Friendster goes young to beat Facebook

Social networking site carves deeper niche within youth market in Asia to get ahead of competition and court advertisers, senior executive says.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor

In a push to find its niche online, social networking site Friendster, is giving itself a newer, younger look targeted at youths in Asia, according to a Singapore-based executive.

Ian Stewart, the company's Asia head, told ZDNet Asia in a phone interview the site's makeover goes live Friday and includes features aimed at attracting and retaining the 16- to 24-year-old demographic. This age group makes up 80 percent of Friendster's global audience, he said.

Stewart, who joined Friendster earlier this year after a two-year stint at MTV, likened the site's youth-centric rebranding effort to the music TV channel's image, which also targeted youths. While viewers outside the target age group may watch MTV, its advertisers are predominantly geared toward the younger crowd--a trend Stewart said is expected to be mirrored at Friendster.

"I don't think generic Web sites focusing on 'everyone' will be successful," he said.

Taking a dig at the competition, Stewart described Friendster as "a place where your parents aren't going to be on".

To that end, Friendster will roll out features meant to keep youths hooked, he said, including a "shout out" panel for broadcasting status messages, a "stream" of friends' updates, a "solid" photo album, a multimedia-capable inbox, birthday calendar and "wallet" feature to buy e-gifts for friends.

Market leader Facebook, appears to carry similar features. In February this year, it hit the 175 million user mark and almost doubled the number six months later in September, at 300 million. The site was established in 2004.

Friendster, which was founded in 2002, has 75 million users.

Nonetheless, the older social network intends to focus on its Asian base for growth. "Only 16.5 percent of Asia is online," Stewart said, pointing to the region's growth potential.

Friendster is betting on planting a strong foothold in the growth market comprising youths in Asia coming online for the first time, he said.

Last year, the social networking site estimated that 80 percent of its users are based in Asia.

Facebook seems to be eyeing the region, too. Last year, it inked a partnership with a Singapore-based advertising agency in hopes of reaching out to Asian advertisers.

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