I’ve noticed from the referrer logs that my earlier Friendster post is the #3 result on Google for the search phrase “Friendster is slow“, so I figured it was high time I revisited Friendster and poke around a bit more, to see what I could find out.
It was still slow, but not as fatally slow as the first time I was playing with it. I had previously created a profile for myself and uploaded a picture, but I had not invited friends to join. I was curious to find out if I could use Friendster without any friends (irony! irony!), and the answer is “yes,” albeit conditionally.
About the only thing you can do when you don’t have any friends—apart from inviting some—is search for other users. However, I’ll save you some time on that right here: you can only search for users from your personal network—that is to say, friends of friends of friends (ad nauseum); if you don’t have any friends, and by extension no network, then you’ll always end up with 0 users found on the search results.
This wasn’t obvious to me from the way the site was set up, but for sake of argument let’s say I’m socially retarded and overlooked the fact that a site that’s designed to network among friends wouldn’t naturally let you search for strangers… anyway, maybe it was obvious in hindsight and I missed it. Moving on.
I invited some friends. Five that I could think of that (hopefully) wouldn’t think I was too weird in sending them emails inviting them to my Friendster network. Okay, nothing to do after that but log off and wait.
A little while later, my brother had registered with Friendster and suddenly I had a friend! But then I ended up asking myself, “What now?” There still wasn’t any obvious benefit to this system that I could see.
Then, later in the day, another friend registered on the site (I got an email notifying me of this). Didn’t have time to check it out at the time, I was heading home from work. Also didn’t figure there would be any more to do with Friendster with two friends instead of one, so it wasn’t a big priority.
But by the time I logged back into it from home, my jaw dropped: I suddenly have 400 people in my personal network! It turns out my brother linked to two more friends, who in turn link out to friends, who link to more friends, etc. Very six degrees of separation.
Now I can see the value in what’s going on here. I have access to a network of people that I can browse, search (by demographics or by interests), contact. (Noting, of course, recent stories about how a lot of Friendster accounts are fake as people assume different identities online or are just playing around.) Very interesting. I haven’t decided what I’ll actually do with Friendster yet, aside from figuring it out.
Here’s something interesting, though: When I logged on and found my network of 400 people, Friendster seemed to run faster than when I had none. This is counter-intuitive; it should run more slowly when it’s sifting through larger data sets (ie. larger networks). The only thing I can figure is that their data queries are either highly unoptimised—perhaps brute-force searching through all the users to find out none were in my network?—or when dealing with zero-user networks (ie. no friends), the database/system/whatever is dealing with NULLs improperly. And any good database tech can tell you that NULLs can be a killer. It’s very odd.