Last June, the US business mag, Inc., came out with an article, "How to Kill a Great Idea!" written by Max Chafkin. It had this come-on:
Jonathan Abrams created the first online social network and enlisted Silicon Valley's best and brightest to run it. Yet Friendster flamed out spectacularly. What went wrong?Friendster was actually awarded a patent as a "system, method, and apparatus for connecting users in an online computer system"
"The beauty of Friendster was its exhaustively complete network. Every time a homepage loaded, Friendster's servers calculated a single user's connection to other users within four degrees of separation, which could mean hundreds of thousands of individuals. Because the network was constantly changing as new users joined and connected with one another, these calculations had to happen on the fly--in what would eventually amount to trillions of rapid calculations. The effect was to give users a vivid sense of how they fit into their social groups as well as into the larger world. Abrams, it seemed, had created a piece of software that could tell us who we were," Chafkin wrote.
"Friendster is among the few start-ups that changed the world--but not as its founder had hoped. During March 2007, one out of every five Americans visited MySpace.com, a copycat site that was built in 2003 by Intermix and sold to News Corp. (NYSE:NWS) two years later for half a billion dollars. Those MySpace visitors listened to music, scoped out crushes, made plans with friends, decided that Stephen Colbert was cool--and in the process altered the way we think about and use the Internet. Meanwhile, Friendster fell to 13th place among social networks in the U.S. and saw its market share decline to 0.3 percent," it said.
What went wrong?
Yes, please. Blame it on the Pinoy.
"Lunt remembers marveling sometime in early 2004 at how Friendster's traffic would mysteriously spike at 2 a.m. Intrigued, he started looking at the site's log. Oh, my God, he thought, everyone is from the Philippines. He worked backwards, looking for "patient zero"--the first American to "Friendster" a Filipino. He found Carmen Leilani De Jesus, a 32-year-old marketing consultant and part-time hypnotherapist from San Francisco, the 91st person to join Friendster. She was directly connected to Abrams as well as to dozens of Filipinos, who'd in turn connected to thousands more. In fact, more than half the site's traffic was coming from Southeast Asia.
From a business standpoint, the revelation was devastating. Friendster, it turned out, was paying millions of dollars a year to attract eyeballs that were effectively worthless to its advertisers. Says Abrams: "We needed to make a tough decision"--either spin off the Asian business or become the No. 1 Filipino social network. But because the Filipino users had come by way of their American friends, there was no easy answer. If Friendster cut the cord to Asia--either by drastically cutting back on engineering resources or by kicking the Asian users off the site altogether--it risked damaging its American user base. The Carmens of the world might look for a less restrictive site."