today’s fascination

My short-half-life obession du jour: Friendster. (Access currently requires a direct invite or a ‘beta code’ — let me know if you’re curious.)

The concept appears to be something like the old sixdegrees.com (except minus the constant spam), mated to some of livejournal‘s better interface ideas, by way of hotornot.com except with a (so far) substantially lower mortification factor, all pitched as a sort of even-more-hip Nerve Personals.

The implementation…could use some work. Their servers appear to be very flaky; suspected a naive, cache-less database design, and I have to concur. They’ve swiped livejournal’s “interests” hotlists, which is good, split them out into some broad categories, which is even better, but then failed to point out to their users that they’re asking for a list of nouns rather than sentence-form descriptions, which is bad, and arbitrarily cut off each one at about three lines’ worth of entries, which is worse. There’s an in-house BBS system, but it’s a horrible joke (no threading, no topic organization, just a single constant stream of inanity), and there’s no way to put in active links to, say, your own web pages, which is either a lame attempt at stalking-prevention or just total laziness in re sanitizing incoming html for their database.

The technological ‘twist’ about Friendster, which I am not entirely sold on, is that while it looks a lot like Livejournal, the end-users’s view of the universe is controlled dynamically by who is in your immediate web of ‘friends.’ The limits appear to be: you can see the profile of (and converse with) users no more than 4 links away. You can see people who are 5 links away in people’s friend-lists, but you can’t see their profiles. Anybody more than 5 links away is invisible. Really invisible, to the point that you won’t see their posts on the BBS or their comments in other users’ profiles. And, of course, they don’t show up when you’re searching for potential matches. An aggravating side-effect of this is that there is no way to search for users directly by name or ID — if you’re both on friendster, but too many of your mutual friends are lame to establish a short path between you, the only way to mutually identify is for you to “invite” your friend via email.

The interesting part of this, for me, is that it suggests a possible solution to Livejournal’s eternal cash shortage. There is only one thing that is even more consistantly profitable on the web than porn, and that is dating services. If Friendster can take a slight spin on what is basically just Livejournal’s profile system and pitch it as a matchmaking device, there’s no reason whatsoever that LJ couldn’t set up “liveshadchen.com” as a fee-added service — all you’d need to do is add some extra searchable fields (age, gender, orientation, etc) to the profile DB for people who wanted to play. As a bonus, unlike traditional matching services, where all you have to go on is a picture and a few short lines of text that probably represent several nights’ worth of sweating-to-be-clever, LJ can provide what no other dating service could: actual insight into the person you’re about to meet.

Hm. Maybe I should actually drop a line to

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