Friendster mania lights up cyberworld


The highest traffic volume to one of the world’s top social networking sites Friendster is from Malaysia, says a recent report.

The website has 44 million registered profiles worldwide which can be accessed by anyone.
The website has 44 million registered profiles worldwide which can be accessed by anyone.
CHOK SUAT LING finds out why Malaysians are so enamoured with such sites

Friendster public relations director Jeff Roberto says it is a good way to keep in touch with friends.

The website has 44 million registered profiles worldwide which can be accessed by anyone.

EVERYONE’S at it these days.
That housewife, businessman, trendy executive, teenage student, his teacher, that accountant, singer and model may all be in different age groups, professions and social backgrounds but they share a common preoccupation virtually unheard of just several years ago — online social networking.

They are logged on several times a week, or even a day, to social networking sites.

So bewitching are these sites that it has been said their only rival is "real life".

Called SNS for short, they have sprung up seemingly overnight and given the word interaction an entirely new dimension.

When just five years ago, social networking would suggest meeting friends, acquaintances or business contacts over a drink or delectable meal, it now carries a whole new meaning.

There are thousands of SNS sites, among them Friendster, MySpace, Yahoo! 360°, Hi5, Multiply, Facebook and iShoals. But in Malaysia, Friendster at is the most popular.

The highest traffic volume to this site, the 17th largest in the world, comes from Malaysia, it was recently revealed.

It is also the second most visited site next to The majority of users, at 55 per cent, are women.

Active users of the site are not at all surprised that Malaysia has surpassed all other nations, even the United States where Friendster originated, in terms of traffic.

Malaysians are enraptured by Friendster for many reasons.

For some, it is to make new friends, for others it is to locate long-lost ones.

But the main reason why they are flocking to the site is because of the large database — 3.1 million — of profiles from Malaysia. They are there because all their friends are.

Founded by Jonathan Abrams in 2002 in California, Friendster, which has 44 million registered profiles worldwide, allows users to set up their personal profiles which can either be accessed by the public, or a select group of friends.

They can email each other over the site, which also allows them to share photos, post bulletins and videos, and blog.

It is like the pen-pal column of yesteryears, only it allows users to do much more.

And contrary to popular perception that SNS sites are only for single young people, there is also a large population of members who are married 30 and 40-somethings.

Jana Ponnudurai, a public relations consultant at Emerald Communications, registered to search for her old friends in Sekolah Menengah Convent Taiping.

Having moved to Kuala Lumpur to work after school, Jana, who is married and in her 30s, thought it would be interesting to see what her old classmates were up to.

"I am in touch with a few schoolmates. We set up a webpage to enable all of us, who are in different parts of the world, to keep in touch. However, I have lost contact with many others," she says.

"I was pleasantly surprised when I logged on to Friendster and saw a link to my alma mater.

"I never expected an American-based site to have a school all the way in Taiping, Perak, on their search list."

While SNS sites are not meant to be used to look for dates, it sometimes ends up doing just that. Some have emailed Friendster thank-you notes for pairing them up.

Friendster Inc marketing and public relations director Jeff Roberto shares one anecdote from Malaysia.

"This guy met his girlfriend through Friendster.

"He had been admiring her from college but did not have the guts to make a move. One day, when he was already working, he chanced upon her profile in Friendster and decided to email her."

An excerpt from that member’s email: "She replied on the same day and confirmed my uncertainties.

"She was the girl that I wanted to meet for so long. With Friendster, breaking the ice was much easier."

Friendster also allows singers, actors, politicians, models, journalists, public figures, and celebrities to set up a fan profile.

Through this, they can quickly build up a fan base and use it to promote themselves, their music and performances.

Roberto says in Malaysia, the most successful and largest fan profile now belongs to aspiring singer Karen Kong.

"She has 105,569 people linked to her profile as fans."

The 22-year-old from Labuan, Sabah, was a participant in Malaysian Idol 2004 and had launched her debut single early this year.

Student Rafiz Hilman prefers Multiply and has been using it for six months.

The teenager set up an account as he wanted to exchange music with other members.

"What such sites allow us to do is amazing. All my friends are on it and I log on almost every day.

"I am thinking of registering with MySpace, too. I heard it is quite cool."

MySpace is a big Friendster competitor. It has been said that MySpace is more open, laid-back, and simpler technologically.

Friendster has lost some ground to MySpace in the West, the US included.

But Roberto says Friendster has the advantage over many other social sites.

"Once you register and give us some key pieces of information about yourself, we push content to you regarding updates in your network.

"It is a more efficient way of learning about what’s new with your friends than having to wander around and figure it out on your own."

Roberto says what is also reassuring about Friendster, especially for parents, are its security features.

"If there are reports, we will take down fake profiles. Users can also restrict those who can view their profiles or email them."

Friendster is continuing to gain ground in Malaysia, and in the rest of Asia, notably the Philippines, Singapore, and Indonesia. It also has a strong presence in Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Macau.

Roberto says: "We noticed increased traffic from Asia in late 2004.

"We saw that traffic continued spiking in the late hours in the US. It was still spiking at 3am, 4am and 5am.

"What went through our heads then was that traffic can’t be from this region.

"People are unlikely to be up at such hours to log into Friendster, so at that point, we started looking at traffic from this region."

So big is Friendster here that the company is contemplating sending a team to Malaysia to offer ground support.

Roberto says: "There may be so many SNS sites now and everything may seem so advanced, but believe me online social networking is still in its infancy."



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