Friendster Throws in the Towel

Where did Friendster go wrong?
Friendster is now officially a road kill, courtesy of the speeding car that is Facebook.

The Pioneer Goes Down

The one that started online social networking as we know it, a powerful internet presence which was once the Social Network, Friendster has fallen victim to the ever-expanding tentacles of Facebook. It tried to put up a fight - doing a full site revamp in the past couple of years. But it was like a knocked out boxer trying to stand after the count of er, 100.

On May 31, Friendster will delete all photos and profiles from its site for a total change of direction. It's still not known what new service it will be offering or if it will even continue to exist, but one thing is crystal clear - it's had enough.

Where did Friendster go wrong? No -- how could it go wrong? This has been a question asked for a thousand times already. When you're the originator of a novel idea, you always have the edge against copycats. Friendster failed to capitalize on this. While the competitors were busy trying to improve the user experience on their websites, the Friendster management was busy with the media hype, promoting the site and getting more investors, neglecting the product itself in the process. Friendster has become a case study in business schools on how not to run an internet company. It was built to self-destruct.

5 Things that Caused the Downfall

Friendster was built to self-destruct.
1. Half-Baked Code: Friendster was like a delicious cake removed from the oven too soon. The concept was superb, but the implementation had serious stability issues. It had tons of major bugs - you update something, nothing happens. You try to access it several times during the day, it was either slow or not accessible. The user base grew too fast for it to catch up. The code needed a critical overhaul - but that didn't happen. Friendster's engineers were so preoccupied sealing the individual holes they didn't notice the entire dam was about to break. They were hounded with complaints from all over.

2. Too much control given to users: Friendster gave too much freedom on user name selection. Do you ever know a person with @MrMONster!77@, or %TheDude% in his birth certificate? Encouraging anonymity in a social network is like injecting poison directly into your bloodstream - it will kill you. Instead of real-life connections, Friendster was flooded with bots and dummy accounts used for malicious reasons.

Facebook on the other hand, exercised control. Users are required to have a first name and last name limited only to alpha characters, then it gets auto-capitalized. What you have is a nice and neat friend list. Yes, you can still name yourself "Im Spiderman", but it's no longer as annoying as chatroom-like Friendster user names.

And remember how fanatic Friendster users customized their profile pages? I always muted my PC speakers whenever I visited a profile page. How many times did it happen when you visited a friend's page only to see a black screen blended with blue text backed with heavy rock metal music? Or some butterflies flying around the screen? Many times you won't even get to see anything at all. Your browser will have shut down even before the page loaded.

3. Testimonials: Testimonials appeared to be the strength of Friendster, but it turned out to be a double-edged sword that sucked the life out of the website. A model anchored in sheer flattery and not on real human interaction is bound to fail. I've written another blog about this: The Curse of the Friendster Testimonials.

4. True social network killers: Many other things contributed to the systematic demise of Friendster. The "Who's Viewed Me" feature is particularly terrifying. It may be good for the receiver as an instant pride booster, but for an innocent friend who just happened to drop by at your profile? Would you construe it as a secret interest on you? While it can be turned off, it discouraged profile visits, given the fact that many users weren't clear on how it worked. Also, the profile page was filled with trivial info. One example is the "Member Since" field. Who cares when you joined Friendster?

5. Friendster Rejected Google: Among all things that contributed to the downfall of Friendster, we can probably say that their rejection of a Google takeover was their biggest mistake. I don't know where YouTube will be now had they done the same thing. A Google-run Friendster? The battle would have been different.

The Behemoth Facebook

The rise of Facebook is not about Friendster's failure to succeed.
The rise of Facebook is not about Friendster's failure to succeed, but on how good Facebook really is. You can give it to Facebook for inventing the News Feed, which became its centerpiece. Facebook went on to become too big to compete against. Either you go for a niche or offer something else. But if you're into raw social networking, better pack-up and go.

The good thing with Friendster, is that it knew it can't win this fight. Time to move on. MySpace, LinkedIn, Multiply, Orkut - they're all there still fighting to stay alive. But it's only a matter of time before they start throwing in the towel too. As Facebook continues to grow its presence in the web, it's becoming more than just a social network - it is fast becoming the primary identity provider of the internet, threatening even Google itself.

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  1. a worthy thoughtful musing on a site that should have succeeded more than it did. i jokingly opened a friendster account in 2009, what a moribund site that is. have never found an another american active on friendster.


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