Friendster Lost Lead Because of a Failure to Scale

Hey, this scaling stuff might just be important.  Jim Scheinman,  former Bebo and Friendster exec, puts the blame squarely on Friendster's inability to scale as why they lost the social networking race:

VB: Can you tell me a bit about what you learned in your time at Friendster?

JS: For me, it basically came down to failed execution on the technology side — we had millions of Friendster members begging us to get the site working faster so they could log in and spend hours social networking with their friends. I remember coming in to the office for months reading thousands of customer service emails telling us that if we didn’t get our site working better soon, they’d be ‘forced to join’ a new social networking site that had just launched called MySpace…the rest is history. To be fair to Friendster’s technology team at the time, they were on the forefront of many new scaling and database issues that web sites simply hadn’t had to deal with prior to Friendster. As is often the case, the early pioneer made critical mistakes that enabled later entrants to the market, MySpace, Facebook & Bebo to learn and excel. As a postscript to the story, it’s interesting to note that Kent Lindstrom (CEO of Friendster) and the rest of the team have done an outstanding job righting that ship.

Hopefully with all the quality information out now on the intertubes visionaries can concentrate on making good stuff instead of always fighting the plumbing. When you think about, is there any industry or group that gives so much value away for free as the software community? I don't think so. We are an amazingly giving group and the world has benefited greatly from that impulse. A thought for Thanksgiving.

Update: from Wallflower at the Web Party:

But the board also lost sight of the task at hand, according to Kent Lindstrom, an early investor in Friendster and one of its first employees. As Friendster became more popular, its overwhelmed Web site became slower. Things would become so bad that a Friendster Web page took as long as 40 seconds to download. Yet, from where Mr. Lindstrom sat, technical difficulties proved too pedestrian for a board of this pedigree. The performance problems would come up, but the board devoted most of its time to talking about potential competitors and new features, such as the possibility of adding Internet phone services, or so-called voice over Internet protocol, or VoIP, to the site.The stars would never sit back and say, ‘We really have to make this thing work,’ ” recalled Mr. Lindstrom, who is now president of Friendster. “They were talking about the next thing. Voice over Internet. Making Friendster work in different languages. Potential big advertising deals. Yet we didn’t solve the first basic problem: our site didn’t work.”

Update: from Hacker News Discussion:

I have heard from insiders that the founder viewed this feature--the count of people 3 degrees away--as the central embodiment of the magic of Friendster, an absolute must-have. I.e. people added friends in great part in order to feel more connected to 100ks of people.Others in the company begged to at least back it down to a count of people 2 degrees away; but the founder insisted that the magic was the 3-degree version. So instead the company pursued technical strategies to speed up the 3-degree count; don't know what those were precisely, but it seems that they were not pursued as zealously as they could be (due to VoIP, etc. distractions).My understanding, by the way, is that the network size was computed on page-load until surprisingly very late, due to the perceived need for real-time. Even after it was cached, it was still computationally expensive, as your numbers were computed (roughly) every time your 3-degree network added a link.