Did faulty servers kill Friendster? Discussions of Friendster may sound like ghosts from social networking's past, but the site's founder Jonathan Abrams is back in the news today, telling the LA Times today that Friendster got too big too fast, and attributes his company's downfall to poor functionality resulting from exponential growth.
Abrams, who's now working on start-up Socializr, says that MySpace was able to eat Friendster's lunch because of better targeting and reliability:
"They opened it up to minors, which hadn't even occurred to me for the legal and safety reasons... the real reason that Friendster got supplanted by MySpace in the U.S. was that MySpace's website just worked and Friendster's didn't."
While dependability is key to a website's success, Abrams is still missing the big picture on what makes social networks stick around online.
Like many social sites that came before and after, Friendster created a place for friends to catch up and interact. But once that happened, there wasn't much reason for users to continue using the site. Abrams now tells the LATimes, "I don't think there's anyone who has had their stuff copied more than me," but creating a platform is different from keeping people engaged on it.
MySpace made itself more useful by giving musicians and viewers a place to share music. And now Facebook is trying to insert itself in many of the daily transactions that happen online.
Abrams thinks that shaky website stability was at fault for Friendster's downfall, but startups are often plagued by similar issues. Twitter survived routine jokes about the fail whale at its inception. The microblogging company has since invested a lot of money in stabilizing its product, but it is also focusing on expansion and functionality.
Being first to market simply doesn't matter if you're not also working to maintain dominance in the space. And while Abrams explains that Friendster wasn't working for most of 2004, many users could be forgiven for not noticing. They were already getting their social networking done elsewhere.
Friendster is not dead. It still carries on in the Philippines and parts of Asia, where "it's still relevant," according to the LATimes. But in the states, Friendster was not able to get users to stay and share, and their social graph on the site eventually moved on.
This is one of the thing's Facebook is working hard to prevent. Mark Zuckerberg told Newsweek this week: "An application that lets people stay connected is something that a lot of people can use."
But they really wants to continue growing the user base and keep them coming back all the time:
"What we're trying to do is be more about letting people use their information on any site or platform they want. We launched Facebook Connect last year, and we now have more than 15,000 sites using it, and that's just a start. Within five years we hope to have hundreds of millions of [more] people using Facebook. But it's more about using the system to make other sites more social."
Friendster never got close to that goal. Zuckerberg continues:
"The primary value of the site is having other people on the site. A lot of people were critical of us, saying we were not focused enough on revenue and wouldn't be able to sustain ourselves. But in reality, more users means more revenue. As we grow, we will become increasingly profitable.