Lifestyles: Making Friends fast and easy across the globe.
of a FRIENDSTER addict
My name is Jason Margolis and I am a Friendster-aholic. I spend
an obscene amount of my waking hours participating in or talking
about a curiously addictive web site called Friendster.
state of affairs truly baffles me, considering I generally loathe such
common internet pastimes as instant messaging and online chat rooms,
and have never once blogged in my life or, for that matter, have never
even considered engaging in the act of blogging.
For those who don't know it and have not yet succumbed to its wiles,
Friendster is a web site still in its beta trial version, having been
launched only in March 2003, but now boasting close to three million
users. Originally intended by its creators as a new form of internet
dating service, Friendster was quickly taken over by its users, known
as friendsters, and turned into an amusing and oh-so-ironic virtual
community that has actually proven incredibly useful in meeting new
friends, collaborators, and significant others. It has also spawned
numerous spoof sites such as Fiendster and Introvertster, and copycat
sites like Tribe.net, EveryonesConnected, and the OnlyUndiesClub, which
seems to exist solely for exhibitionist punk and emo kids to mingle
with each other online. Friendster has become such a sheer force in
western culture that, like Google before it, the word friendster has
already entered the lexicon as both a noun and a verb. As a verb it
works in two ways, as in asking a friend whether you can friendster
one of their friends, making their friend into your friend; or as a
request given to one of your own friends, when found online, to include
you as their friend on Friendster.
Friendster is not an original concept. In fact, it is an amalgamation
of many previous experiments in web-based social networks. It closely
mirrors the late Sixdegrees.com, which I very briefly participated in
(for like maybe three days) back in the dot.com frontier era. Both web
sites explore the well-known 'six degrees of separation' theory: that
everyone in the world is only six degrees separate from each other and/or
actor Kevin Bacon. Sixdgrees.com was a sterile, uncolourful environment
based primarily around work relationships and business networking, and
thus its earnestness destined it to failure. A succession of similar
business-related communities developed, none of which I ever heard about,
and therefore managed to avoid.
The other inspiration for Friendster is the successful online dating
services such as Lavalife and Match.com, and the common interests community
of Yahoo! Profiles. I have another confession to make: I dabbled in
Lavalife for a brief time following the breakup of a long term relationship
and even went on a couple of outings (I hesitate to call them 'dates')
with women I met online. A lot of other people I know have also reluctantly
admitted to using the service, and inevitably bring up the same complaints.
The rigid formatting of profile categories left little room for creativity
or individuality, and humour almost seemed to be verboten. This, of
course, lead me to be immediately smitten with one particular vixen
who always wrote the snarkiest and most jaded opening lines, such as
'Syphilitic high school drop out looking for loser guy with no ambition
By the way, yes I did say 'opening lines'. That's what Lavalife calls
the introduction statement users have to write, and frankly, I feel
that sums up the main problem with Lavalife - it's a meat market. It
doesn't allow for casual flirtation but instead engenders the sort of
pathetic desperation found dans la discothéque prior to closing
time. Another common complaint is that the site panders to the mainstream,
and most of the users seem to be health nuts and sports fanatics, or
at least appear that way due to the limitations of the site's categories.
One of the reasons Friendster has surged in popularity is that it is
not limited solely to singles and lonely hearts. People of all stripes
are encouraged to participate, and so users have to declare their status,
whether single, in a relationship, married, or open marriage - an option
that is surprisingly popular, especially among those individuals also
interested in irony. Users also have to describe who they want to meet,
and are given the options of friends, activity partners, dating (men
and/or women), serious relationships (men and/or women) or 'Just here
to help'! Friendster is available freely to people of all preferences:
straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and various combinations
Friendster's creators realized that people consider themselves as much
defined by their tastes as they are by their activities, so friendsters
not only list their occupation and interests (like on Lavalife or Yahoo!
profiles), but also their favourite books, music, television shows and
movies. Friendsters are free to put in whatever they want in these categories,
leading to such surprising discoveries as the incredible popularity
of the films 'Amelie' and 'Donnie Darko' (the latter being a resounding
commercial failure upon its recent release), and bands such as Death
Cab For Cutie, Modest Mouse, and Belle & Sebastian - or at least
their popularity among the primary demographics of Friendster. Belle
& Sebastian's record label quickly caught on to this fact by advertising
their latest release on the site. Often friendsters put a few joke items
into each category to show off their wit, but I have enjoyed many laughs
as a result. It's great to discover that many people have a clever and
well-developed sense of humour, or at least share my sense of humour...
or maybe 'Astroboy' really is the most popular show on the planet.
Taste in friends is also important, so Friendster not only shows who
each user's friends are, but also allows said friends to write testimonials
about each other. A clever conceit, especially if a person's friends
are witty, clever, and able to spell correctly. Some friendsters start
competing for sheer numbers of friends, while others vie for most lurid
or revealing testimonials. Having this connection through friends gives
everyone some credentials, and acts as something of a safeguard for
meeting strangers online, at least as far as possibly knowing some people
in common with them.
Friendster allows users to search through profiles and send e-mails
to anyone within four degrees of each other, but that still allows for
a lot of fellow friendsters with whom to interact. For instance, as
I write this, I have 45 friends, but that leads to almost 550,000 people
in my network. I have friends who have as many as 300 friendsters, but
like the song says 'It's a small world after all', so the law of diminishing
returns eventually applies, and it is rare to have more than a million
people in your network. A graphical interpretation of the Friendster
network would look something like the Milky Way galaxy. Some friendsters
have few friends online and sit at the fringe of the community, never
to be drawn in by the profiles and interactions happening at the central
Some people fear Friendster, thinking it's some sort of cult. The passionate
conviction of Friendster's adherents sure make it look like a cult to
outsiders. However, on Friendster, like the internet itself, there are
no direct leaders - there is only group dynamics, web savvy etiquette
and unspoken decorum. There is little known about the genesis of Friendster.
All that it shares about itself on the site is that Friendster, Inc.
is a privately held corporation, headquartered in Silicon Valley, CA.
The company was founded in 2002 by entrepreneur Jonathan Abrams.
Further research reveals it has a staff of less than twenty with funding
from a combination of secret angel benefactors and paid advertising
from hipster companies such as Miramax Films and Neighborhoodies clothing.
It also has announced the recent appointment of new board members include
some pioneers from Amazon.com and Yahoo!, who can clearly see an opportunity
when its presented to them. Friendster has grown at such an exponential
rate that its all the company can do to keep it running efficiently
with as few technical hiccups as possible. The site often becomes sluggish
and surly during prime hours, prompting the staff to occasional relay
missives such as 'Our site is currently experiencing technical difficulties
due to high usage, primarily issues with database lag. We are adding
dozens more servers to handle the tremendous demand for the Friendster
service. Thank you for your understanding and support'.
Founder Abrams had this to say about the intention of his creation in
a Village Voice article back in June: "For every one user of online
dating services, there are probably 10 people who would use Friendster
because they're more comfortable with the approach. Friendster is less
creepy. It's a little more like real life". Unfortunately for Abrams,
his site has taken on a life of its own.
The main reason for Friendster's rapid growth is its incredible level
of organized anarchy. It is an evolving entity that defies its creators
ability to control it. While there may be almost three million registered
users, it's likely that only about half of those are actual people with
legitimate profiles. The site is also host to untold amounts of Fakesters
and Petsters. Fakesters are often humourous profiles based on celebrities,
fictional characters, geographic locations, or abstract thoughts. As
a result, we find all the characters from shows such as Degrassi Jr.
High and Buffy the Vampire Slayer linked to each other, and Balki from
Perfect Strangers linked to DJ Tanner from Full House. A Fakester Winona
Ryder, who lists hobbies as shopping and dating rock stars, is linked
to a Fakester Johnny Depp, her former beau. The cities of Montreal,
Amsterdam, and San Francisco are all friends, and so are mailer-daemon
(occupation: Mail Delivery Subsystem), Skytrain (occupation: people
mover), and Bacon Bits (interests: baked potatoes and Caesar salad).
And some Fakesters have personas that speak for themselves, such as
Fat Goth, Gay Tendencies, and Summer Camp. Linking to such Fakesters
is a great way to show a Friendster's personality, so it's
not surprising to see filmmaking friendsters linked to Fakesters like
Hal Hartley, Jean-Luc Godard, and Stanley Kubrick.
Petsters, on the other hand, are a community onto themselves. They are
the dogs, cats, and assorted other animals belonging to friendsters.
Most Petsters share common interests such as cuddling, sniffing and
eating, and they generally like the movies Air Bud and The Truth About
Cats And Dogs. Also, many of the dogs are bisexual. However, as in the
real world, people are passionate about their Petsters. Petsters often
have way more friends than typical friendsters, because they're cute
and friendly, and so they provide a link for other friendsters to meet
and get to know each other. For a time, the Friendster staff was mercilessly
deleting Petsters, fearing that their presence took away from the people-meeting
aspect of the site. The Petster brigade went on a rampage, sending e-mails
and snail mails to Friendster's corporate headquarters. As a result,
the Petsters and their peoples have forged lasting relationships, almost
in spite of the original intentions of the site creators, and the hope
is that eventually a new status category of Pet will be implemented
when Friendster moves out of its beta trial.
The Petsters were also privy to one of the uglier controversies on Friendster.
Apparently, a group of Neo Nazis were using the site to recruit members
and spread information about upcoming hate mongering events. Many of
these racial supremacists posted their dogs (usually pit bulls) online
and linked them to other Petsters. They even had their dogs write gracious
testimonials about other pets. Once this was discovered, lines were
drawn in the Petster community whether to oust the Neo Nazis by reporting
them to Friendster staff or to keep quiet about the matter as Petsters
were risking their own expulsion at this time. Friendster explicitly
states that it will delete content that is patently offensive to the
online community, such as content that promotes racism, bigotry, hatred
or physical harm of any kind against any group or individual but also
advises users to not upload photos containing children, pets, cartoons,
celebrities, nudity, artwork or copyrighted images'. A few brave Petsters
and their people went ahead and notified the staff. As a result, both
the Neo Nazis and the reporting Petsters found themselves removed from
Some celebrities on the site are not Fakesters. Members of many popular
bands actually spread the gospel of Friendster by telling their friends
about it while they're on the road. I can actually trace my own participation
on the site to simultaneous entreaties from friends of the bands ...And
You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead and Spoon. Rumour is that both
the Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl and Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne that appear
on the site are authentic, and it's likely that at least one of the
Courtney Love's is real, considering her tendency to use the internet
as a sounding board. Famed turntablist Q-Bert and Fischerspooner singer,
Casey Spooner, actually had their legitimate profiles deleted because
Friendster staff assumed them to be fake. There are also many recognizable
actors on board, including the leads from several television series,
although they often use pseudonyms and do not post photos in order to
protect their privacy and possibly prevent mistaken deletion. I only
happen to know they're real because they happen to be friends of friends.
And, so it goes...
Meeting people is what it's really all about. I have made a couple good
friends from using the site, people that I may not have otherwise had
the opportunity to meet, even though we had friends in common. I have
also strengthened friendships with people who may have once been mere
acquaintances, and reconnected with old friends in other cities. Some
people have used Friendster to spy on old flames, discovering them to
now be married or playing for the other team. It has become the topic
of conversation at many parties and events, resulting in new friendsters
joining the site. I have learned fascinating things about friends that
I never knew until they posted the information online, and found kinship
with strangers over shared unusual interests. I have recognized people
in the real world from their profiles online and even found myself working
with one such person on a project. I have even been virtually snubbed
by making a new friendster, not replying to a couple of her e-mails
(I was really busy at the time) and then having her delete me as a friend.
Ouch! As a consequence I am now less likely to link with someone I don't
know in the real world.
I have also brought Friendster to my office, where it spread faster
than the common cold, and now it's not uncommon for three out of the
five of us in our little company to be logged into the site at the same
time, writing each other testimonials, looking at each other's friends,
or snubbing each other online by removing ourselves - albeit temporarily
- from each other's friend lists. 'Okay guys, back to work!'
The site is supposed to move out of beta trail version soon, upon which
it will start charging fees for some services, while introducing new
ones. No one seems to know what form it will take at that time, but
for now, it's a fun pastime, despite its addictive nature. If nothing
else comes of it, Friendster has proven to be a great way to connect
with people and will serve as fodder for anthropology and sociology
term papers for years to come.
© Jason Margolis October 2003
Jason is a Vancouver- based writer, producer and film director whose
first feature film 'Lucky Stars' is in post-production.
More Lifestyles here
all rights reserved