Lim Chee Aun

Social networking phenomenon

Friendster site's header section, showing the logo and navigation bar

I don't understand, why is everyone so obsessed about Friendster? It seems to be one of the latest craze among online teenagers nowadays. They all talked about it, including my friends and cousins. As for me, I'm, sort of, indirectly affected by this phenomenon.

Basically, I know that it's one of those social networking sites designed for people to find friends, gather buddies and meet new people. Few months ago, I registered a Friendster account, just to give it a try. I've done few things, such as inviting my friends, search for friends in the so-called gallery, read their profiles, and send private messages. I also found out that I can add testimonials to my friends' profiles, though I've never added even one till now. I can add avatars and upload additonal photos to its undocumented image gallery. The message boards system in Friendster seems primitive, with no advanced features like the phpBB forum.

ASCII art display a shape of heart surrounding the text 'Thanks for being my friend', posted as a testimonial

Lately, I noticed few things going on around the Friendster community. Some users post ASCII art as testimonials for their friends and as part of their own profiles' details. It looks pretty weird because I never thought that such art still exists in this Photoshop-artistry world. Besides, some people actually create virtual groups by registering new accounts, sort of like Yahoo! Groups, where you add it as 'friend' in order to join the group. The person registering this non-human account will be the administrator, approving its members. Smart.

Frankly speaking, I never actually enjoyed using such social networking facilities. When I ask my friends what they did in Friendster, they told me that they just spend their time adding testimonials and add strangers as their friends. Some even challenged each other who has the most number of friends. I remember few months ago, when my cousin checked out my profile page, he was surprised that only 10 friends were listed on the page, at that time. His own friends list is few times longer than mine. Really, I don't see the point to add so much friends. Most people just like to show off that they have more friends than you. Does that make them more popular? Maybe.

I've observed some people starting to unregister their accounts. Supposed they finally see the point of wasting their precious time checking friends list and message inbox. I find it's hard to meet new friends in Friendster, mainly because there's no chatting facility, like ICQ Universe. It would be interesting if I can see my friends' online status and chat with them instantly, which can be a better approach to meet new friends too. Unfortunately, Friendster doesn't even list contact information for profiles, such as e-mail address and ICQ number.

Orkut site's header section, showing the logo and navigation bar

By around May 2004, I heard some fuss about yet another social networking site, called Orkut, affiliated with Google. Some weblogs cited that it is better than Friendster. The word 'better' caught my attention and curiosity to try it. When I visit the Orkut site, I realised that I can only join by invitation. So, I tried asking for invitations from the MozillaZine community and few days later Chris Cunningham sent me one. Thanks a lot.

Orkut's friends management tabs bar and friendship level bar

The first time I get into Orkut, I wasn't surprised that it includes all features of Friendster. The profiles, user gallery, friends list and testimonials are all available. However, Orkut is one step ahead. It includes email and IM fields for the profiles, so that people can contact each other. It has an integrated album gallery, forum communities, friends list management, friendship level categories, built-in address book and good help system. At the same time, it also works as a dating site, as you can send teasers to people you like and add them to your crush list or hot list. There's a neat tool called 'Friends Karma' where you can rate your buddies' trustiness, coolness, friendliness and even sexiness.

I know, Orkut doesn't have a chatting facility, too. Its private messages and forums are good enough, eventhough those are not real-time communication tools. Besides that, there are not many Malaysians there, compared to Friendster's user database. I've sent invitations to my friends, but most of them don't seem to care much since they already have a Friendster account. Some even confused by the name 'Orkut', and keep asking me what it is. Few of them just register, leave and never come back again.

Well, Orkut and Friendster are not the only social networking sites out there. Other sites, such as MySpace and Zorpia, are emerging into the limelight, introducing enhanced photo galleries and blogging applications for its users. Eurekster combines the worlds of social networking and web searching. StumbleUpon accomplishes them all even further, packing everything into an integrated toolbar for browsers, including Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox.

It's simply amazing how web sociology has gained pace these days. One day, I might get addicted to this phenomenon and experience the fun of online socialising.

So, if you want to join Orkut, just blast me an email.