Online networking site gains popularity allows people to maintain and build friendships.
Tuesday, August 12, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:23 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Blake Wilson had 15 friends on his list. Not bad. Spreading faster than gossip at the office, his friend network shot to 739 overnight.

Wilson’s instant popularity could be attributed to his charismatic personality. But actually, it was Friendster that vastly multiplied Wilson’s Internet posse.

Friendster is an online networking community that allows people to communicate with their friends and meet new people. Wilson’s Friendster network has given him the opportunity to communicate with hundreds, probably thousands, of people.

Jonathan Abrams launched the Web site, which already has grown to 1 million users, in March. The company operates out of Silicon Valley, Calif., and employs fewer than 10 people.

“I’ll use Friendster to keep in contact with friends and to meet new people,” said Wilson, a graduate student at MU. “It’s non-random, so it’s unlike a chat room, and people are more likely to have things in common.”

Wilson received an e-mail from a friend in Kansas City inviting him to join Friendster a couple of weeks ago. He decided to join and then sent invitations to his friends.

When you sign on to Friendster, you begin by creating a profile for yourself. You cannot add yourself to someone else’s Friendster list and can only communicate with people you are able to link to from your list or one of your friend’s lists. For example, if you are on Joe’s list, you can talk to Joe, anyone who is on his list and anyone who is on the list of someone who is on Joe’s list. And so on.

“I haven’t received any messages yet,” said Kate Welborn, a friend of Wilson’s. “None of my friends are computer people. I’m just learning about Blake’s friends right now.”

Welborn created a profile for herself after receiving Wilson’s invitation, and so did Mike Carter.

“I have met no one on Friendster,” Carter said. “At first I’d check it more often, but now I check it once every four days or so. It has been sort of neat to see the messages and testimonials that have been entered.”

Friendster is in its beta stage, which is a testing phase, and is free. After the beta stage ends, basic services will remain free, but there might be charges for additional services.

“We will start charging for premium services, which will keep the basic service alive and well far into the future,” said Kent Lindstrom, chief operating officer of Friendster. “People will never have to pay just to use Friendster. We may charge to send private messages to people who are not your friends, or for added features like instant messaging.”

People use Friendster for different reasons. Some seek to make business contacts, and others want to make new friends, but its main attraction seems to be for dating.

Founder Abrams took his personal dating frustrations and turned them into the idea for Friendster.

“Our founder, Jonathan Abrams, tried online dating sites and found them lacking,” Lindstrom said. “Too much anonymity, and it just felt unnatural. What he really wanted to do was meet friends of friends. A few of his friends tried it out and loved it, and now, six months later, we’re a real company with a lot of users.”

It’s the more mature way to approach online dating, Wilson said.

Despite its appeal for making local connections, Friendster has spread all over the world, including Britain, Canada, Malaysia and Israel.

“I think the Web site has great potential,” Wilson said.

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