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Facebook, Friendster Signal Changing Tide

The world of social networking is changing, but don’t worry, it’s not permanent. It’s more of a tide than anything that reaches and recedes from all things. MySpace is changing, Facebook is catching, and Friendster is resurrected.

Like Internet dating in its infancy, social networks have graduated from something for the kids (with dating, it was the geeks) to a normalized part of society. Critics had similar concerns about Rock N Roll in its day, and short skirts, and tie-dye, and jazz and dancing.

Most likely there was a time when daily hygiene was tantamount to snobbery. Things change with acceptance. MySpace exchanged one stigma for another, immediately branded a site for teenyboppers, and then the fishing hole to catch a predator.

Despite that, and despite the concern that such a youthful audience replete with perverts would fizzle out over time, the site has continued to grow, even to the point that the majority of the 109.5 million visitors to MySpace users are now over 35, both according to comScore.

Of course, you know what happens when the grownups raid your secret hangout, right? The He-Man Womun-Haterz Club can’t thrive in a cloud of perfume, the mice can’t play with the cat around…choose whichever cliché you wish.

You might note also though that Rupert Murdoch is rumored to be looking for a way out, if he can exchange MySpace for a nice chunk of Yahoo.

Anyone not signing up for MySpace these days (really, is there anybody?) are defecting to Facebook, Friendster, and Bebo. It’s not really defecting as much as it is double dipping, though. Over half of social network users maintain multiple profiles, flitting from network to network the way they would rooms at a party.

In the past six months, after Facebook opened up to non-collegiates and developers, the site has more than doubled in number of unique visitors, growing from 23 million users in December 2006 to 47 million in May 2007. During the same period, Bebo jumped from just under 11 million visitors to 17 million.

But the most explosive recent growth has been, surprisingly, from Friendster, a company that just so happens was awarded a US patent on social networking, signifying how long they’ve been in this game. The site has steadily grown since December from 18.7 million visitors to 24.8 million.

While that’s less than the others in terms of visitors, the site, and VentureBeat, point to the page views, spiking by 40 percent just last month to 9 billion. The company attributes the sudden spike to “fixing” the technology that stymied its growth in 2004, just as the meteoric rise of MySpace was to occur.

Friendster’s graph server, which made it impossible to manage four quadrillion factors (we’re assuming Venture Beat is using not using that number as hyperbole), has been revamped to more easily show how users are linked to their friends, and by what degree of separation, similar to a feature used on LinkedIn. But the main result of this revamp is that users are better able to track what’s going on with their friends, thus increasing page views per user.

While that may seem like cheating, it’s growth nonetheless, and of the others in the top seven networks – HI5, Tagged, and Piczo – Friendster is the only one not stagnant or declining over the past half-year.

So what happens next? Who knows for sure? It seems Murdoch is thinking of jumping ship, perhaps just for a better opportunity, or it could be he detects the changing tide. Maybe Facebook is catching up too fast. Maybe Friendster is poised to sue the whole lot of them.

Or maybe it’s just the natural, social flux of things.
Article by Jason Lee Miller, a WebProNews editor and writer covering business and technology.

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