Before Facebook There Was Friendster

It’s hard to imagine there was a time where Facebook didn’t exist. Where there were no places to post personal photos, share important milestones, or keep in touch with family and friends all at the same time. Or no website that I can log in to and scroll my day away as I pretend to look busy at work. It’s almost as if modern times have been split into two very distinct periods; before social media and with social media. But before we got to the onslaught of platforms we have today in 2021, we had to start somewhere. Social media didn’t just poof out of nowhere.

As a 23-year-old digital native, I have heard plenty of stories of the archaic social media platforms that have come and gone. But I never considered that as they died, they created the spaces for all of the platforms I use today. Like how one of the top platforms in social media infancy, MySpace, lost popularity and created the vacuum Facebook needed to gain traction once it opened its site to users without .edu emails.

But even before MySpace, there was Friendster.

Friendster, launched in March 2002 by Jonathan Abrams and Peter Chin, was one of the first sites that tried to connect you to strangers. Built entirely around the idea that everyone is only separated by 6 degrees, Abrams and Chin created Friendster to make meeting people online less intimidating.

Photo courtesy of CBS News

While it might seem rather easy today, Friendster’s main goal was to create an online community from people from all over. But in the world of 2002, it seemed to be the coolest idea around. Within its first year, the site became so popular that it was unable to handle the fast growth. And in 2003, Abrams took the platform to Silicon Valley and sold his social media website for millions of dollars.

However during the transition of power, after Abrams was dropped as CEO, Friendster was never the same. By 2006, the website was virtually deserted as many “chains” of friends were ditching the platform to create profiles on Facebook as it became open to the public.

After being one of the biggest disappointments in Internet history with it’s almost controlled burned-esque collapse, Friendster created important takeaways on what not to do for the social media platforms to come.

With the downfall, users experienced technical difficulties, social collisions and other general distrust of the site that ultimately left even the early adopters to find new social sites.

Although the phrase “the medium is the message” was coined decades ago, the idea remains the same for Friendster and all the social media platforms that came after it. If you cannot deliver on a product or service, your users will just find another site.

Perhaps this is why when we culturally think of what came before Facebook, we don’t look far back past MySpace.

While it’s important to have big dreams, Friendster might have had the case of dreaming too big too quickly. While they attracted 3 million users in the first year (a big number for 2002), they too quickly tried to incorporate new elements rather than create the best usage for what the site was already doing.

This is the second takeaway we learned from the site; stick to a clear vision. In this day in age, it might be easier said than done but other sites could look to the fall of Friendster and see that they tried too much at once. It’s best to establish what your platform is known for before adding new elements. And I’d argue that most modern social media platforms that did that are now behemoths; Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Even though the death of Friendster wasn’t grand or frankly memorable, the idea that sparked the site was one that I’d argue now sparks all new social media sites it left in its wake. We can only hope that they learned from Friendster’s mistakes.