Friendster Redesign: Rebranding for Users or Potential Buyers?

Login to Friendster and you’ll notice a change in appearance: new logo, new layout, new tagline “Connecting Smiles” and a new mantra: simple, fun and personal. Watch the video before we proceed.

Heck, it even took a swipe at other social networking applications as plain and boring. “Nobody wants to hang out some place plain and boring”. “A place that’s too common, too generic.” If too common means too popular, Friendster could mean Facebook.

Further, the tries to portray Friendster as something that’s identical to MySpace: “I want my own space ”. It’s you, up close and personal: sounds like it copied some tagline from Yahoo! It’s You!

“We understand our users and our major markets in Asia better than anyone. This is just the beginning of a series of new products and services catering to the needs of our users, and in a way unmatched by any other social network,” says Richard Kimber, Friendster’s CEO and a former Google executive in Southeast Asia.

Friendster is among the pioneers in social networking and has risen over US$45 million in venture capital funding to date. But it has long been dislodged by its peers in terms of popularity over the years. While it’s no longer a hot site in the United States the same way it used to be, it is currently a leading web site throughout Southeast Asia, with over 90 million registered users and over 90% of daily traffic coming from the region.

The catch? 80% of Friendster users in Asia today are aged between 16 to 24 and use Friendster mainly to share news, information and entertainment. If Twitter has potential revenue streams out of its microblogging service after its launch in 2006 and initial skepticism over its business model, Friendster doesn’t seem to have the gotten the idea how to make sustainable income out of its young audience – eight years after it was conceived.

friendster-logoThere are new developments in monetization through micropayment using Friendster Wallet credit stored as currency called Friendster Coins which can be spent throughout Friendster’s site for goods and services such as the Friendster Gift Shop. But to me it still remains to be seen whether this will be successful. In comparison, Facebook Advertising has attracted businesses and individuals who promote products and services, taking advantage of its 350 million global users. In the mean time, Friendster can rely on Google AdSense ads, just like millions of other websites and blogs competing for attention and clicks.

I have given up on Friendster, after a string of mishaps such as slow servers, proliferation of spam accounts and dirty page layout attributed to the freedom to alter profile designs. Well, Friendster’s rebranding ushers a new hope for a better performing social networking portal, the first one I joined back in 2003.

However, this change in look and feel and apparent focus on Asian youth may have other underlying reasons. Friendster has been openly looking for buyers since summer. It has hired investment bank Morgan Stanley to find a party interested in acquiring the company or at least some of its assets. Recent updates reveal that an Asian listed firm is about to buy Friendster for no less than US$100 million. That amount is surely bigger than the US$30 million Google takeover bid it refused six years ago. But that’s smaller than the US$210 million valuation made by TechCrunch in July and certainly is dwarfed by the US$10 billion value of Facebook.

If US$100 million the amount this Friendster investment is going to get after six years and five US patents related to social networking, I guess Google would have got a legitimate contender to Facebook’s dominance if it were given the chance to do so.