Friendster: New Twist on Wired Contacts
It's all about whom you know. At least that's the theory behind Friendster, a new social networking Web site that aims to change the way people meet online.
Unlike traditional dating sites and message boards, Friendster's goal is
to hook you up with people you know, and the people they know, and the people
Of course, Friendster is not exclusively designed for dating, as its chummy name and smiley-faced icon denotes. But it does offer to connect people in a more real-world fashion, in which friends casually introduce you to other members of their circle and romance is certainly an option.
I became aware of Friendster a few weeks ago when I began receiving e-mail from friends asking me to join the site. I was reluctant at first, but as more invitations rolled in I decided to see what all the fuss was about.
Membership is free, so it's easy to log in and poke around. The site asks you to fill in a basic profile of favorite books, movies, and interests, and to upload a picture of yourself.
Your friends appear as thumbnail photos on your personal member page, and they write "testimonials" about you, full of kind words, sarcasm, and private jokes (at least if your friends are anything like mine). There's a message center, where your friends can send e-mail to you, and a bulletin board section where you can post and read messages.
All of this warm, fuzzy familiarity is Friendster's clever approach. You are recruited by your own friends to join the site, and once you have signed up--for free--you find yourself surrounded by the smiling faces of people you know, and coaxed with reassuring words about your attributes. How pleasant!
But Friendster's aim is not just to provide you with a personal portal to your friends, but to connect you with your friends' friends, which create your own "personal network."
With just a few friends added on your page, you suddenly find yourself with a personal network of thousands. You are then free to peruse their pages and send them messages. This game of six degrees of separation operates on the theory that it's better to seek potential friends and mates from the pool of people connected to your friends than from dating sites that make you cull through thousands of profiles of people completely unconnected to you.
This is where Friendster starts to slide into Weirdster. As your personal network grows, the site posts samples and names of your new potential friends on your personal page.
In the first week, I discovered that Madonna was in my personal network, and in a bright sign of industry support she had testimonials posted from Ricky Martin, Janet Jackson, and the Backstreet Boys.
These personalities are part of what have become known as "Fakesters"--celebrity or fictional characters posted by everyday folk for fun. Friendster executives claim these Fakesters dilute the effectiveness of the social network and go against the site's goal, which is introducing real people to other real people with whom they have something or someone in common.
Also in my personal network of 125,000 people and growing, however, are a gaggle of 17-year-olds from Southern California, some French punk rockers, and a married couple in Idaho.
Do I really have more in common with them than the tongue-in-cheek person who erected the fake Madonna page? Maybe not, but six degrees of separation is a lot when you think about it. Perhaps there was a reason your friends never introduced you to their friends' friends in the first place.