Friday, January 11, 2008

I Kind of Miss Friendster

You guys remember Friendster? If you're old-school (that actually just means old) like me, you probably do! Heck, I remember rocking the "blink" tag with some hand-typed HTML back in the day, so Friendster is really not that far in the past.

In the past six years or so I have already seen social networking go through three distinct phases. One platform becomes cool, then your weird co-worker knows about it and tries to add you as a friend, and then you decide that it's time to move on. I think that's just the way that it goes, every year or two the new cool thing comes along, it seems to have better features, it seems to look more exciting, there seem to be less lame or creepy people on it, etc.

But let's not forget about the site that started it all: Friendster.

You see, as Napster once was to "naps," Friendster now was to friends. Or so it seemed.

Friendster was so cool when it first came out. It was the first of its kind. The concept might seem kind of obvious to us now, but at the time it was kind of revolutionary: Put up a profile, fill in the blanks about the stuff you are into, find your friends, if they're not there, invite them (because who wants to look like they don't have friends?), and then write Testimonials about your friends. Remember testimonials? Yeah. Before there were embedded YouTube comments, it was all about testimonials. It made it seem as though your friends were on a crusade to vouch for your legitimacy as a human being, as if they were your references on a job application, or they were writing you a letter of recommendation to help you get a job as a camp counselor. It was usually kind of personal, interesting, and more importantly, it was clean. When I say "clean" I mean that there wasn't any weird HTML, just clean text that said stuff. And not just funny stuff they found on YouTube, but stuff that was supposed to be specifically about you, about your character, kind of like signing a high school yearbook.

Where did Friendster go wrong? Why is the word "Friendster" used mostly as some weird hipster punchline today? How did MySpace "kill" it? What did it really have to offer that Friendster didn't? A lot of people have said that it was the customizability of MySpace, that MySpace let you put some horrible background on your profile, it allowed you to make the cursor spray glitter wherever it went on the page, it let you embed so many videos that it would crash people's browsers. Friendster also cracked down on fake profiles, and it didn't let you keep a profile for your band, or at least it wasn't encouraged like it was on MySpace. MySpace wanted bands to put up profiles, and it let you put up some songs, and of course it encouraged you to add friends. You could do pretty much whatever, as long as you were wasting time on the site, giving them hits.

All of this stuff seems fine and dandy, representing a relative anarchy, or free-for-all for internet social networking. As sort of a reaction to this, it seemed a bit surprising that Facebook has become as popular as it has. In response to the general sense of sluttiness that is MySpace, Facebook at first seemed like a cleaner, somewhat classier answer to social networking for the college crowd. It was originally only open to users with university-affiliated emails, it did not allow the wild HTML embedding that so often made MySpace such an eyesore, and it didn't seem to really offer anything that special, aside from the ability to "poke" people, and that didn't ever really make any sense. At first, it really just seemed like it was about the same as Friendster, but with more beer bong pictures and poking.

Of course, we now know that Facebook unleashed a potent weapon, its applications platform, and thanks to that, you can now be a zombie or play Scrabble or Oregon Trail or whatever else, all these little applications that by themselves are far from noteworthy but that seem all to be more fun because it is taking place with your friends and because your every move is being pumped out to the news feed (Remember how weirded out everyone was about the news feed when that thing first hit? "OMG it's like totally stalker" they said. Now you wouldn't think of Facebook without it, right?). The news feed provides you with all this important news about your "friends": Mandy has super-bitch-slapped Paul. Jane joined the group If 10,000 People Join This Group, I Will Do a Keg Stand. David and Sarah are attending Nacho Party 2008!

With regard to 99% of the new Facebook apps, I will say this: they're there because you can, and definitely not because you should. Does there really need to be an application to answer questions such as Which Disney Princess Are You? Which Swear Word Are You? Ugh. These are real applications. Whoooo caaaaaares! Almost all of these applications are completely insignificant and disposable. Surprise, surprise.

As a result of people's bizarre love for Facebook applications, their profiles are looking more and more cluttered, more and more trashy, and more like the garbage boat profiles that float on the MySpace waters. It has become that it so clearly was not in the beginning. Eyesore ads everywhere; overwhelmingly colorful, stupid graphics that make it look like a Microsoft product.

It's starting to make Friendster look pretty good again. The simple gray interface, the simplicity of the text in the testimonials, the relative uniformity of the profiles. At the very least, I feel kind of bad for Friendster because as far as I can tell they invented the concept of making a profile and adding friends (social networking, whatever you want to call it), and they got their idea ripped off by Facebook and MySpace, who offered less-buggy, more server power versions of what is essentially the same crap.

So out of due respect, I logged into my Friendster account today. It took a minute, since I had to get my password sent to me, it was sent to an old email account I never check anymore. Remember Hotmail? Similar story (I hate to say it, but I almost feel a similar sense of sorrow for the lameness of pretty much everything that Microsoft does these days. They seem to be striking out pretty consistently. "I feel sorry for Microsoft." Doesn't that sound weird? But let's look at their latest offerings: Vista [apparently it blows], the Zune [iPod killer, my ass], the new Hotmail [when it comes to aesthetics and the user experience, they really just don't get it, do they?]). Anyway, I think there are maybe a few holdouts who still rock the Friendster full-on, but if these people do actually exist, they are internet rogues of the highest degree. I imagine them as people who wear headbands. Not quite sure why.

When I logged onto Friendster, the first thing I saw was a Metamucil banner ad. This is a bad sign. A very bad sign, actually. But it was a walk down memory lane seeing all those old testimonials. I might copy and paste those to my C.V. or something if I ever get really hard up for references. It really made me feel like people were pushing for me. It was kind of nice.

Of course, if you are over the age of 23 then you probably realize that the establishment of a presence on any social networking site is pretty much meaningless, disposable, and fleeting. Is it strange to feel nostalgia for a website? Heck yes! But it happened.

Send all sweet Friendster testimonials here. Let's bring back the Friendster.

Also, I feel that this post would be amiss if I didn't say that a friend of mine lost his virginity to a girl from another city he met on Friendster. In a van, a van inside of a warehouse. It's not as weird as it sounds though, I promise. Some months later, when we were on tour at a show at Modified in Phoenix, Arizona, some like 17 year old girls overheard him talking about how he wanted to check his Friendster, and these girls were all like "Friendster? Are you for real? It's all about MySpace now, didn't you know? It's way cooler." He had effectively been schooled (and maybe even pwned) by these little twerps. That must have been strange, to think that it was outdated, to think that this thing that had yielded a milestone hookup now sounded antiquated, as if he had just used the word "hootenanny."

Yeah, it all moves too fast and means too little.

I'm going to go sing and play guitar into a microcassette recorder. Be careful. I might loan you the tape.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you could comment on Virb.com and what you think might happen with that

M. H. D. said...

It seems like Virb has generally less slutty web design, but that this is primarily the result of its users being savvy late twenties media types who have decided they are too cool for MySpace or Facebook but who must still get their internet social on. Its features seem to be a bit better, cleaner and more on the pulse of what internet computers are capable of, but aside from not being owned by a gross media company, there doesn't really seem to be anything killer enough about it to warrant a mass migration yet. By all accounts it is probably "better" than everything else, but not better enough to write home about. What does everyone say is its greatest feature? The fact that it is not MySpace.

Shannon said...

Hootenanny. *snerk*

bex said...

You just don't like those applications because after taking the quiz you found out that you were a lame Disney Princess.

Chris Foresman said...

These thoughts mirror mine almost exactly (could it be we more or less grew up with the webat the same time?). But, in the end, when I decided that having multiple social networking accounts was beyond necessary, I settled on Facebook. More than anything it was twitter integration and the ability to invite people to brunch that sealed the deal for me.

ferolino said...

but here in the philippines, many people dont recognize myspace or facebook. All are hooked up with friendster.