Leaving a testimonial for Friendster

I first heard about Friendster on the way home from a show at the Paradise. It was a Sunday night, around midnight, and this tragically hip guy on his way back from a “bender in New York” was hitting on me while we waited for the Red Line. I must have impressed him with my music taste, because as we neared my stop, he asked “are you on Friendster?” When I asked what it was, he said, “ah, nevermind.” And that was that.

A few months later, I received an invite from a friend and joined. It was pretty much the first online profile I’d filled out anywhere, and I spent a lot of time thinking about what I would put there. Long before our Facebook updates represented an idealized version of ourselves, this was our carefully crafted virtual face to the select few: friends, friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends, some of whom I even met in person and dated. “Yep,” I tell today’s digital neophytes who have never even heard of Friendster, “it was totally a legit dating site; a less sketchy version of Match, since you supposedly knew everyone via someone else.”

But then came MySpace and Facebook, and the rest is history. This week, with Friendster sending an email announcing major changes and the opportunity to export my profile in order to preserve its contents, I couldn’t help looking back at that snapshot in time, when I posted a old baby photo as my profile picture, not thinking for a second that someone would assume it was my kid. I was simply “Katie” with two “Sarah”s and a “Sara” on my friend roster. I felt a near-total sense of anonymity and trolled groups that matched my interests with abandon.

This week’s Friendster email is, in effect, a death notice. Most of us had forgotten about the site, and the email just calls attention to its irrelevance. Although the message promises a “new and improved,” “brand new experience,” I wonder how they’ll gain back their once-substantial following by removing everything about it that was personal and quaint (remember how pissed we all were when it started tracking what profiles we’d viewed? Or the panic that ensued when they added the option to include our – gasp! – last names?). In terms of what Friendster possibly has to offer us in 2011, MySpace Music it is not, but I’ll stick around to see what’s next.

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