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Lifestyles: Making Friends fast and easy across the globe.

Confessions of a FRIENDSTER addict
Jason Margolis

Hello. 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.

This 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, 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, which I very briefly participated in (for like maybe three days) back in the 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. 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, 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 or prospects'.

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 therein.

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 Friendster core.

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 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 the community.

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.

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