Thursday, September 04, 2003

I've been following the Friendster saga since the beginning. I met Friendster CEO Jonathan Abrams shortly after Friendster had started its unofficial beta (he chairs the Venture Finance SIG for SDForum, while I chair the Founders Forum SIG), and even then was impressed by his focus and clear thinking. Jonathan did his homework before starting Friendster.

Side note: I have to admit that I didn't like the name at first, but it's starting to grow on me. And it has just the right vibe for Jonathan's strategy.

Since then, I've followed Friendster's meteoritic rise, including the capstone of pop culture, an appearance in the Shaw Report in Entertainment Weekly. But as sure as gravity, a meteoritic rise draws an inevitable backlash.

Slashdot was the leading indicator, running a story on the grievances of fake Friendsters (e.g. Homer Simpson) whose accounts were getting nuked from the system. Just this morning, Mike Masnick's TechDirt was saying that he still thought Friendster was a fad.

As frustrating as this backlash might be for Jonathan, I think it's a good sign. After all, I can remember when I heard people saying of eBay, "How can you build a billion-dollar company on selling Beanie Babies!" Friendster understands that human beings will expend outrageous amounts of effort to satisfy their urge to mate, and that the killer app of the Internet is getting some. While the porn sites might offer a substitute, Friendster helps you get the real thing, and that's something people will pay for.

Another side note: I'll throw this challenge out to the Social Networking companies. What I really need is a way to understand how I'm connected with the people that I meet.

For example, I'm a Stanford and HBS alum. That connects me to a lot of people in the Valley. But unless folks volunteer that information, I'd have to go online and manually look up each person that I meet to see if they fit into one of those two categories.

I'd love it if there was an automated way (maybe with this FOAF standard that I keep hearing about) to trace the connections and things in common with everyone that I meet.

The final step would be to bring this connection manager into the offline world. Imagine if you created a Bluetooth device that could communicate with other similar devices to project your profile and check it against those of other people in the same physical space. With this device, I could walk into a crowded room, and know which people were fellow alums of my schools, had the same interests, etc., etc.

The implications for dating (which I don't care about, since I'm married) are even weightier. Imagine if Friendster partnered with a nightclub. You could hand out the devices at the door, and people could program in their Friendster profile (or generate one on the spot). Then, as you came into physical proximity to people that were good matches, your Bluetooth device would lead you right to them.

This would fulfill a long-held fantasy for most guys: to know which girls were "taken" so that we wouldn't look like idiots when we approach them, or even worse, get stuck talking with someone whom I know I won't be going home with at the end of the evening.

Just a thought!

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