Linking friends of friends

Linking friends of friends compares and discusses both Friendster and Linked In.

Linking friends of friends
Friendster updates idea of old-fashioned intros

By JONATHAN B. COX, Staff Writer

Andy D. Hinkhouse has connections — about 58,000 “friends” and counting.
The Raleigh computer programmer owes his popularity to a Web site,

The free service, among the fastest growing sites on the Web, creates social networks based on degrees of separation. Members invite their friends, who invite their friends and so on, forming a labyrinth of contacts.

Think of it like a cyberspace cocktail party, with people available for dating, e-mailing or just hanging out. The site works toward a goal similar to that of popular personals sites: helping people make associations that they can extend into the real world.

But unlike and other dating services, which pull together millions of total strangers, Friendster users have some link to those they find.

“If I were to describe it, it’s more like a concert where everyone you know and everyone they know and everyone they know is invited,” said Hinkhouse, 27. “The idea is really kind of brilliant.”

More than 1.1 million people have signed up since the site opened to the public in March. Its subscriber base is growing about 20 percent a week, said founder and chief executive Jonathan Abrams, in a telephone interview from company headquarters in Sunnyvale, Calif.

While the growth has been overwhelming, putting a technical strain on the site at times, it hasn’t been surprising, Abrams said.

He got the idea last summer when some friends were testing the waters of online personals.

“I really found that whole concept pretty creepy,” said Abrams, 33, who also founded HotLinks, a service that helps users keep track of their favorite Web addresses. “We are trying to create something that works more like the way things work in real life.

“The people are not anonymous, and there’s more of a sense of accountability and connectedness.”

He began Friendster in August.

The service creates a customized network for each person, allowing up to four degrees of separation. Users can filter the rings of associations by sex, relationship status and the reason they’re looking to meet others.

The average age of Friendster users is 27, and the biggest subset of people are from New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco — not surprising, Abrams said, given the trendy and technical bent of those living there . Dozens of people in the Triangle have joined.

Interest has spread around the world through word-of-mouth.

Hinkhouse said he first heard about Friendster a month ago from a college friend. So far, about 20 friends are signed up. He hasn’t met anyone offline that he first met on the Web site, but he is chatting online with some users.

“A lot of people are worried that the Internet brings us further apart,” Hinkhouse said. “This is definitely something that brings people together.”

Friendster is not alone in that endeavor. Similar sites include and

Even one of Friendster’s investors is hoping to cash in on the social networking idea. Reid Hoffman, who was on the team that created PayPal, the service that lets businesses and customers exchange payment online, launched in May.

The online service helps people network among their professional contacts. Users can search for prospective job candidates or employers linked to friends and other acquaintances.

Contacting them is more complicated than on Friendster, requiring referrals up the the chain of connections. Each person must approve the contact before two people can talk with one another.

That’s because users want to protect their work-related relationships, Hoffman said.

“My friends and I can exchange visibility into our networks,” he said. “I’m not giving away my Rolodex.”

About 12,000 people have signed up for the free service.

Both he and Abrams are eventually hoping to make money. Abrams said Friendster likely will start charging for some services within a couple of months. Signing up on the site and contacting friends will still be free, he said. When someone tries to contact a stranger, they’ll have to pay.

If online dating services are any bellwether, both sites could prosper. The personals services have one of the most promising business models on the Web, and they make money. Jupiter Research has predicted industry revenue will grow from $228 million in 2001 to $642 million in 2007.

Abrams is optimistic that users, when asked to pay, will continue to find value in his service.

“Friendster is not perfect,” he said. “But we try to be a little more like real life and a little less like the Internet weirdness.”

Staff writer Jonathan B. Cox can be reached at 836-4948 or

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