Before MySpace hit the scene, and back when everybody was still talking about Napster, there was Friendster. One of the first social networking sites, Friendster exited that realm in May 2011 to become a social entertainment site, intended to complement Facebook — the very social network that was blamed for its downfall.
Friendster, which was started in 2002 by Jonathan Abrams, gave its users about a month to export their profiles before they were erased, so the company could focus more on connecting people through gaming, not networking. The site sputtered in the U.S. but picked up a strong following in Asia, and stated its intent to expand there after being acquired in 2009 by a Malaysian company. The newest incarnation essentially creates a parallel social network for your avatar.
Some are comparing the Friendster reinvention to that of MySpace after Facebook trounced it. The two companies’ fates are unclear: News Corp., busy managing its own problems in 2011, finally shed MySpace, having bought the company for $580 million back in 2006. Online advertising firm Specific Media acquired the company in June for $35 million — a little more than a $1 per user. Had the sale happened in 2008 at the same rate per user, the price tag might have been $75 million.
But what’s the update on the Friendster so many of us have forgotten? The latest status, from its new CEO: The company is attracting young Asians to social gaming; more than 90% of its new users are based in Asia. The epitaph of the original Friendster, however, is one of wasted potential. It had millions of users only months after its March 2003 launch. How, then, did Facebook end up with all the cool kids? A Harvard Business School professor told the New York Times in 2006 that it was a complicated question but one thing is pretty certain: Abrams, who blames missed audience targeting and terrible technology, probably should have accepted a $30 million buyout offer from Google in 2003.
Considering the launch of Google+ this year, would there have been a whole different Silicon Valley landscape if that 2003 buyout had happened? Instead of creating a social networking site to rival Facebook, might Google have prevented the now powerhouse company from even existing? Of course, Google did launch its own social networking site, Orkut, in 2004. Kind of like Friendster, Orkut really found its following outside the U.S. and is now based in Brazil — although its members have been bailing fast for Facebook.
The Friendster makeover probably didn’t take many by surprise; the change more often prompted some to ask, “Is Friendster still around?” It is, but not as we once knew it. Friendster is now dot-com vintage, a nostalgic relic we can muse about in Facebook status updates or tweets.
A former reporter for the Associated Press and ABC News, Laura E. Davis writes about gay rights and the Supreme Court. She is one of the social media editors for Yahoo! News. Follow her on Twitter at @laura_ynews.