By Invitation Only: Friendster.com

A Million-Dollar Infusion Looks Likely To Change the Face of Cyberspace Dating

By Rachel Zuckerman

Published September 19, 2003, issue of September 19, 2003.
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Jonathan Abrams is young, successful and Jewish. He is also single — but as long as he’s got an Internet connection, he’s never alone.

Abrams, 33, is the founder and CEO of Friendster.com, an online vehicle for meeting friends and prospective mates. Since its March beta launch — that’s cyberspeak for “trial run” — the site has attracted 1.7 million members. And now, with a $1 million infusion this month from three well-known Internet executives — including former Yahoo chief executive Tim Koogle — the site stands poised to expand and add new features before its official launch. And one of those features, Abrams told the Forward, could make it easier than ever for Jews to meet each other.

Friendster is all about networking, letting people meet their friends’ friends. Users who are invited to join (it’s invitation only) post profiles and pictures, providing information in various fields — categories — about interests and hobbies, and linking to the other users they know. They can peruse other profiles within four degrees of separation (friends of friends of friends of friends) and make cyberconnections in hopes of finding new friendships or building romantic relationships. The mathematics are astounding: Linking 40 friends to your profile can yield 200,000 people in your personal network.

The site, currently free, has become a daters’ portal — all the fun without the creepier aspects of meeting complete strangers in cyberspace. But while the site’s fields allow users to identify their favorite books, music and television shows, they don’t include a place to note religion.

“Many of my single friends,” Abrams told the Forward, “keep bugging me about adding the religion field so that they can meet other Jews on Friendster.”

One of these days, Abrams said, he’s going to do just that. He won’t, however, reveal a date when such a change is planned, just as he won’t confirm a date for the site’s official launch, when Friendster will debut other new features and become a pay site.

In the meantime, some users have found intricate ways to ensure that everyone knows they’re Jewish: establishing identifiably Jewish screen names, for example, or entering obviously Jewish interests (like “shul-going”) in their profiles.

This isn’t always a good solution, though. Sarah Becker, a 26-year-old California graduate student who listed “Israel” as one of her interests in her Friendster profile, was not happy with the results.

“One guy kept e-mailing me because he wanted to promote his book about Israel,” said Becker, who surmised that the Friendster user e-mailed everyone who listed Israel as an interest. “I found that to be rude.”

Others, however, report that compared to other sites — JDate.com is the largest example, billing itself as the Web’s largest Jewish singles network — Friendster is a good way to meet hip, urban Jews.

“Friendster is much more conducive than other dating sites specifically aimed at Jews toward meeting a more interesting pool of people,” said David Kelsey, 33, an account manager for the Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery in New York. Kelsey, a self-described “post-denominational” Jew who follows many Orthodox observances, contends that he has more in common with Jewish singles on Friendster than on other sites.

“Two of my friends told me how creepy it felt to interact randomly with strangers on online dating sites,” said Friendster’s Abrams. “They said they preferred meeting people through their friends — that felt more natural.”

Rachel Zuckerman, a writer living in New York City, can often be found surfing Friendster.com in search of Mr. Right.






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