October 30, 2003

Open Media

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First you ask his name. Standard Procedure. Next step: you ask where he’s from. “The city,” he answers, because as New Yorkers love to remind the rest of us, there is only one city. Too big. You need to narrow it down. You ask him where he went to high school. “Horace Mann,” he replies. Perfect. A bunch of your friends from camp went there, along with some kids from your teen tour. You can now zoom in for the kill. Let the name dropping begin!

If this scenario accurately depicts a sizable chunk of your pathetic social life, or if you’re just trying to figure out who the hell you contracted Chlamydia from, a website now exists that makes the whole “who do you know” process a little bit easier. That website, of course, can be found at www.friendster.com, and is perhaps the hottest thing to hit the twenty something set since cocaine. In fact, the two are actually quite similar. They are both highly addictive. They are both guaranteed to keep you up late at night. And they are both particularly popular among the trendiest hippsters of our country’s major coastal cities. However, unlike Robert Downey Jr.’s powdery friend, friendster will not blow holes in your nose, brain or wallet. I think the choice in an easy one.

The premise behind friendster is simple: each user makes a profile, which allows that user to display such essential information as their dating status, favorite books, movies and music, along with an “about me” and “who I want to meet” section. Then, each user invites up to 500 of their closest friends to join their friend network, thereby allowing free range to pour through their very own personal friend network, in search of old friends, lovers, obsessions and enemies. In case there was any concern, friendster is not limited to the living and breathing. From schools to cities to beers to revered convenience stores, nothing is off limits to be a proud member of the friendster family.

For those of us out there who are nostalgic for the days of eighth grade yearbook signing, the testimonial segment allows us to relive those glory days, by writing some sort of message on your friends’ profiles. But these testimonials go far beyond the yearbook standard of “Well, math sucked, but it was cool having you in my class. You’re really funny and chill. Have a good summer. Keep it Real.” Rather, my hours of sleepless nights spent on friendster have revealed several breeds of testimonials. The first, and by far the most annoying, is the one that genuinely states the user’s good qualities. Whereas most friendster surfers have no real intentions of actual trying to meet any of the friendster users whose profiles we come across, it is generally unnecessary to read accounts of what a “good listener,” “awesome friend,” or “chill girl” a particular user is. Rather, we are much more interested in reading about a user’s excessive production of natural gas, penchant for dropping trou at family functions, or the time they were caught dancing to Brandy in their underwear.

Like the compulsion that drives us to establish that we know the same person as someone who we’ve just meant, the appeal of friendster remains an enigma. It is hard to put our finger on the innate human drive that compels us to name all our mutual acquaintances, just like it is hard to define what is it about friendster that has attracted, and addicted, millions of users. But somehow, knowing that Rachel knows Matt who knows Doug who knows Becky will somehow make me sleep better at night. Oh wait, no it won’t. I’ll be up all night checking friendster.

Archived article by Talia Ron