Whatever Happened to Friendster?
I have a confession: I never used Friendster.
Back then, I wasn’t allotted enough minutes to use the family-shared internet account for creating any social media profiles. Once my high school curriculum integrated instant access to the Internet via computer labs, I created a Myspace profile. That’s where my friends were, and at that age, our inner circle dictated where we spent our time online.
Still, I was aware of Friendster. While today it’s normal to have a variety of social media accounts, we were more selective back then on where we spent our time online. And it was still normal to spend more time hanging out with real friends IRL.
Friendster did just fine without me, boasting 115 million users in its heyday. Many still consider it as the platform that gave birth to the modern social media movement. Others, well, enjoy poking fun at its archaic-ness.
So, whatever happened to Friendster? In true Friendster fashion, I present to you this testimonial.
What Friendster Looked Like
On the left, your profile page featured your profile pic. Below that, you could find a box highlighting all your friend connections, featuring up to ten friends with profile thumbnails.
Along the right, you’d find details on your contact information, a list of your interests and (of course) an About Me section. Friendster’s most notable feature was below that: testimonials. Friends could leave a “testi” about how they know you and what you mean to them.
Friendster users could find online applications (referred to as widgets back then) to upgrade their profile experience. Friends could create online quizzes, broadcast moods IRT, feature songs, text chat and play games all through Friendster.
Aside from connecting with your friends virtually, Friendster offered additional activities to add to the online social experience:
- Post messages on your friend’s bulletin board (similar to Facebook’s early feature of writing messages on a friend’s wall)
- Add photos or videos to your profile library (uploaded, of course, from an actual camera or camcorder)
- Publish a blog post (remember, social blogging such as Livejournal was big back then)
- Write reviews of music, movies, TV shows and books (because where else could you do this fifteen years ago?)
A History Lesson on Friendster
Friendster—a word blend of “friend” and household name “Napster”—launched in 2002 by Jonathan Abrams. It wasn’t technically the first-ever social media platform (remember SixDegrees.com and Makeoutclub?) but it only took months after its 2003 launch for Friendster to reach 3 million users.
The tech giants took notice, triggering Microsoft to launch MSN Spaces in 2004 and Yahoo to create Yahoo 360°. Friendster inspired more competition to enter the market, with Myspace launching in 2003 and Facebook officially live in 2004.
In fact, Google offered to buy Friendster for an incredible $30 million—yet Team Friendster turned it down. Today, it’s considered one of the biggest mistakes in Silicon Valley. But back then, Friendster was touting a reported valuation of $53 million and staying private seemed like the safe bet.
In turn, Friendster made an offer to their own up-and-coming competitor: Facebook. While Friendster wasn’t the only big company wanting to acquire Facebook, Team Facebook wasn’t wowed by the asking price or interested in selling.
Friendster reached a membership count of 115 million registered users by 2008, with particular success in Asia. That wasn’t the case in 2009. Just one year later, Friendster experienced a rapid decline as members switched over to Facebook. Before 2010, Friendster was sold to MOL Global for $26.4 million.
That wasn’t the end. Friendster relaunched in June 2011, rebranding itself as a social gaming site. Goodbye, user profiles. Hello, platform that could live alongside Facebook without all the competition.
Except it didn’t. The concept never took off, so Friendster shut down its website indefinitely in June 2015 only to cease operations by June 2018.
So, Whatever Happened to Friendster?
The short answer: Friendster failed. That is, it no longer exists.
Why, you ask? Well, pointing the blame at one factor isn’t fair. Rather, a collection of faults brought down the social media platform as quickly as it rose in popularity.
Too Many Tech Issues Ignored
Since its launch days, Friendster was always battling technology defects. Despite Friendster’s technology being the foundation of the business, investors always voted to focus resources addressing other concerns. Since instability was a constant throughout the years, Friendster’s market share just kept dropping until it disappeared.
Not Enough Features
Believe it or not, Friendster had big plans to launch a college edition, create a newsfeed and develop a social graph. But these grand ideas never moved beyond the proposal phase, partly because of tech issues and partly because of investor interest. Too bad, because these features made Facebook the social media giant it is today.
Too Many CEO Swaps
Shortly after Facebook’s launch, a change in leadership changed way too often. Here’s an easy-to-read timeline to keep all the names and dates straight:
April 2004: Abrams is removed as CEO and given the voiceless role of chairman. Tim Koogle (former president and CEO of Yahoo) steps in as interim CEO.
June 2004: Koogle is replaced by Scott Sassa.
May 2005: Sassa leaves and Taek Kwon accepts the role of CEO.
Date Unavailable: A capitalization by Kleiner and Benchmark leads to Kent Lindstrom becoming CEO.
August 2008: Richard Kimber (former Google executive) becomes CEO.
Not Willing to Sell at the Right Time
Friendster received lucrative offers from Google, Yahoo and AOL. To everyone’s surprise, Abrams and his team held their ground and didn’t sell. Instead, Abrams chose to raise venture capital to fuel the business. This populated the board of directors with well-known venture capitalists who, as mentioned earlier, kept voting on allocating company resources towards inconsequential initiatives rather than technology-focused development.
Too Complacent in Selling Its Social Networking Patents
There’s no chance in coming back on the social media scene after selling all your social patents. Friendster held seven patents and eleven patent applications, including making connections on social media, friend-of-a-friend connections via social graphs and social sharing. MOL Global sold off this intellectual property to Facebook for $40 million just months after acquiring Friendster for $26.4 million.
Whatever Happened to Jonathan Abrams?
So, Abrams is alive and doing well. But you won’t find him on Friendster. Or Facebook.
He’s kept busy in the startup investment community, launching the personalized news curation platform Nuzzel. Most recently, he is the co-founder and Managing Partner of Founders Den, San Fran’s highly exclusive workspace and community specifically for startups and investors. He’s also currently an investor in 50+ startups as well as a board member at Girls in Tech.
And yes, he’s on Twitter and LinkedIn.
I was a bit too late to hop on Friendster, but it wasn’t the only social network to not enjoy long-term success. Myspace, FriendFeed, and Google Plus also weren’t able to survive over the long term, despite Google’s deep pockets and multiple properties helping the latter service.
What a coincidence—I have previously written about Myspace’s fall from popularity: https://klwightman.com/2018/12/17/whatever-happened-to-myspace/