Facebook may rule the social networking roost these days, but this past week I saw a couple of reminders of how fleeting that status can be. First, here’s an email that arrived from Friendster, once a dominant player in the online social space:
We are introducing a new and improved Friendster site in the coming weeks. As part of this change, we will remove a number of social networking functions in Friendster. This includes your existing account profile, photos, messages, blogs, and shoutouts. However, your list of friends will be preserved, along with your basic profile information.
We understand that your photos, blogs and other private data may be important to you. An application is available in the “Apps” section of the site, until May 31st 2011, to help you download or export them securely to third party sites, such as Flickr or Multiply. The application is available here.
Hmmm, the “new and improved” Friendster sounds like it gives up on being much of a social network at all, and one wonders what the remnant WILL do. This echo of distant defeat comes the same week as some sad news about MySpace, once Friendster’s successor:
News Corp.’s auction of the once-mighty social networking site is coming to a close, with the media giant expected to receive a handful of bids by the end of the week that are in the neighborhood of $100 million, the Wall Street Journal reports.
That price tag is either laughably high or embarrassingly low, depending on where you’re sitting. It is less than a fifth of the $580 million that Rupert Murdoch paid for the site six years ago. But that was when MySpace was the new Friendster, back when such a comparison was a flattering one.
Of course, neither Friendster nor MySpace ever made the kind of money that Facebook currently does, nor did they have anything resembling Facebook’s (paper) value. And Mark Zuckerberg’s creation has so far avoided the kinds of traps that doomed its predecessors, in part by focusing on scalability (Friendster’s Achilles’ heel) and innovation (the lack of which helped doom MySpace).
But the older sites’ current cultural and technological irrelevance hints at the ephemeral nature of internet domination: in an environment as tumultuous as this one and as driven by the fickle human desire for the new and shiny, no hegemony is eternal. All people — and all companies — will pass in their time, no matter how mightily they may bestride the world today. Remember Facebook, Thou Art Mortal.