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Friendster founder on social networking: I invented this stuff [UPDATED]

July 22, 2009 |  1:28 pm

Jonathan-abrams-socializr

Friendster founder Jonathan Abrams poses in front of the logo for his start-up company, Socializr, at a Lunch 2.0 event in 2007. Credit: Terry Chay

Updated to include a response from Jonathan Abrams. Click "read more" to read his response.

The millions of high school and college kids on Facebook probably have never heard of Jonathan Abrams or his once-popular website, Friendster.

But within a year after its launch in March 2003, Friendster had defined social networking as we know it today. It spurred millions of Americans to fill out their online profiles with loads of personal information and connect with friends online.

The concept inspired hundreds of websites, including some of the world's most trafficked properties -- MySpace, Facebook and Twitter.

As more sites, such as Google Reader and Hulu, add features to make their products more social, Abrams rolls his eyes.

He takes pride in his claim to inventing the idea of requesting and accepting friendships online. But because he's been around it longer than anyone, he's also getting sick of all the friend requests.

"I'm a little burned out, to be honest. I get maybe five friend requests on Facebook per day," Abrams said over lunch in San Francisco recently. "I invented this stuff, and now I'm paying for it."

What Abrams had envisioned was a portal to connect with a tight-knit group of friends. Now, he says, he accepts digital friendships from people he meets through work and from vague acquaintances out of guilt. He finally just ...

... threw up his hands and adapted. Facebook and Twitter are now his vehicles for promotion, not friendships.

What he's promoting is his new start-up, Socializr. A sort of social calendar, the website is a direct competitor of Evite. (How direct? Well, he created grassroots pages including EviteAlternatives.com to express just how he feels about the ubiquitous event invitation service.)

As mainstream media are beginning to latch onto social sites like Twitter, there's evidence that many users are falling off. Twitter creator Jack Dorsey said keeping users engaged is one of the site's main challenges.

Nine Inch Nails rocker Trent Reznor, once a champion of Twitter who created his own micro-blog service for fans of the band, quietly removed himself from Twitter this week. That was shortly after Reznor announced his group's final tour -- effectively eliminating the need to further promote his brand.

Abrams isn't just burned out on Twitter and Facebook, however. Although the godfather of social networking seems to have some sort of connection to just about everyone in Silicon Valley, he shuns the concept of being tied to e-mail 24-7.

He bans his girlfriend from checking her Blackberry in the bedroom. She has to sneak to the kitchen "for a snack"  to feed her habit -- which some refer to affectionately as  "Crackberry."

"You don't need to check your e-mail at 1 a.m.," Abrams recalled telling her.

His nightly downtime doesn't seem to affect his business, neither does his use of the relatively archaic Motorola Razr -- a cellphone without a Web browser or e-mail access.

What messages is he going to miss after dinner? A dozen Facebook notifications?

"I'm working on the computer all day long," he said. "I really just don't need to be spending even more time on e-mail."

Check back Thursday morning for Abrams' inside look into the rise and fall of Friendster.

Updated at 4:25 p.m.: After this was published, Abrams responded to the post taking issue with some of the quotes attributed to him as well as the headline. He said the headline should have made the distinction between social networking and friend requests. Here is an excerpt from his e-mailed reply:

Twitter is now covered with embarrassing "Jonathan Abrams: I Invented This Stuff" headlines, which is a quote taken out of context and definitely a distortion of our discussion.  The part about my girlfriend is also a joke that is presented seriously and does not come across the way it should.

-- Mark Milian

Follow my random thoughts on technology, the Internet and Web start-ups on Twitter @mmilian.

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