messages can be sent only to your friends advertising parties, making contact, discussing elections...
The heart of Friendster is the profile. This is where anyone can display their real or not so real tasts in books, films, activities. Importantly, this is also the place where you list 'About me' and 'Who I want to meet'. One particularly funny profile listed 'Awesome' and 'Anyone who's awesome' as their responses. Cleverness carries a lot of social capital on Friendster.
The information listed in the profile is all indexed. It allows you to click on any one of your interests and see everyone else in your network that has the same taste. This information can also be used for searching for other users.
By clicking on any one of my friends, you can then see their profile and their lists of friends. And so on, and so on, ...
Another method of evaluating someone's capital, beyond their number of friends, is the number of testimonials. Or even more importantly, what is written in the testimonials. After all, if your friends are all writing funny comments, chances are you're funny.
Since the goal of Friendster is for you to meet new people, Friendster gives you lots of opportunity to do this. One is through a block of faces that appears every time you go to your page, or hit the reload button. They are people that are in your network and also new people that have recently joined your network.
Once you've tired of trolling through your friends, the Gallery is available to do more serious searching. There is a menu of options to search on. As with everything in Friendster, you are limited to your social network. That's why it's so attractive to collect as many friends as you can.
Friendster, ultimately, is an exemplification of the strength of weak ties. The concept that you are more likely to meet new friends, or potential dates, through your friends is what this service is all about. The interesting aspect is to look at how wide spread that social network gets very quickly. After all, the more people you have in your social network, the more potential you have for making contact.top
There are several elements to the Friendster community which make it unique. The first, and perhaps most addictive, is the collecting of friends like trading cards. The second step, which falls clearly into Nan Lin's reinforcement, is the writing of testimonials.
There is a definite evaluation that happens by looking at the number of friends someone has. It is the basis of their social capital. Very few friends seems to symbolize a lack of interest in participating, or a poor social network. Too many friends can be equally disarming. It can signal that someone is just adding anyone they can find, as opposed to having a more like real life representative group of friends, or that they're not actually a person.
Fakesters have been a phenomenon on Friendster. A Fakester is an invented profile which can be absurd to convincing. There are Courney Loves, Kurt Cobains, Saddam Husseins and Jesus Christs. Many have very funny profiles and it's fun to say that you're 'friends' with Kim Jong Il.
A growing element has been Friendster burn out. Although hot and intensely used in the June through September time frame, use has dropped as depicted on the network traffic graph shown earlier. Most users tend to sign on, collect their friends, tap out their immediate social network and grow tired of the service. It will be interesting to see how this changes when Friendster begins charging a fee.
Fakesters have also bred what I'll call groups. These are profiles which encompass a location, a business, a school, etc. They are another method of social networking beyond your friends. It seems that they are a layer that Friendster didn't allow for, but has sprung up organically. Competing services [discussed below] have begun to create Friendster-like networks that do incorporate these types of tools.
One such group which gained popularity quickly is the Mob. In essence, the Mob is a profile that lets you know of Smart Mobs in your area. I'm not clear on the demographics of the Mob, but it seems focussed on the triangle region but has ties to New York. True to Friendster's viral marketing, I learned of the Mob by seeing it listed as one of my friends' friends.top
Social capital is gained or lost on Friendster through words. If these words are clever, you may gain more attention to your profile, potentially attract more friends to your network, and possibly even have them write testimonials for you. Through these three elements, your reputation is established.
The Profile along with number and type of friends are the capital of Friendster. One unique characteristic, and perhaps why it has gained such popularity, is that it attracts a clever clientele. One that is able to write witty commentary in their profile, thus attracting like minded people. If your profile is boring, its worth can be upped through linking to more interesting profiles in your Friendster network.
Testimonials are the reinforcements of Friendster. It's the next step after having someone agree to be part of your social network. It's their ability to share their influence with you. This is especially important if they're a good writer, or particularly humorous, or have a good collection of friends themselves.top
The only comparable internet phenomenon in recent years was Friends Reunited out the UK. Here are some more recent entries to the market which are competing with Friendster.
- Everyone's Connected
"Allows you to do online what you already do in real life - meet people through friends you already know whether to date or just have fun."
"The Friend of a Friend (FOAF) project is about creating a Web of machine-readable homepages describing people, the links between them and the things they create and do."
"It's all about expressing yourself, enhancing your life and making friends."
"A place for friends."
- Six Degrees
"Imagine a dating site merged with a travel guide, all within six degrees of seperation."
- Three Degrees
"Everyone agreed that they wanted to build a product that would affect how people use the internet and how people socialize using technology."
"Tribe.net is a service where friends help friends do everything from finding a job to sharing their favorite restaurant."
"Find the people you need through the people you trust"
"Ryze helps you expand your business network."
- Zero Degrees
"Enables individuals and enterprises to harness the power of social networks for revenue acceleration and productivity enhancement."
"STD-ster is an online community that connects people through networks of sexual partners for tracking STD contraction."
"Fiendster is a online community that connects people through networks of fiends who are into boring the pants of each other or who want to make new fiends fast."
"Wifester is a online community that connects people to a network of one person."
"Introvertster is an online community that prevents stupid people and friends from harrassing you online."
Jean Ferguson | JOMC 391: Virtual Communities | Last updated 11.20.03