What happened to Friendster?

Friendster was a social networking service founded by Jonathan Abrams in 2002. Early versions of Friendster functioned in much the same way as eventual successor Facebook. As the social media market consolidated, by 2009, Friendster was purchased by Malaysian company MOL Global. That same year, MOL Global sold 18 Friendster patents to Facebook. Friendster remained relatively popular in southeast Asia for a few more years until it was shut down in 2015. 

Background

Friendster was a social networking service founded by Jonathan Abrams in 2002.

It went live in 2003 and secured three million users in the first three months. Launched before the likes of Myspace and Facebook, Friendster was one of the earliest social media networks to gain mass appeal. It was particularly popular in Asia where it boasted around 115 million registered users at its peak in 2011. 

Friendster was successful because it was more than a simple social networking site. It provided opportunities for its users to make new friends and stay in touch with old ones. Users could also discover new events, brands, and hobbies in addition to sharing content. Early versions of Friendster functioned in much the same way as eventual successor Facebook.

This begs the question: why did Friendster close in 2015 while Facebook continues to be a social media juggernaut? In truth, it was due to a combination of reasons.

A change of direction

Near the peak of its popularity, Friendster made the fateful decision to transition from a social networking site into a gaming site.

They did this without consulting their current users, who lost the content they had placed on Friendster during the shift. As a result, many became disenfranchised and began deserting the platform to competitors such as Facebook.

The gaming platform itself was well regarded and functional. But it appealed to a smaller section of Friendster’s original user base. The company also missed a massive opportunity to profit from the rise of social media by deviating from its core offering at the worst possible time. 

What’s more, the gaming platform was enjoyable for users but only up to a certain point. Sites such as Facebook incorporated news feeds into their social networks which continuously served fresh content to users. This was a crucial addition that separated Facebook from Friendster and other such sites.

A lack of new features

Despite the lack of a news feed, it might be surprising to learn that Friendster had slated one for development. The company also had plans to launch a college edition and develop a social graph.

These plans never materialized because of constant tech issues and a lack of investor interest. Had these features been implemented, Friendster may have become the Facebook of today.

Venture capital funding 

Friendster turned down a lucrative acquisition offer from Google worth $30 million in 2003. It also received similar offers from AOL and Yahoo.

Instead, Abrams chose to fund the growth of the company through venture capitalists. This populated the company board of directors with individuals who channeled funds into low-impact initiatives and not technology-focused development.

Tech issues and patent sales

Friendster gradually fell by the wayside as it continued to lose market share to Facebook. 

Inadequate investment of company funds meant the user experience was poor and neglected, with pages routinely slow to load or not loading at all. Friendster also had difficulty in managing the new subscribers it did manage to obtain.

In 2009, Friendster was purchased by Malaysian company MOL Global. That same year, MOL Global sold 18 Friendster patents to Facebook. 

Friendster remained relatively popular in southeast Asia for a few more years until it was shut down in 2015. 

Key takeaways:

  • Friendster was a social networking site that then transitioned to a gaming platform. Ultimately, Friendster failed to capitalize on its early success as one of the first social media platforms to experience mass uptake. 
  • When Friendster became a gaming platform, it failed to notify its user base. This set in motion the migration of users to Facebook which would continue for some years.
  • Friendster’s decision to raise funds via venture capital funding populated its board with investors who were not interested in technology or innovation. The company was acquired by MOL Global in 2009 who then sold its patents to Facebook soon after.

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Published by

Gennaro Cuofano

Gennaro is the creator of FourWeekMBA which reached over a million business students, executives, and aspiring entrepreneurs in 2020 alone | He is also Head of Business Development for a high-tech startup, which he helped grow at double-digit rate | Gennaro earned an International MBA with emphasis on Corporate Finance and Business Strategy | Visit The FourWeekMBA BizSchool | Or Get The FourWeekMBA Flagship Book "100+ Business Models"