Who’s in Your Tribe?
Turning to Friendster for the answer, singles are finding love connections a click away.
by Ethan Watters
ThiaBoggs is checking out the online profile of one of her Friendstersnamed Mark. According to Friendster.com’s all-knowing database,the two are connected because Thia’s friend Andrew knowsMark’s friend Alice. Although she likes it that Mark is intoFrench jazz and Buddhist theology, the list of his favorite moviesis pretty weak. Not to fret, as he’s only one of the 112,000people who make up her Friendster.com Personal Network, an onlineweb of friends of friends of friends. That makes for plenty ofother potential matches, and the pool of possibilities grows exponentially every week.
Suddenly, Friendster has become the Internet site of 2003, thanks to self-described “people fiends like Thia, an Oaklandcaterer who’s also developing a television show. Like somany other young eligibles, Thia has spent many a mellow eveningat home checking out the newcomers to the site. In the screwed-upsingles scene of the Bay Area, Friendster’s success is largelydue to the fact that it doesn’t look like a dating service. Think Craigslist meets Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon meets Match.com.
Friendster is based on the concept of what social scientists call “weakties-those people who are just a connection or twooutside our known social circle. Friendster users know that suchconnections are often the best way to get leads on jobs and apartments.Now that the dot-com parties have died out, the site offers a new way to network.
More important, Friendster fans believe that such weak ties are their best hope for finding love. Those who don’t considerthemselves the type to look for a relationship online feel comfortablebeing only a link away from their single and coupled friends. Posted testimonials from mutual friends don’t hurt, either.
Here’s how it works: When you sign up with Friendster, youcreate your personal profile, describe your interests, and a posta photo. You also spell out your intentions: whether you’reinterested in meeting women, men, tennis partners, or friends,or if you’re “just here to help others hookup. Then you send an email to your friends, asking them to join.They repeat the process, and so on, until you become the centerof your own little e-universe. Those not looking for a date onFriendster can busy themselves tracking down old chums or sending interesting profiles to their unattached friends.
Because the site is such a small world, users can’t get awaywith being jerks like, say, so many people on Match.com. For example,Thia’s interest in one Friendster cooled once she learnedhe had also been e-wooing one of her friends. If you play the field on Friendster, expect the word to get around.
“I’ve received strange love poetry from sketchy-sounding guys I wouldn’t date no matter how many friends of friends of mine they know, says Thia. “But most people respect the fun community spirit of Friendster.
That community topped 800,000 members at the end of June afteronly a few months in free beta mode.
“It’s huge with techies, gays, the Burning Man set, and urban singles, says Friendster’s founder, former Netscape programmer Jonathan Abrams.
The key to Friendster’s future, however, depends on the ardor of the singles on the site. Although some aspects of Friendsterwill remain free, Abrams plans to charge for the privilege of contactingsomeone outside your immediate group of friends. It will be a dicey transition.
With all the online dating services and personals out there, will Thia pay money to stay connected on the site? “I’mnot inclined to, Boggs says. “I already know enough people.