Farewell, Friendster

2011 is a year of many goodbyes. While Oprah airs her farewell episode, another giant is set to lower its curtains and set the stage for a new beginning.

Starting May 31, 2011, Friendster is closing its doors as a social networking site and transforming into a social entertainment site focused on gaming and music. Its 115 million registered users are currently scrambling to back up their files and transfer their documents, photos and blogs as I write this entry. While I am guilty of not visiting my Friendster page for quite some time (2009 was my last visit), I still mourn the loss of the grandaddy of all social networking sites, where I once felt the need to check testimonials, or upload pictures on a regular basis.I feel like a kid on moving day, boxing away my stuff to leave a well loved home.

I initially joined Friendster in December 2003. Everybody was on it so I said, What the heck? Once I got into it though, I was hooked. I had too much fun connecting with old schoolmates and friends from afar, cousins from other countries and the like. One article I read said that Filipinos were the most active users of the site and starting from when it was introduced to a Filipino, it caught on like a wildfire. Pretty soon, Pinoys were online all hours of the day (and night). This is no wonder because Pinoys are a sentimental people. We value our connections and are happy to renew old acquaintances, learn the whereabouts of an old friend and generally reconnect with people we have been out of touch with for some time. This is the same reason we are the texting capital of the world — because we like to stay connected.

Friendster provided a way to connect and more. It was also able to provide services like uploading photos, facilitate messages, comments, testimonials, shoutouts, blogs, forums and groups. Now, people would say that it’s really no big deal. Facebook has all that and more. But really, in 2003, there was no Facebook. There was only Friendster, and it offered innovations such as these to a market which was more than ready to welcome these cool features. Yes, it was a big deal nine years ago, and for a time, it was enough.

My favorite Friendster feature was actually the testimonials. It was a great way to learn about how people thought of you and for the most part, you will get a fresh perspective of what you are to your family and friends.I mostly get a kick out of how my elementary and high school friends remember me. It brings back a flood of memories of times when the only problems that we had were about school projects and the occasional talk about our lovelives (or non existence of it). Even some acquaintances weigh in, but of course, I knew whose testimonials truly counted. Sadly though, the control for the approval of comments and testimonials became automatic and people would simply post stuff on your wall without your consent. I got really turned off by posts of half naked men and women on my comment page so I stopped maintaining my page.

Another favorite feature of Friendster was the blog, which I am currently moving to another site. While reading old entries, I actually ask myself what possessed me to write such a thing and muse about how my writing style has changed in the years that followed. Reading my earlier reviews about movies and books actually brings a smile to my face as I remember how I felt after taking in a particular film. And yes, I did write about my American Idol predictions that never came true.

The problem, probably, was that Friendster became complacent with its success and did not evolve enough to keep up with the demands of a much younger market, the ones who are online 16 hours a day, chatting and checking friends’ profiles. A lesson that Facebook probably capitalized on and explored.

I revisited Friendster a while back and I was quite surprised at the change in format. It seemed like a wannabe Facebook with fields for status and comments. I think there were also game applications but I didn’t stay long enough to find out. The next time I checked was after the announcement that it was shutting down, and there I found a dozen other friends updating their posts, adding friends, writing testimonials, perhaps as a last hurrah for the social networking site that shaped my generation.

Friendster may be a dinosaur based on current standards, but it is a dinosaur that I will attribute many happy memories to. Social networking sites of today owe a lot to Friendster, truth be told. It ignited the spark which which opened the doors to this type of market and started a trend to be explored by its contemporaries. While it will not survive in the same format in the years to come, I will remember it as an icon of my generation. I write this blog to commemorate an end to an era, another one that will join the annals of heavy metal, bobby socks, oversized t-shirts, jumpers and teased up hair, monster make up and black and white television.

Thank you Friendster, and farewell.