Friendster dying? More like growing

29 06 2008

On Wednesday, The Digital Movement(TDM) had the privilege of hosting Jeff Roberto, Marketing Director of Friendster Inc who was here in Singapore for the Ad:Tech conference! It was a closed lunch session at the porsh Global Kitchen located in Pan Pacific Hotel with 10 people consisting of TDM’ers, bloggers and thought leaders in the social media space.

What I really liked about this session was how everyone was seated together on a round table and had ample opportunity to ask Jeff questions while he talked about Friendster’s plans to move forward and grow in the social networking(SNS) scene of Asia. Okay I know you’re probably thinking “Who cares about Friendster? They’re dead” with most of our friends having moved their attention to Facebook. However, we often forget they only represent one sector of the Gen Y population from the age of 20 onwards from a small segment of Asia.
 

Interesting Statistics (Global)
Here are some statistics from Jeff (source of data: ComScore Inc.) that gives a better picture of Friendster’s position globally:


7th Largest Website in the world with 22 billion page views. The only SNS ahead of it is Facebook


Monthly page views increased from 6 billion to 22 billion over the past year. Looks like Friendster is actually growing. My interpretation of this is the number of people joining/spending time on Friendster has increased and is more than the number of people leaving.

 


A variety of statistics showing Friendster’s growth over the past year

 


This graph shows the average number of minutes spent monthly on each site. I find this information very interesting. Even after Facebook introduced Facebook chat, people are still spending more time on Friendster. Could it be the explosion of noise from the insane amount of Facebook apps that is causing this? Might explain why the upcoming Facebook profile interface will be separating apps from the main profile page.

 

Interesting Statistics (Asia)
Alright I know you have had enough of Statistics. I’ll get to the Q&A part soon. Just one more graph to show how Friendster is doing in Asia. ^^;;


Currently Friendster is at least twice the size of any SNS in Asia but as Facebook has just started picking up its pace around the region and I don’t have the growth graph for Asia, it is hard to say where Friendster will stand in the future

 

Future Plans

1) Users leaving
One of the questions I asked Jeff was whether Friendster has any plans to reduce the number of older youths from leaving to other SNS like Facebook. His response after a quick laugh was that they are definitely very interested in retaining their users but currently their main target group (which is a majority of their users) are in the age range of 16 to young adults. If users want to move to Facebook which has an interface that caters better to the mature audience they won’t stop them.
I would relate this to the business analogy:

Instead of customizing the product to fulfill everyone’s changing taste and interests(and risk having a bad product), it is better to focus on the needs of one segment and deliver a really good product

To me his response makes sense as most of the teenagers (at least those I know from Malaysia and Singapore) are still actively engaged and signing onto Friendster and not Facebook as most people their age are not on it. However on the other hand if the tastes of these youths change to liken that of Facebook’s interface and content, Friendster might be facing a problem just like how university and college students are moving now.
 

2) Tapping on local celebrities

Another question I asked was about Friendster’s marketing plans to continue growing their user base in Asia. One of their plans is to partner with local celebrities to set up Fan Profiles to not only encourage their fans to support them on Friendster but to also build their fan base among the Friendster community. I thought this was a very interesting strategy that have not been done by any SNS in the region.

An interesting point about Fan Profiles is that unknown artists have built a larger fan base than well known ones. One of the success stories is Karen Kong, a Malaysian singer who built her career and fan base on Friendster. She has done some interesting things to build her popularity like broadcasting an online concert series. She now has 168K fans as compared to famous singer JJ Lin’s 40K.
 

3) Building content with local companies and developers
Instead of leaving the community to develop content for the platform, Friendster will be working closely with local companies and developers to develop content that is attractive to the locals of each country in the region. This campaign has been tested with Rexona’s campaign in Malaysia and Nokia’s iTalentStar contest. The Rexona campaign was a competition where users had to sign on to Friendster and add the Rexona Room Makeover app to participate. Nokia’s iTalentStar was an American Idol style online competition with participants from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Phillipines with users voting for their favourite talents on the contest pages. Both campaigns received tens of thousands of fans on their fan pages.
 

4) Going mobile with text alerts!

So yea, Friendster has gone mobile but there’s no big deal about that. Everyone is mobile. The difference though is text alerts. Not everyone in Asia can afford a 3G connection and have access to Wi-fi but everyone has access to a phone service. With text alerts, they will be able to literally keep up to date when on the move. Think about it as Twitter for Friendster.

The nice thing about this is that it is not one-way. Users can use text alerts to update shoutouts, post bulletins, send messages and friend requests. When I asked Jeff about the costs, he said that they’ll be partnering with local telco companies so that only standard text messaging rates will apply. I must say it is a good and unique mobile strategy for Asian countries. Now they just have to add the application feature and users will be hooked on their profiles all day.
 

Lastly….
To sum the meeting up, after meeting Jeff my perception of Friendster’s current state and future changed as the statistics presented looked positive, the plans sound solid and Jeff’s excitement gave the impression that the team of 65 at Friendster’s office is equally confident. Looking at their plans to open country offices in Asia, we can expect some exciting things coming along our way very soon.

Alright! Before I sign off here are some pics šŸ˜€
 

Side note: About offices, I asked Jeff whether the offices in Asia will be doing any development work coz as we all know, most APAC offices do sales and operations. He is unsure of the exact arrangements but the office in Phillipines will be doing development work while the rest will focus more on sales and marketing. Oh well…
 


The press kit comes in a small, elegant tin box.


Inside is a USB drive containing the press kit, data and presentation slides. I just love the USB drive. Its so cute!


The small group of us šŸ˜€


By the way, food was fantastic!

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9 responses

29 06 2008
kahwee

Hmmm, I didn’t know Friendster is growing too. It seemed to be messy and I tend not to be able to find the things I want. But Friendster is a great way to browse pictures because most people do not lock their picture set. Facebook’s success in implement privacy annoys me a little. I found Friendster more ‘friendly’, i.e. having lesser privacy features, haha… And the food looks really nice. šŸ™‚

29 06 2008
bitbot

@kahwee: Haha yea I guess the Facebook restrictions can be irritating sometimes especially when you’re developing applications. Friendster has waaay less restrictions for developers which makes things a lot easier. However, before Facebook’s privacy policies were stricter, many people were complaining about it being too open.

About Friendster’s interface, I don’t use Friendster anymore but according to Jeff, they got a whole new engineering team in just to revamp the whole backend and interface to make everything more engaging for users. Another reason why most of my friends left Friendster was because there was a time when Friendster couldn’t handle the traffic and pages took forever to load.

29 06 2008
kahwee

I thought Facebook seemed rather slow sometimes too although these days things got speedier. I like Facebook’s way of displaying friends much better. It’s a lot neater than Friendster which just dump one pile of friends into this section that has pagination…

30 06 2008
Jian

While the statistics shown may demonstrate that it has grown, it didn’t say where those hits are coming from. I think Friendster’s growth may be attributed to better worldwide growth as opposed to growth in Western domain (US/UK).

I don’t know, I just like facebook better because of the frontpage, more people use their real names and pictures and less random people inviting you. Seconding Kahwee too, it’s difficult to find friends on Friendster.

30 06 2008
bitbot

@Jian: From Jeff’s slides, Friendster gets 36 million unique visitors per month. If I’m reading the statistics correctly, it says that Friendster has 40 million unique visitors monthly worldwide and hence, that’d mean 90% of their traffic is from Asia. Wow, that may explain why they’re suddenly opening offices all over Asia for Operations and Marketing. Talk about crucial need for Asian market share retention and expansion.

By the way, Peter Kim highlighted to me how misleading the statistics provided by Jeff are. If you look at the stats of daily reach(unique visitors) between Friendster, Facebook and MySpace as a % of total internet population, Friendster’s line looks stagnant while Facebook is growing continuously. Therefore we can interpret Friendster’s growth at only the same rate as the internet population growth while Facebook’s rate is double that.

15 11 2008
friendster hater

what?? friendster is actually growing?! what the heck is this? deceivers!! friendster is actually dying. it sucks. there are a lot of abnormalities going on with friendster this past few months. my friends were complaining about it and just yesterday i’ve had experienced it myself finally. my list of friends were gone! only one was left. how could that be? that’s disrespect to your users! i’m addressing this to the ones responsible. and sometimes fonts get larger than usual. i hope you can attend to my and my friends’ concern.

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