Friendster: More popular than ever, but is it over?

In just 18 months, site has gone from ultra-hip to square

Pop Culture

February 22, 2004|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,Sun Staff

The life span of a trend -- in the physical world or online -- is by definition short.

On the Internet, so many "groundbreaking" Web sites have the shelf life of a dairy product.

Some examples: pointcast. com (which the Wall Street Journal once said had " 'must have' status for in-the-know computer owners"), suck.com and boo.com were once hailed by tech-savvy members of the in crowd. Now the first is kaput, the second is rarely visited and the third has morphed beyond recognition.

Could the clock now be ticking on current hot spot Friendster.com?

With 5.3 million people signed on to it -- and more discovering it every day -- we're not predicting the imminent demise of the site. But, if the fate of other once-trendy Web sites is any indication, Friendster's coolness quotient could be in jeopardy.

The idea behind Friendster is clever. The site, which is free of charge, gives each person who joins a home page on which to display their interests, dating status, geographical location and several photographs. People link to one another to create online networks of friends.

Then they surf these networks for other people with similar interests, provocative ideas or hot photos. For frequent users, these networks can include tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people. Members send messages to each other or post to a bulletin board. It can be hours and hours of nonproductive fun.

But how much longer will today's digital darling hold sway? Who knows if you'll even remember what Friendster was by this time next year?

TIMELINE

2002

August

The creator: Jonathan Abrams, 33, a former Netscape employee, develops Friendster. com in classic start-up fashion -- in his Silicon Valley apartment.

2003

January

The fanatic: Danah Boyd, a 26-year-old hipster working toward her Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley, decides to take time off from school. She joins Friendster.com before it opens to the general public, and starts obsessively tracking the people who use it.

March

The launch: Abrams opens the site and allows the public to explore Friendster. On the launch date, the Friendster population is "a few thousand users."

April

Early adopters: Friendster expert Boyd describes early users as "the Burning Man crew, the gay boy network, all sorts of hipsters, all of whom thought it was their world." She begins tracking their behavior.

May 29

Discovered: The first major news article about Friendster appears. "I should confess that after just three weeks of membership, I've become modestly addicted to Friendster," Tommy Nguyen writes in the Los Angeles Times.

June 10

Validated: "Friendster is now making its own climb to Internet stardom," says the Village Voice. Friendster population: 300,000 people.

July

Celebs arrive: Actor Matthew McConaughey signs on to Friendster. (Friendster spokeswoman Lisa Kopp assures us that it is the "real" Matthew McConaughey, not an impostor.) Presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry also signs on. A few months later, rocker Ahmet Zappa uses Friendster to announce his engagement to actress Selma Blair.

July 24

Early rejecters: Tribe.net -- another "social networking software" -- is launched. Founders of the site say they don't compete with Friendster, but the hipsters start switching over to it.

July 29

Lampooned: Greg Storey creates Introvertster.com: "It's not fair that people who prefer people should get all the cool Web applications. Just because I'm Introverted doesn't mean I don't have needs too. ... So for you and me, Joe Goaway, I present Introvertster -- a new way to get rid of people."

August

Growing pains: "Fakesters," people who create false identities, proliferate as Friendster's population expands. Many are deleted, but it is hard for Friendster.com to keep up. An identity for "Cocaine" existed briefly before it was zapped; identities for "Baltimore," "Johns Hopkins" and "Osama bin Laden" are still up on the site.

Oct. 30

Going legit: Legendary Silicon Valley venture capitalist John Doerr (Compaq, Intuit, Netscape, Sun Microsystems, Amazon.com) and others pour $13 million into Friendster's coffers. Doerr also takes a seat on Friendster's board of directors. Good for Friendster the company; bad for Friendster's image?

November

Critical mass: Friendster reaches 3 million users -- but who are they? "The early-adopter hipsters were gone by fall," said Boyd. "[The site] kept getting slower and slower; everyone had their own breaking point."

Dec. 17-21

Cliche alert: Friendster's name is dropped both on Fox's sexy teen drama The O.C. and WB's small-town family drama Everwood. On the latter, a middle-aged character refers to the site as "some kind of Internet dating service."

2004

Jan. 1

Mainstreamed: Esquire magazine calls Friendster "the most awe-inspiring cultural entity since Van Halen II." But writer Chuck Klosterman adds this qualifier: "I'm gonna write about Friendster because it's fascinating, no matter how many hipsters tell me it's over."

Jan. 11

No comment: Malcolm Gladwell, New Yorker writer and author of the trend-defining work The Tipping Point, declines to comment on Friendster for this story, saying he's already said enough about it. He doesn't want to be "the big Friendster bore."

Jan. 22

Co-opted: Google -- the master of Internet search engines -- launches its own version of Friendster, called Orkut.com.

Feb. 3

Death knell?: "It is not usable, it is too irritating to do anything on it," said Boyd. "People aren't even dating on it because it is so damn slow."

Feb. 22

Second thoughts: Friendster, which reports having more than 5.3 million users, is subject of snippy newspaper timeline. Meanwhile, its writer discovers she is connected to Matthew McConaughey through three different friends. Thinks maybe Friendster is not becoming so uncool after all.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.