Home News Friends don’t censor Friends – unless you’re Friendster

Friends don’t censor Friends – unless you’re Friendster

by Archives October 30, 2007

Much has been written about bloggers’ contributions to civic debate and citizen journalism. Much hand wringing has been done about the powers-that-be taking down blogs containing such “profanities” as “human rights,” which are unseasonably disparaging to the ears of MSN China, for example. Others will downright shut down Internet access, as we just witnessed during the Burmese riots.
Well, the junta-man lives closer than you thought. And he might be sporting a tie and a short-sleeved shirt. Just ask the ex-execs of Friendster what they think of censorship, next time you bump into one of them cashing out his dole money at the Insta-Cheque. After a sceptical smile, they may give you an answer.
“Phwooooarr,” they might say.
Censorship hurt Friendster bad. Real bad. Censorship turned Friendster from online “über-glitz phenom,” to an online “self-vaporizing gorefest” icon. Friendster pretty much founded the “online networking” mega industry in 2002 and was poised to become the next multi-billion e-corporation. The next Yahoo. Problem was, some members started creating increasingly off-the-wall profiles (“Death,” “Jesus,” “Chewbacca” and the standard ordinance mouse-potato inventing himself a parallel life as a goth lesbian). Founder Jonathan Abrams didn’t like them much, as he felt they hurt the service offered by Friendster and started deleting them.
An ugly showdown ensued with the “fakesters” banding together to fight what they felt was unfair censorship. To them, Abrams had opened Pandora’s box and had to deal with it. They loved Friendster as a hip place to exchange witty banter, irony-drenched profiles and were fascinated by the organic nature of the gig. They set up fake profiles, received real invitations, linked their fake profiles to as many pages as they could and watched their creations take a life of their own. The libertarian spirit of the Internet community had outgrown the confines of these fine-print terms of use.
Thing is, it was Friendster paying for the hosting and the whole staff started plucking out fake profiles day and night, until the acrimony hit a critical level, where members just fled across the street to Myspace. And suddenly, Abrams realised he should have taken that offer Google made him in 2003, $30 million to own a share in his business and build it into a juggernaut socialising-machine. Pundits estimate Friendster would now be worth about $1 billion today. In real money.
It is an increasingly difficult line to tread. Offer lame, fake content all round and your site will be deserted. On the other hand, antagonize your base of loyal hardcore users and the same will happen.
Also, there are safety issues and all. Among the scores of online junkies worldwide, one of them is bound to learn how to build a pipe-bomb on a social website. That’s when the marching-army-of-the-one-million-concerned-parents sues you, for all your bacon, across time and universe. Not good.
On the other hand, the online junky, notoriously fickle, has a lot of choice these days and will desert your barren e-landscapes if he finds your content too lame. He’ll be leaving your servers in his wake, churning out unviewed content, unclicked sponsors and unpleased shareholders frothing at the mouth, and not in a good way.
So the Man best beware. After all, most of us might be way too lazy to take to the streets or boycott something, but we might just go to that OTHER free social website of the day.

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