Editorial: Employee-Customer Communication at Social VR and Virtual World Companies

Need to vent? Some companies make it
easier than others to give feedback.
(photo by Icons8 team on Unsplash)

I have been thinking about writing this editorial for quite some time. Social VR and virtual worlds have been a part of my life since I first encountered Second Life back in 2007 (in a story I relate here). I have set foot in literally dozens of different worlds, old and new, and I have shared many of my experiences with you, my faithful blog readers, over the past couple of years.

In those 12+ years of metaverse hopping, I have seen all kinds of interactions between the staff employed by the companies that are building the various social VR/virtual world platforms, and the customers of those platforms, including the content creators. And I have seen many examples of both good and bad communication between employees and users. So I think it’s an opportune time to focus specifically on this topic, especially in light of this week’s events.

It is, of course, entirely up to the company to decide if, when and how it communicates with its customers. Some have taken a highly informal approach, where you can simply grab the person you know is in charge and bend their ear. This works very well for platforms with one-or-two-person development teams (like NeosVR and Cryptovoxels), but obviously, it doesn’t work well for larger and more formally structured companies like Linden Lab, VRChat, and High Fidelity.

The current level of access Sansar users and content creators have to Linden Lab staff via the official Sansar Discord is unprecedented, as many people have already noted. Staff up to and including the CEO, Ebbe Altberg, are available to answer questions. Regular in-world meetings are held with the users. While we should take advantage of that openness, we also can’t abuse this privilege.

And frankly, we should not expect that this unprecedented level of openness will stay that way forever. Why not? Because it simply doesn’t scale effectively. In the early days of Second Life I have been told that it was much the same, but over time, as millions of user accounts were created, Linden Lab has had to put various formal systems and structures in place to handle that load, and insert a bit of distance between their staff and their userbase. That’s an inevitable step as a product becomes popular, just to maintain some sanity for people providing product support. It happened with Second Life, and it will happen over time for Sansar as well.

But I do want to compare and contrast two examples of employee-user communication that happened this week. One has to do with the disastrous co-working island cam livestreams by High Fidelity. The other is related to the brouhaha over ample coverage of Sansar avatars, which I wrote about yesterday.

In the case of High Fidelity, I have been sharply critical of how the company has essentially abandoned its original userbase in its recent pivot to focus on enterprise use of their platform to support remote teamwork. It’s not so much what they did that upsets me as much as how they chose to do it. For example, High Fidelity shut down the regularly scheduled community meetings where regular users could pose questions and raise issues.

It is now so hard to actually reach anybody at High Fidelity, and the company is now so thoroughly insulated from its user base, that in desperation I had to resort to using a HiFi staff member’s personal Twitter account to report this week’s problems with the livestreams. (I have now been asked by that person to not use that method to contact her about High Fidelity business in future.)

And recently, I had to openly beg on the official HiFi user forums to find out to whom I should be directing a New Yorker magazine writer:

The current sad state of affairs is best illustrated by something that happened to me last Friday. Early that afternoon, I had been in contact with a magazine writer who was planning to write a story about virtual reality, and who asked me (via my blog) about people she could interview in an upcoming trip to San Francisco. I suggested she pay a visit to both Linden Lab and High Fidelity, and interview Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg and High Fidelity CEO Philip Rosedale.

I posted a request to the official Sansar Discord, and within ten minutes, a Linden Lab employee was in touch with me and gave me the name of a contact within the company that I could pass on to the writer.

And High Fidelity? After posting requests for assistance on both Discord servers and the official High Fidelity user forums, and waiting all afternoon for someone from the company to get back to me, I finally posted in exasperation:

“Is there NOBODY from High Fidelity monitoring these forums?!?? I got a response back from Linden Lab within half an hour, with the name of a contact person. I’ve been waiting all afternoon and nobody from HiFi has given me the name of a contact person that this writer could set up a meeting with.
Seriously? SERIOUSLY?!?? This is potential marketing for your platform.”

Eventually, one person (someone not associated with the company) suggested I message Jazmin Cano, High Fidelity’s User Engagement Manager, on Twitter, which I finally did late Friday evening. Jazmin was able to provide me with information that I could pass on to the writer.

High Fidelity’s community manager, Emily, did finally get back to me on Monday morning—a whole weekend later. It seems pretty clear that HiFi staff are not monitoring the Discord servers or the official community forums on a regular basis. And I don’t blame Emily or any one person for this current state of affairs. This is a sad case where the company has pretty much completely abandoned its original user base, the raving fans who were the platform’s best advertisement.

High Fidelity is a textbook-classic example of how not to communicate with your customers. The current situation is now so bad that its own users have rebelled and formed their own discussion forums and their own Discord server, in opposition to the company’s own official forums and Discord. To have generated such a level of distrust is truly amazing. You have to really work at it to screw things up that much!

Now let us contrast this with Linden Lab. Yes, yes, I know, I know…Linden Lab has often made some stupid mistakes in communication throughout its long history. You can find numerous examples in this blogpost of the Top 20 Controversies in Second Life.

A more recent example was the whole handling of what I now call “the Tilia thing” in Second Life, which eventually led to such an uproar that they held an in-world town hall meeting just to address all the questions and misconceptions that people had. Unfortunately, these types of mistakes have led to a sort of ingrained mindset among many longtime Second Life users that automatically assumes ill will or malicious intent on the part of Linden Lab, which is really rather unfair to the company and its employees.

However, Linden Lab, particularly under the capable leadership of its CEO Ebbe Altberg, has shown a remarkable willingness to make themselves available, to discuss issues of contention with its users, and to incorporate changes to their policies based the feedback they receive. A good recent example of this was the decision not to cut the number of groups that basic, non-Premium Second Life accounts could belong to (please see the update at the end of that blogpost for the company’s official statement).

And every day, I marvel as just how accessible, engaged, and helpful so many Linden Lab staff have been on the official Sansar Discord. A perfect example of that was the lively discussion that took place after yesterday’s blogpost, which, I will openly admit, was biased more towards the content creators than the company. Galileo, Harley, and various other Linden Lab employees took the time to educate this blogger about some of the bigger issues that weren’t so immediately obvious, and they also provided some valuable context as to why (for example) Sansar simply can’t have Ken and Barbie-like naked avatars, and why “ample coverage” is so important.

But the point that I am making in this very long-winded editorial (and yes, there is one!) is that companies like Linden Lab, which engage with their customers, listen to their concerns, and address their questions, are much healthier than companies like High Fidelity that passively (or even actively) discourage such communication.

Does that mean that everybody is happy with everything that Linden Lab is doing? No, of course not. Some end users and content creators are still very upset. Some have voted with their feet. But at least, we can talk about that corporate response in a way where we feel we are being heard. And that goes a long. long way towards happier customers overall.

I have talked about only two companies in this editorial: High Fidelity and Linden Lab. But there are many other examples of good and bad communication between employees and customers throughout the metaverse. We need both to applaud examples of good corporate communication, and to critique examples of poor corporate communication. And I intend to continue to do both on this blog.

Do you have any examples of good (or bad) communication between metaverse company employees and customers that you would like to talk about? Please feel free to leave a comment on this blogpost. Also, there’s the RyanSchultz.com Discord server, the world’s first cross-worlds discussion forum! I’d like to extend an invitation to have you join us and participate in the many discussions and debates that take place there.

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UPDATED! Ample Coverage on Sansar Avatars: “We’re all peacefully witnessing the sansarship”

Jesus H. Christ.

Is there a full moon? That’s the only possible explanation of the levels of craziness I have been witnessing in the past 24 hours on various social VR platforms.

First was the three-ring circus around High Fidelity’s Virtual Co-working Island Cam. And now all holy hell seems to have broken loose in the avatar creation community over on Sansar.

Apparently, a Linden Lab employee has flagged several custom female avatars for sale on the Sansar Store for lacking “ample coverage” (i.e., having enough of their breasts, vagina, and ass covered, as per Linden Lab guidelines banning totally nude avatars. I’ve already written an editorial about this overly-strict policy and what I think about it.

Furthermore, the Linden Lab staff member then issued 24-hour deadlines for the avatars to be fixed, or have them removed. This edict has gone over about as well as it could be expected. One creator who is quite upset about it, Medhue, told me:

Of course, I complained to Ebbe that all the female avatars on the marketplace don’t have enough ample coverage. So, today, all the female avatars or most [were flagged], including Fabeo’s. Fabeo tried to make an announcement about it all, in a funny creative way, and [LL staff member] removed the comment, and banned him from the Discord. In fact, the whole Avatar channel was blocked for any posting for a number of minutes, twice. You could get quotes from Bagnaria and Fabeo about it all, and dealing with [LL staff member]. They are truly a tyrant.

It’s one thing to enforce the rules, but it is another to dictate how much time you have to do it. One day isn’t even remotely reasonable. The craziness in the Discord though, is a whole other level of craziness, by a Lab employee trying to justify their tyranny.

For Bagnaria and I, it is just super demotivating to know [LL staff member] is watching us closely, for any missed step. I only complained to Ebbe to show how they are targeting us alone. All those other bodies were posted a good week before ours. So, [LL staff member] is either targeting us, or they just didn’t do their job for a week, and then chose to hit us first.

(UPDATE: Apparently, Medhue was wrong, and Fabeeo Breen was not banned from Discord. However, “slow mode” was enabled, which meant that you could only post once every five minutes on the #avatar channel. I apologize for my role in reporting untrue information. I should have checked with Fabeeo before posting that, and I didn’t. Also, I screwed up in the use of the proper pronouns in referring to the LL staff member in question. They have all been changed to they/them/their.)

For her part, Bagnaria said:

Let me just say, have never felt less motivated to continue to work on anything in Sansar.

Fabeeo Breen reported on the message he received from Linden Lab:

Hi Fabeeo, Announcing the replacement of the Daphne avatar is fine, but please make sure that your announcement does not contain language that might fall under our Community Standards against Disturbing the Peace.

Medhue retorted:

It is quite funny now that the Lab is using Disturbing the Peace as their reason for removing things posted by their CUSTOMERS. Ebbe, I read the post, and it was entertaining, and creative. Quite enjoyable actually. The only people being disturbed by it was Lab employees. Crap! This could fall under Disturbing the Peace too…

We were the first to get hit by the censor hammer. As Bag pointed out, we were contacted yesterday, and given 24 hours to fix it, as if we are just sitting around doing nothing and actually have the time for this sillyness. If they wanted a specific coverage, then they should have given that to us, instead of being VAGUE. They vagueness created this. I asked them several times at meetings exactly what was required, and instead of taking that question seriously, they laughed it off and said AMPLE COVERAGE. Again, they created this situation, by being vague.

I have complained in the past about the sometimes heavy-handed moderating of the official Sansar Discord. And I have blogged about how we need a return to etiquette, manners and civility in our online forums, too.

Frankly, both sides in this dispute need to take a step back and re-examine how they are approaching this situation. I am not impressed by either side’s behaviour today. Linden Lab needs to stop being so heavy-handed. And, for their part, the content creators need to be a little less thin-skinned.

But all this patent ridiculousness over “ample coverage” could easily be addressed by letting avatars be naked, like Barbie and Ken dolls. Then, custom avatar creators wouldn’t have to guess if the painted-on underwear is too revealing or not. I mean, for God’s sake, the default system avatars and the most popular mesh body avatars in Second Life are sold naked. Why is that such a big deal in Sansar? Is Linden Lab that scared of Sansar being tarred with the brush of X-rated content that they have to police this sort of thing, and go to these ridiculous extremes? Are we going to have an Ample Coverage Police Force?

The only truly funny thing to come out of this godawful mess was Silas Merlin’s comment:

We’re all peacefully witnessing the sansarship…

Perhaps it’s time to re-examine the content guidelines for the Sansar Store again, maybe even loosen them up a little. Either that, or explicitly mandate exactly how much of the avatar needs to be covered.

After all, even children are allowed to play with Barbie and Ken dolls.

May I leave you all with some sage advice from Taylor Swift?

UPDATE, 5:00 p.m.: Well, this blogpost has sparked a wide-ranging discussion on the official Sansar Discord server, and I learned quite a few things that I didn’t know before, such as the fact that the “ample coverage” guidelines Sansar has now are the result of the adjustments they’ve made to accommodate content creators over a period of years, and that the 24-hours rule (while being reviewed, internally, in response to this episode) is also a compromise to the original policy, which was to remove such content immediately without notice.

So, the message I get from Linden Lab is that these rules are not made up arbitrarily or on the spot. Mind you, Linden Lab has historically not been very good at providing the context in which those rules are formulated and updated. And, to be fair, the users and content creators often assume the very worst of intentions on the part of Linden Lab, often leaping to conclusions without evidence. Both sides can improve.

But I do apologize to Linden Lab and their staff the part I played in this. In particular, I jumped the gun and published this blogpost without getting all sides of the story. That was clearly not the best way to handle this situation, and I’m sorry.

SECOND UPDATE, Sept. 18th: I have replaced the original illustration at the top of this blogpost with this wonderful tongue-in-cheek image supplied by Silas Merlin, who told me his own stories of “sansarship”, but requested that I do not repeat them on the blog. Thanks, Silas!

UPDATED: High Fidelity’s Virtual Coworking Island Cam: Really? REALLY?!??

Screen capture from the video linked to below

Look, I am just going to come right out and say this: whoever is doing the marketing for High Fidelity needs to be fired.

Check out this four hour livestream posted to the official High Fidelity YouTube channel, of what they call the Virtual Coworking Island Cam (no, don’t adjust your sound, there is no sound):

A commenter on the RyanSchultz.com Discord, who alerted me to this disaster, said:

No audio and the entire thing’s frame rate is god awful. I showed this to friends and they seriously thought this was Second Life, and to be fair, I can’t blame them.

A commenter on the actual YouTube video said:

What is this? This looks like an Older Version of Second Life? Or maybe a Crappy Sims game. AND WHERE IS THE AUDIO!

I’m watching the video now with my jaw ON. THE. FLOOR. in disbelief that they actually released this video. It’s already had 185 views, too.

About halfway through the video, I noticed that High Fidelity seems to have added AltspaceVR-type emoticons over avatars’ heads, which I don’t remember seeing before. A new feature, perhaps?

Sooo… your product supports VR and you’ve got 3D spatial audio, but you’re relying on 2D emoticons over your head to communicate? You chose to emulate one of the corniest features on AltspaceVR, to appeal to your new target market of business users?!??

I commented on my Discord:

Somebody should save a copy of this for posterity. They can’t have put this up without checking it, surely?!

And they seem to have added AltspaceVR type emoticons over the avatars’ heads, too.

WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY

If this is the best way that High Fidelity thinks they can attract business users for their repurposed social VR platform, then I think it’s time to start a HiFi Death Watch.

I give up.

UPDATE Sept. 17th: I’ve had a good night’s sleep and I’ve re-read this, and I’ve checked the video again. It’s still up, and now it has 259 views. Isabelle Cheren made the following comment on the automatic cross-posting of this blogpost to my Twitter:

If it’s virtual co-working does that indicate the conversation may have been confidential with the no sound? Just a thought but yeah why put it up on YouTube LOL. Good Lord.

And, even given this extremely charitable, possible explanation as to why there is no audio, I still find it almost impossible to believe that High Fidelity actually posted this four-hour, silent video to their official YouTube channel.

People have been talking about this at length on the #highfidelity channel on the RyanSchultz.com Discord all evening and into the wee hours of the morning as I write this update. Here’s an anonymized sample of what they are saying:

A: I mean, I threw them a bone in saying that they can focus their efforts on making this all work but like… really? I give them a single ounce of a break and then this happens.

B: No spawned media during the entire stream.

A: Wait… I didn’t even look for that. Yeah, they didn’t spawn any media/web entities? Oh boy…

B: I don’t think they realize that remote work apps coming out have [the] ability to share files and screens easily. Or how important that is.

Yes, I was extremely harsh in my assessment. But I am not alone. Many other people are looking at this gaffe and are saying the same things about High Fidelity that I am. Way, way harsher than I, was one comment posted to my tweet by Will Burns, whom I have blogged about before, who said:

SECOND UPDATE Sept 17th: Well, High Fidelity is livestreaming again today, and once again, there is no audio. It’s just up there on their YouTube channel, without any explanation or context whatsoever:

There is one difference from yesterday’s livestream, however. High Fidelity has turned off the ability to leave comments on this video. In other words, they don’t even want feedback on this.

To have this happen once could be seen as a mistake. To have it happen two days in a row is a deliberate marketing decision. I also noticed that High Fidelity took down yesterday’s four-hour livestream video, for whatever reason (perhaps because of the negative comments).

Finally fed up with this nonsense, I had to resort to contacting Jazmin Cano, High Fidelity’s User Engagement Manager, via Twitter (the only way I have at present to reach out to anybody on the HiFi team):

Hello Jazmin! Sorry to bother you again, but is High Fidelity aware that the daily Virtual Coworking Island Cam livestreams they are posting to their official YouTube channel have no audio at all? Yesterday’s didn’t and neither does today’s.

I’ll keep you posted if/when I get any sort of reply from the company.

THIRD UPDATE, Sept. 17th: Well, Jazmin didn’t bother to respond to me, but at least High Fidelity has now taken down today’s embarrassing video.

Sweet minty Jesus, what a fucking circus.

FOURTH UPDATE, Sept. 18th: Well, I finally got a reply back from Jazmin:

Hey Ryan, I’ve got time to message you back now that I’m off work. Please know that this is a personal account and not an official High Fidelity channel, sorry!

So, I still have no idea whether or not the livestreams were intentional or an accident, or if my message to Jazmin was what finally alerted High Fidelity that their co-working island cam livestreams had no audio. At this point, the only possible way I can actually communicate with High Fidelity staff is to post a message to their official user forums, and hope that somebody from the company (eventually) responds. The last time I did that, I waited over three days for a response. This is no way to run a company!

A quick-thinking viewer did save a copy of the original Sept. 16th livestream for posterity, though, and you can watch it here (remember, there was no audio in the original or in this copy):

Diary of an Insane Quest: Choice Quotes from My Friendster Blog

Before Facebook, there was Friendster…

OK, I have totally gone down the rabbit hole, re-reading my old Friendster blog, and I am going to share some choice quotes from my misadventures in amassing the largest Friendster network I could muster, from Sept. 30th, 2003 when I started on Friendster with zero connections, through to Feb. 13th, 2004, when I hit the 3 million Friendster mark. Ready? Fasten your seatbelts!

My Friendster profile, when I was halfway to my ultimate goal: 3 million Friendsters!

Saturday, October 04, 2003: “You are connected to 111,713 people in your Personal Network”

I must confess that I can’t even quite grasp the concept. At 15 photos per page, there are 6,827 pages. At one minute per page, just for a quick scan, it would take me 113 HOURS to go through 111,713 profiles. That’s FIVE FULL DAYS. This is truly insane! But it’s addictive, and God some people photograph well LOL. Not that I’m jealous (OK I am).

Saturday, October 04, 2003: I can stop anytime I want!!!

Well, this is addictive. I was up until 4 a.m. in the 24-hour Unix lab, surfing through my Gallery, sending notes to various people whose profiles caught my eye, and occasionally requesting to become a link on someone else’s personal network. Went home, slept 5-9 a.m. and I’m back at again Saturday morning.

I bet there’s a twelve-step group for this, a Friendsters Anonymous. Oh, wait…I already have a request in to join that network too 🙂

Monday, October 06, 2003: Jonathan Abrams [Friendster’s CEO] is in my personal network!

…In my bookmarks list so far are comedians Judy Tenuta and Margaret Cho; California candidate for governor and billboard star Angelyne; drag queen porn director Chi Chi LaRue; Douglas Faneuil, the stockbroker’s assistant who testified against Martha Stewart; and five seriously hot gay men 🙂 sounds like my perfect dinner party LOL!

Tuesday, October 07, 2003: Friendster Slut

Well, according to Friendster’s sequential member numbering system, it would appear that the service has grown from 2 million to 2-1/2 million users in one week. That’s another 500,000 people in 7 days. Amazing. No wonder the venture capitalists are throwing money at it. But the word I think of is: “bubble”. No system can contain this rate of growth forever without problems.

Last night, the system was full of bugs; I couldn’t respond to requests from others to add me to their networks; I mysteriously lost a friend from my network; etc. This morning I sign on again and all’s well. Late evening Winnipeg time seems to the be the worst I guess that’s when all the West Coast people sign on. This morning, when all the Californians are still asleep :-), seems to be a much better time to get good system response.

I’m at the point where my network is growing like a yeast infection, about 50-100 people every 10-15 minutes, even if I do nothing but re-log in and check. It’s weirdly fascinating, like watching a slime mold…

Tuesday, October 07, 2003: Reflections on Compulsion

I have an investor friend whom I tease mercilessly for checking his stock quotes several times a day from his PC. But now I’ve fallen into the same sort of trap myself: I have my Friendster home page open in a corner of my PC, and every 15 minutes or so, I check to see by how many people my personal network has grown. Is it up or down? By how much?

Looking at it from an outsider’s objective perspective, I find this behaviour rather disturbing. Somehow Friendster has hooked itself into some deep need of mine….the need to feel connected? the need to feel I belong?? the need to feel that I can help by linking people together, much as I do in real life? (or at least, as much as I think I do it in real life…). My God. This is bringing up all kinds of nasty questions. But I sure the hell am not going to discuss them on Friendster…I’ll be heading to tribe.net to talk about that.

This is my take on the difference between tribe.net and Friendster: In a large, fancy restaurant, ten people are seated around a table, deep in conversation, brainstorming, idea-shaping, etc. There’s a sense of engagement, commitment, (dare I say it?) community. Those are the tribe.net people.

In the next room, one thousand people are speed-dating over cocktails. That’s the Friendster crowd 🙂

Saturday, October 11, 2003: Thirty-Four Kevin Bacons 

As it somewhat fitting for such a choatic network, Friendster has no les than 34 people claiming to be Kevin Bacon. You know, I betcha Kevin Bacon is already on here somewhere, under an assumed name, and laughing his ass off.

Saturday, October 11, 2003: danah boyd and the Definition of a Friendster Whore

danah boyd, of the School of Information Management & Systems at the University of California, Berkeley, is (I believe) the first person to coin the term “Friendster whore”. She is researching Friendster and other social networks tools, trying to understand how people present their digital identity, negotiate social contexts and articulate their relationships.

Her definition, which I have adopted, is taken from her blog Connected Selves, September 1, 2003:

Friendster whores – people who simply collect as many people as possible, including Fakesters.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003: 42%; Tale of Another Friendster Addict

“You are connected to 1,176,695 people in your Personal Network, through 86 friends.”
Highest ID number in the New People display: Seah (2796871)
Percentage of total friendspace covered by personal network: 42%

I find it interesting that my personal network growth is parallel to the growth of the friendster network as a whole, and therefore my accessible part of the network remains steady at 42%.

Todd Inoue writes in his article ‘Six Degrees of Procrastination’:

“MIKE PARK doesn’t need any more friends. As founder of Asian Man Records, a solo musician and community activist, he has trouble keeping in touch with the ones he’s already got. Recently, however, Mike’s social circle has exploded. In September 2003, he typed Friendster.com into his web browser, and online life for him hasn’t been the same since…

…The day after signing on, Park embarked on an eight-hour Friendster jag, typing in the names of friends randomly, surfing profiles and sending and approving Friendster requests. In two weeks, his list of Friendster friends ballooned to 150.

“I’m addicted,” Park admits. “Whoever came up with this is a genius.” “

This is an excellent overview article, and I recommend it highly.

Saturday, October 18, 2003: Recalculating…

You know, I just realized something: my estimate of the total size of (i.e. number of people in) friendsterspace is too high. What about all the empty spaces where people (fakesters and realsters) have been deleted?

So I decided to conduct a highly unscientific study, checking 40 profiles, from friendster ID=200 to ID=4100, going up by hundreds,. Of the 40 profiles checked, only 2 came back with an invalid ID error., which gives a guesstimate that 5% of the total number of IDs no longer exist. This means I need to subtract 5% from the total size of friendsterspace before I calculate my percent coverage.

O.K. let’s try this…

“You are connected to 1,295,401 people in your Personal Network, through 109 friends. “
Highest ID number in the New People display: Sunshine (2939435) * 0.95 = 2,792,463
Estimated percentage of total accessible friendspace covered by personal network: 46%

That’s better 🙂 …

Tuesday, October 21, 2003: FRIENDSTER CHALLENGE #1: Well, this ought to liven things up a bit…

“You are connected to 1,413,436 people in your Personal Network, through 169 friends.”
Highest ID number in the New People display: Sabrina (3041241) * 0.93 = 2,828,354
Percentage of total friendspace covered by personal network: 50%

This announcement was posted on the Rad Librarians and Friendsters Anonymous profiles, and my bulletin board on Friendster; as well as the Progressive Librarians. Friendster Whores, and Friendster Sucks tribes on tribe.net (plus the following global listing):

“Date October 21, 2003 06:12 AM

Title: Looking for Gamesters: Friendster Challenge #1.

Message: Hey, there’s 2.7 million people on Friendster; let’s have some fun 🙂 …

I issue a challenge to those members of tribe.net who still have friendster accounts …and to all my fellow Friendster whores:

The winner of this challenge gets a glowing, over-the-top testimonial from yours truly (what, you were expecting a washer-drier combo?). The challenge: to have seven people in your personal network (that is, one degree of separation from you) where one is from EACH of the seven continents:

1. North America
2. South America
3. Europe
4. Africa
5. Asia
6. Australia
7. Antarctica (YES, Antarctica!)

–Ryan the Friendster Slut 🙂
http://friendsterslut.blogspot.com

P.S. All entries will be judged by Sister Ryan of the Home for Wayward Friendster Whores (below):

Thursday, November 20, 2003: danah, Dame Edna, and Buddha…

“You are connected to 1,825,516 people in your Personal Network, through 235 friends.
Highest ID number in the New People display: Aileen (3930571) * 0.93 = 3,655,431
Percentage of total friendsterspace covered by personal network: 50%

A couple of days ago, Dame Edna finally accepted an invitation to join my rapidly-snowballing personal network (although perhaps, at 1.8 million, I should start calling it an impersonal network…if I spent one minute with every person in my network, it would take three and a half years…call my receptionist to book your appointment LOL!).

Yesterday, I accepted a friendster request from Buddha and today, danah boyd of Connected Selves (from whom I gratefully appropriated the term “friendster whore”) added me to her network.

At any moment my co-workers, friends and family are going to break down my door and stage an intervention 🙂 …but I’m smarter than them because I know I can stop anytime I want!. MWA HA HA

Oh, and Friendsters Anonymous is back up (yay!) and the testimonials are just as hilarious as ever.

Sunday, November 30, 2003: Two Million

Hey, I did it! I know, I know, what a geeky-dorky and ultimately meaningless accomplishment, but it’s an accomplishment nonetheless. (Quick, someone call David Letterman and the Guinness Book of World Records!)

Two million friendsters in two months (Sept. 30 – Nov. 30, 2003). That’s like meeting 33,300 new people every day for two months. Hmmm, maybe I should consider a career in politics … or selling Avon hee hee hee…

Wednesday, December 03, 2003: Some Friendster Stats for That Next Cocktail Party…

“You are connected to 2,092,944 people in your Personal Network, through 266 friends.”
Highest ID number in the New People display: Rea (4283881) * 0.93 = 3,984,009
Percentage of total friendsterspace covered by personal network: 53%

Since I’ve got access to my Gallery (again.. finally) and to a good chunk of Friendsterspace (hey, what good is a HUGE network if you ain’t gonna use it?), let’s have some fun and run a few stats: (assuming that the half of Friendsterspace I *don’t* have access to is pretty much the same as the half I *do* have access to…)

In all cases, the first number is the result when doing a search on my gallery; it is followed in parentheses by the estimated percentage of Friendsterspace that matches that result.

People who indicated that they were men: 862,398 (41%)
People who indicated that they were women: 835,240 (40%) … which means that 9% weren’t really sure WHO they were…
People who are “just here to help”: 327,533 (16%)
People who are looking for activity partners: 932,953 (45%)
People who are looking for friends: 1,339,616 (64%)

Thursday, December 04, 2003: …and 100% who like to sit and wait for a minute or two after they press the Enter key…

“You are connected to 2,097,997 people in your Personal Network, through 266 friends.”
Highest ID number in the New People display: Celestine (4294446) * 0.93 = 3,993,834
Percentage of total friendsterspace covered by personal network: 53%

A few more fun stats from the Friendsterwhore Institute of Statistical Trends (F.I.S.T.):

People who are looking for a date with a woman: 394,641 (19%)
People who are looking for a date with a man: 298,385 (14%)
People who are looking for a serious relationship with a woman: 289,652 (14%)
People who are looking for a serious relationship with a man: 216,602 (10%)
People who are single: 1,067,620 (51%)
People who are in an open marriage: 48,444 (2%)

And, once again, “Your personal network is temporarily unavailable…” *sigh* oh, wait, it’s come back….

People whose name is “Kevin Bacon”: 33 (0.002%)
People whose name is “George Bush”: 28 (0.001%)
People whose name is “Jesus Christ”: 147 (0.007%)
And people whose name is “Ryan Schultz”: 14 (0.0007%), hmmm, maybe we should start a very exclusive club 🙂 ….

Thursday, December 04, 2003: Driving Along at 833 FPH…

“You are connected to 2,101,102 people in your Personal Network, through 266 friends.”
Highest ID number in the New People display: Sasha (4300785) * 0.93 = 3,999,730
Percentage of total friendsterspace covered by personal network: 53%

When your network gets to over two million friendsters, strange things start to happen. For one thing, your friendsters begin to multiply like Star Trek Tribbles…I added 100,000 friendsters in five days (Sunday to today, Thursday); that works out to 20,000 friendsters a day, or 833 friendsters per hour (FPH, hey now that’s one term we should adopt… but officer, I was only going at 60 FPH!).

Put another way, my personal network is now growing at 14 friendsters per minute, or one friendster every five seconds.

Hmmm, I better set up the hide-a-bed 🙂 ….

Thursday, December 04, 2003: Not a lot of Streisand fans out there….

“You are connected to 2,104,547 people in your Personal Network, through 266 friends.”
Highest ID number in the New People display: Alvin (4307013) * 0.93 = 4,005,522
Percentage of total friendsterspace covered by personal network: 53%

(* …and a voice from the back yells: “MORE STATS!” *)

Number of people who live in the New York City area (within 25 miles of Manhattan): 150,803 (7.1%)
Number of people who live in the San Francisco area (within 25 miles of the Castro): 130,341 (6.2%)
Number of people who live in the Los Angeles area (within 25 miles of Beverly Hills): 146,626 (7.0%)
…and number of people who live in the Winnipeg area: 1,375 (0.065%)

Number of people who list “wine” as one of their interests: 22,361 (1.1%)
Number of people who list “beer” as one of their interests: 23,066 (also 1.1%)
Number of people who list “milk” as one of their interests: 1,818 (0.086%)

Number of people who list “reading” as one of their interests: 193,545 (9.2%)
Number of people who list “shopping” as one of their interests: 108,703 (5.2%)
Number of people who list “sleeping” as one of their interests: 77,421 (3.7%, including Jonathan Abrams)

Number of people who say Celine Dion is one of their favourite singers: 3,174 (0.15%)
Number of people who say Barbra Streisand is one of their favourite singers: only 566 (0.027%)!

DAMN! “Error: Temporarily unable to perform your search. Please try again in a few moments.” Oh well, it was fun while it lasted…

Sunday, December 14, 2003: More Friendster Statistics from F.I.S.T. (the Friendsterwhore Institute of Statistical Trends)

“You are connected to 2,228,509 people in your Personal Network, through 278 friends.”
Highest ID number in the New People display: Nadiah (4527170) * 0.93 = 4,210,268
Percentage of total friendsterspace covered by personal network: 53%

danah boyd asked me to shake a few more statistics out of my personal network, and I was happy to oblige her (but I would like a mention of F.I.S.T. in the thank-yous for your Ph.D. thesis, Danah 🙂 …O.K. on with the show…

Straight vs. Queer (percentages based on then-current network size: 2,139,475):

Women looking for women (dating or relationship): 71,929 (3.4%)
Women looking for men (dating or relationship): 207,756 (9.7%)
Men looking for women (dating or relationship): 336,776 (15.7%)
and men looking for men (dating or relationship): 103,580 (4.8%)

…which means that over 8% of Friendsters (3.4 + 4.8) self-identify on their profiles as queer (gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans*, etc.). The figure is likely a bit higher because of all the queer folk who indicated that their status was single, married, in an open marriage, or “just here to help” (Ryan puts up his hand).

Photos on Profiles (percentages based on then-current network size of 2,143,637):

Men who have photos: 651,808 (30.4%)
Women who have photos: 572,371 (26.7%)
Total number of people who have photos: 1,224,183 (57.1%)

Where Friendsters Come From (percentages based on then-current network size of 2,154,381):

ranked from highest to lowest total number of friendsters according to their profiles… and a warning that these figures are biased by the fact that most of my personal network contacts are in North America…I’d love to see someone from Singapore or Malaysia do the same sort of statistics so we can compare.
Philippines: 286,699 (13.3%)
Singapore: 159,760 (7.4%)
Malaysia: 82,406 (3.8%)
United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland): 33,645 (1.56%)
Hong Kong: 20,666 (0.96%)
Japan: 7,176 (0.33%)
Germany: 4,687 (0.21%)
Taiwan: 4,225 (0.20%)
Indonesia: 3,949 (0.18%)
France: 3,395 (0.16%)
South Korea: 2,906 (0.135%)
China: 2,724 (0.126%)
Netherlands: 2,351 (0.11%)
Brazil: 1,896 (0.088%)
Ireland: 1,491 (0.069%)
Mexico: 1,303 (0.060%)
India: 1,085 (0.050%)
Belgium: 1,003 (0.047%)

Note that I can’t do similar stats for Canada or the United States because Friendster requires that you enter a postal code as well as the country name for these two countries.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004: “Six Degrees of Enough Already”

This morning, on a whim, I sign in (I have noticed that early morning, when the West Coast is still waking up, can often be a good time to use Friendster).

Slow as molasses. Personal network sizes unavailable. Gallery searches still unavailable. Feh.

And the January 2004 issue of Wired puts it best, on its regular feature, the Hype List. On the way DOWN:

Six Degrees of Enough Aleady: Social networking sites from Friendster to Friendzy are sucking up VC (i.e. venture capital) cash. Merge ’em all and call it DoubleClique.

ROTLFMAO…

Tuesday, January 27, 2004: “Being your friend is hard work”

“You are connected to 2,769,765 people in your Personal Network, through 307 friends. “
Highest ID number in the New People display: Dan (5632041) * 0.93 = 5,237,798
Percentage of total friendsterspace covered by personal network: still hanging in at 53%

Jason Kottke has made a hilarious post to kottke.org, here’s a sample:

Overwhelmed by the amount of work necessary to keep up with all my friendships on Friendster, Orkut, and all the other social networking sites, I’ve posted a job opening over on craigslist for a personal social coordinator:

Permanent full-time position for a personal social coordinator for a New York-based web designer. Your primary responsibility will be managing my accounts with various online social networking sites including, but not limited to, Friendster, LinkedIn, Tribe, Orkut, Ryze, Spoke, ZeroDegrees, Ecademy, RealContacts, Ringo, MySpace, Yafro, EveryonesConnected, Friendzy, FriendSurfer, Tickle, Evite, Plaxo, Squiby, and WhizSpark.

Friday, February 13, 2004: Three million Friendsters… yawn

I don’t know whether I should cheer for myself for hitting 3 million, or feel sorry for myself for engaging on this futile endeavour in the first place… God what a waste of time and energy.


I shut down my blog the next day, and walked away from Friendster. I don’t remember exactly when they shut down, but I wasn’t too surprised when they did.

What I do find interesting is that many of the things that people are still talking about today on Facebook, were things that were first brought up in the context of Friendster: who is your “friend”, what does befriending somebody mean on a social network, fake profiles, spamming other people, compulsively checking your social network for updates, etc.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. But back then, social networks were still fun, fresh, new and exciting. Everybody wanted to jump on the bandwagon, it seemed. And many did.

Nowadays, it’s much more likely that people want to jump off, not on. And, just like Friendster, Facebook will likely have its heyday, then fade into obscurity as people leave to join whatever the next big thing happens to be. Mark Zuckerberg might not like it, but it’s inevitable. People in North America are already leaving Facebook in large numbers. Teenagers won’t touch Facebook with a ten-foot pole because their parents and grandparents are on it! (Some of them probably haven’t figured out yet that their favourite hangout spot, Instagram, is also owned by Facebook.)

Nowadays, in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica/Trump/Brexit scandal, people are wary of social networks, as they should be. The halcyon days of Friendster are over. Social networks can be (and have been) weaponized. People look at them with suspicion and distrust.

And we are now seeing some of the fruit from seeds that were first planted back in 2003 when Friendster took off like a rocket. So it is instructive to look back at those early days!