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Keynote: Jonathan Abrams

Filed in: culture, SXSW2004, Web, Tue, Mar 16 2004 21:04 PT

Pud introduced Jonathan Abrams. Abrams is wearing a “dirt bag” t-shirt. He likes the story that his girlfriend dumped him, and so he created the site to get laid. He says “it’s a little more boring than that.” Friends of his in 2002 were talking about using online dating sites. He had been connected to online dating long ago in Toronto, and said, “The problem wasn’t that they were missing photos. The problem was that they were missing women.”

The idea was to create a dating site that wasn’t a dating site, so people would be more comfortable (and “less desperate”) while using it. It was just a filter, “a different way of meeting people on the Internet.”

He loves Craigslist, and says that the anonymity there is an important part. But that’s not what they’re looking for on Friendster. Friendster is about your real life and interactions.

He had the idea, floated it to friends in March 2003, and saw some really interesting interactions, such as venture capitalists chatting up dominatrices, married men chattting up single women, and so on. (Seems it’s always the men chasing after the women, or the men after the men. Plus ça change…) He did say there are more women on Friendster than men.

Friendster was designed to be simple. He ridiculed people who want to have RDF this and interface that. He wants to have “regular people.”

“Everybody wants to create a viral service.” Friendster transcends viral marketing, on to “viral nagging.” Peer pressure to get on, to fix profiles, etc.

Then there’s the definition of a friend. “We do need some way of organizing this,” he says, although the concept isn’t very palatable.

“It collides your world together, for better or worse.” That is, no more blind dating. It collapses time and space. (A friend once explained his hookup site as “a replacement for time, tact and courage.” I’ve always thought this is a perfect match for Friendster, myself.) Lately, on Friendster, they’ve been setting access controls, but he doesn’t think there’s a technological solution for putting up a firewall between your professional life as a blogging accessibility geek and your personal life as a hardcore porn actor. Or something. Shut up. Stop reading this. This is not about me. Move along!

There are “Friendster addicts.” There’s the typical frenzy that dies off after a little while. But “people care about people.” John Kerry created a profile on Friendster. They’ve gotten big references from various media outlets.

“I think we’re all tired of things that end with -ster.” Amen, bruv.

He recalls Ryze in 2001, which was a business networking site. Social networking is now used to refer to sites that only have a few properties in common. Consumer companies, salesforce management, lots of stuff. Some people talk about social networking when they refer to MeetUp, or what they do in person, and that’s not what he calls social networking software. Maybe people will stop talking about it soon.

They will not charge people to login, or contact people. (There, you happy?) He mentions that new tools are going to be added to the system, but no details.

Lots of questions to things: gaming the system (see? It happens.), spam, etc. But, like, that’s why they’re hiring, right?

Question time. Is there a likelihood that people could use Friendster to connect with underage people? Yup. It’s already a problem with sites like this. But you can trace things back, unless there is a large number of false nodes that can’t be traced.

What about Six Degrees? He said it wasn’t really an inspiration for Friendster. It could have been a timing issue, that it was too early. Though they do have a patent that’s been bought by some LinkedIn investors which could be its legacy.

Someone asked about Friendster transforming this and that. Abrams discounts that. The goal was to “lower the level of stupidity on the Internet” to what you normally find in regular life.

He said there’s a phenomenon of people watching the status of people they’re interested in, and suggests a premium feature to track people’s profiles. Big laughs.

Fakesters? There are two kinds: affinity groups, like college grads, and they’re working on adding that kind of functionality. Then there’s obscenity, copyright infringement, and those just have to go because of liability issues. Overall, the abuse issues are really low on the site.

Any affinity groups based on health issues/illnesses? He doesn’t know. It may be happening, but he doesn’t know of it.

Predictions for opening up the platform to third parties? He’s exploring what he can do with Web services and APIs. But they have to deal with privacy and security issues.

And with that, I’m off to Los Angeles. Peace!

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