Friendster, You Blew It I read yesterday about how Google now has produced their own Frienster-like service (www.orkut.com) after Friendster shot down Google's offer of $30 million. Thirty million! I knew that guy, Frienster creator Jonathan Abrams, was a tool (he continues to kill off all my fake baseball player friends), but I didn't think he was a complete idiot.
I will say this, though. Friendster was a great idea. It was the first time since the heyday of the Internet bubble that I really felt that there was something new and fun happening on the Web -- something completely unnecessary but ridiculously addictive and seemingly vital (I mean, besides happyrobot). I heard a lot of folks say that Friendster was like a virtual high school yearbook. One in which you could collect signatures from your friends and crushes -- a portfolio of your experiences and your relationships with people who shape the world around you (including celebrities, landmarks, cities, sports figures, and products). It's all a big fun party until people stop bringing their yearbooks to school. Or, say, you can't open your yearbook because it is broken. Or perhaps it takes you three minutes to turn a page.
I guess what I'm saying is that Jonathan Abrams had a goldmine in front of him (he probably still does, and will get a nice early retirement when all is said and done), but he has neglected his baby and people are fleeing in droves. He fails to see that the yearbook signing party is no fun if people don't show up to school.
Some major grievances I have with Friendster:
*Fix your goddamn bugs - I have had a message in my inbox for about three months now that I cannot delete. I have read it, yet it shows up as unread. When I log on to Friendster I think I have a new message, and it's just the same old one. I guess I should have known nobody would write me a new message, because all my friends have given up on the site.
*The Gallery doesn't work - How the fuck are you supposed to find new friends (isn't that the point of Friendster?) if the Gallery is broken. I have pressed the Gallery function every day for the past few weeks and I either have nobody in my gallery (impossible) or it tells me to try again later. How about I don't try again later? Ever.
*Fakesters are half the fun - When Friendster goes and deletes profiles belonging to celebrities, locations, or inanimate objects it fails to see the importance of these things. I am a firm believer that you can truly learn more about a person by looking at his/her bookshelf or record collection than you can from two solid hours of conversation. Same goes for looking at people's collection of fake Friendsters. Sure, I understand that this kind of undermines the seriousness of the site, and surely makes Friendster's board of directors nervous, but this is a tool created for the people, and the people have spoken: they want to boast their hometown, their favorite band, and their pet, as their friend. And if they're worried about lawsuits, most of the Fakesters I see fall under satire or parody. Famous people are fair game. Lighten up.
*The site is so slow it's unforgivable - Any site that turns down an offer of $30 million gets absolutely no sympathy when it comes to the ridiculous sluggishness of the site. Buy some servers. If I ware logging on to retrieve some medical test results, maybe I would stick around for a few minutes while the page loads. But this is trivial, mindless, and something to do to pass time. It should be snappy.
The problem here, is that now that we're addicted, where can we go? I have tried myspace. It's full of hookers, thugs, and unfortunately lets these poor souls "customize" their pages with sound files, different fonts, colors, and backgrounds. Needless to say, myspace is sloppy, unkempt, flashy and trashy. Kind of like a virtual Los Angeles, compared to a very East Coast-feeling Friendster. A few minutes spent browsing myspace and you're convinced that there is a whole generation of Paris Hilton and Fred Durst wannabes out there. It's really scary and depressing. Except for the occasional boobies, which is not scary or depressing at all.
One would hope that someone would take the idea of a virtual communities site like Friendster, and give it the appropriate thought, time, and resources to encourage its longterm growth. I kind of like the idea that it may become whatever it will become. That people may take over and it may evolve into something that nobody could ever quite have dreamed up in the first place. I mean, aren't the best Internet businesses about how many eyeballs you have, how much time people spend, and how willing they might be to pay a little bit to participate? Friendster is currently losing that game. Abrams should have sold it to Google, taken his $30 million and gone far, far away, and let someone else with Google's brains and brawn take over.