Long before there was a Facebook, or even a MySpace, there was Friendster, a Web site that gave many people their first taste of the socially networked world to come.
Friendster, which started in 2003, has long been eclipsed by younger, more nimble rivals, turning into something of a ghost town. But on Tuesday, its current owners told users of plans to change its business strategy — and to wipe out the site’s trove of digital memories, including ancient dorm-room photos, late-night blog entries and heartfelt friend endorsements, known as “testimonials.”
That set off a wave of nostalgia among Friendster members, even though most had stopped visiting the site long ago.
Jim Leija, 31, who works at a nonprofit music organization in Ann Arbor, Mich., recalled courting his partner, Aric Knuth, through the site.
“All of our early exchanges were with each other through their messaging systems,” he said. “We were writing early love notes back in the winter of 2003.”
Mr. Leija said that even though he had not used the service in three or four years, the news of its plans to erase older material tugged at his heartstrings. “Your emotions get wrapped up in it,” he said. “It reflected a particular moment in time in our lives.”
The mass deletion of so much evidence of embarrassing wardrobe choices and unrequited crushes might come as a relief to some, especially in an era when it seems that everything uploaded to Facebook can haunt people forever. But some say Friendster has unexpectedly turned into a time capsule with snapshots of who they once were. It is a version of their history that is not in a scrapbook or dusty shoebox but is live on the Web — for now.
“We want to forget our misdeeds and bad choices, but we also kind of want to remember them,” said Danah Boyd, a social media researcher at Microsoft and a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. “These old networks are our memories.”
Joanne McNeil, who studies and writes about Internet culture, said that as more of life is lived on the Web, people become more emotionally invested in the presence of particular online services, even those they have abandoned.
Ms. McNeil added that the realization that years of history could be deleted on a corporate whim was jarring.
“The impermanence of the Web used to be a way of life,” she said. “A site could be gone in weeks, months. But Google and Gmail came along and changed that, and now we always expect to have a copy of our lives online.”
Friendster’s plans to strip the service of older material reminded some of Yahoo’s move in April 2009 to pull the plug on GeoCities, an early provider of free Web home pages. At the time, Internet tinkerers and historians worked to keep the site’s millions of pages from disappearing forever. Jason Scott is the founder of a group called the Archive Team that tries to save such online content. He recently rallied efforts to preserve clips from Google Video, which Google is shutting down in favor of the more popular YouTube.
Mr. Scott said that the shuttering of social Web services and online communities was a “critical cultural issue.”
“This is the everyday neural activity of a world, of a society, scooped up and saved,” he said. “To me, that’s completely valuable and worthwhile to make sure it is saved for the future.”
Mr. Scott said his group planned to try to download as much of Friendster’s public data as possible before it is erased at the end of May, and to make it available online in some form.
Friendster’s current owner, MOL Global of Malaysia, said the site’s basic profile information and lists of friends would remain intact as it becomes more of an entertainment site. It is offering ways for members to download threatened photos and other material.
Friendster was once considered a hot property. The site’s financial backers included Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal, and K. Ram Shriram, one of the first investors in Google. In fact, Google offered to buy Friendster for $30 million in 2003, but the site’s founder, Jonathan Abrams, chose to keep it independent. When MOL Global bought it in late 2009 for an undisclosed sum, it said the site had more than 115 million members, though it was not clear how many of those were active.
Reached by phone on Tuesday, Mr. Abrams said he had not yet heard of the planned changes to the site. And he said he was surprised that anyone would care.
“It’s so old news to me,” said Mr. Abrams, who is involved in projects including a work space for start-ups and a social media venture. “After it was bought by the Malaysian company, that was the final chapter.”
GO TO POWCAST.NET HOMEPAGE
GET UPDATES FASTER, DOWNLOAD MY TOOLBAR
tags: friendster, friendster deletion, friendster deleted, friendster mass deletion, friendster bankrupt, friendsteraccount deletion, friendster delete photo and post, friendster delete, friendster out of service, friendster news news friendster