Surveying the Digital Death of Friendster

Before the explosion of MySpace (2003) and Facebook (2004), there was Friendster (2002). The social networking site that turned down a $30M offer from Google in 2003, Friendster has since been rebranded and promoted as a social gaming platform. So why did Facebook thrive and Friendster fail?

According to analysts at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, it comes down to a domino or cascade effect. If the time and energy it takes to use a social network outweighs the benefits of it, people are more likely to leave and join another, more accessible social network. And when people leave, their friends usually follow. If a big enough percentage of people on a social network only have a few friends, it is more likely to collapse, whereas if a larger percentage of people have more friends, the loss of one isn’t as critical. The fraction of the social network with a certain number of friends is crucial in indicating how vulnerable a network is to failure.

Due to design changes and technical problems in the months before its collapse, Friendster’s cost-to-benefit ratio dropped drastically, ultimately resulting in the death of this particular social network. Other popular social networks, Facebook included, should be aware of  this potential problem. For example, with all of Facebook’s design changes and technical issues throughout the years, it wouldn’t be hard for users to switch to a more user-friendly network, particularly if another growing network is there to pick up the slack where other networks failed. While Facebook benefited from Friendster’s collapse in 2009, Facebook still has the potential to become victim to the same sort of collapse in the future.

While Friendster is the most drastic example of this phenomenon, one can also turn to MySpace for further proof.  After all, you probably checked your Facebook account quite recently, but when was the last time you recall logging into your MySpace account?  From 2005-2008 MySpace was the most popular social network in the world.  In 2006 it actually beat Google as the most visited website! Yet, since the advent of Facebook it’s numbers have experienced a steady decline.  Some blame it’s lack of innovation in comparison with the ever evolving Facebook.   But if the failures of Friendster and MySpace give any indication, it is safe to say that no social network is safe.