Interview: Kent Lindstrom, Friendster CTO

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Friendster was launched in 2002 by Netscape alumni, Jonathan Abrams. The site is based upon the natural premise of friends connecting friends – or social (networked) clusters, as the academics like to call it. Since that time, the site has grown to over one million connected users, spawned fan and parody sites, and resulted in new romances, business contacts and friendships. Friendster’s CTO, Kent Lindstrom, was nice enough to answer a few of my questions:
Why start Friendster?
Our founder (Jonathan Abrams) wanted to meet his friend’s friend for dating, making new friends, etc. He found regular dating sites creepy and too focused on just dating. At the same time in an increasingly mobile and time-pressed society, traditional ways to connect through friends (meeting at dinner parties, etc.) were fairly scarce. So Jonathan figured out a simple way to use the web to facilitate and accelerate the concept of friends meeting friends, and thus was born Friendster.

How were some members of the team first introduced to coding?
We have a lot of engineers — but most of them go all the way back to college and high school. Three of them have written published, well-respected books on various engineering topics.

What about “social” software or systems design replicates the physical word?
Links convey information! The fact that someone is connected to your friend “Roger Jones” probably tells you a LOT about that someone.

How do these systems than augment or redesign traditional social interaction?
What would you ask them for? On Friendster, you can find someone who you think is interesting (into metalworking, interesting appearance, or whatever) and THEN ask your friends for details or an intro. It just doesn’t happen that way in the real world.

What issues does Friendster face as the site grows and you look to build out new features?
Technically we’ll be adding things like chat capability, blocking — more network management — all kinds of stuff! So we need to build out an engineering team, which we are doing. Culturally? Who knows. We hope to be a part of the cultural landscape for a long time!

Do you think Friendster would have taken off in 1990? 1995?
No, no and no. Friendster only could have taken off after people realized that using the web to connect with people was basically OK — once really strong relationships among great people — including marriages and babies — started emerging from Match.com and sites like that. Once that was OK, you still needed to remove the anonymity that plagues sites like Match.com, which is what Jonathan did in founding Friendster.

What new directions for social systems do you think could evolve beyond recent projects?
I’m not sure ANY will. We don’t really have a new social system — just an online way to live within the oldest social system in the World.

Is the team just a bunch of startup junkies?
We’ve had experience starting companies, but also some big firm experience as well. I ran a finance and strategy practice at Deloitte & Touche LLP and Jonathan worked at both Nortel and Netscape.

What 2-3 gadgets could you not live without?
Laptop, palm pilot, wine opener.

What other applications or websites do you find interesting these days?
Google! Their innovations (news, shopping at Froogle, etc.) are something to watch.