Friendster reborn in Southeast Asia

Patrick Winn has an interesting article on Friendster’s rebirth in Southeast Asia in the Global Post.

The company has been taken over by MOL, who recently partnered with Facebook to roll out its offline virtual currency, who have ambitious plans for it.

When I blogged about Friendster back in January it appeared to be hedging its rival on ‘local content’, gaming and social currency, a reasonable mix (similar to Hi5’s recent revamp) in a bid to take a share away from Facebook.

The piece gets a little further into the strategies, and includes interview quotes from MOL CEO Ganesh Bangah.

I recommend reading the full article online but a selection below.

Instead of taking on Facebook, Bangah wants to create an alternative. Under MOL, he said, Friendster will be reborn as a youth-marketed site catering to teen tastes in Asia as well as India.

Friendster users will likely keep their Facebook profiles, he said. But as teachers and graying aunts crowd Facebook, he hopes kids will see Friendster as a loose and relaxed refuge from meddling adults. “Facebook has become very ‘real life,’” he said. “We want Friendster to be your virtual life. You could be a girl in one persona. You could be a big monster in another.”

Friendster’s newfound profitability, Bangah said, will rely on it coming into an online gaming hub. This is already MOL’s bread-and-butter: charging for online games, which range from space cowboy shoot ‘em-ups to Disney-esque quests for kids.

In the overhauled Friendster, users will play games for free. Winning, however, may require players to purchase virtual items — perhaps a special sword or a skateboard depending on the game — that lend a competitive advantage. “There are people who just play games for fun,” Bangah said. “But you really need to spend money to win. And there’s that 6 percent out there who say, ‘I have to win.’” He expects this contingent to spend about $30 to $40 per month.

It will be intriguing to see what does to Friendster market itself as a youngsters’ domain. 

There is a danger that with Facebook still growing across Asia, and Southeast Asia in particular, Friendster’s target audience are still in the honeymoon stage and yet to become disinterested with it. 

I’m not convinced that Friendster will gain considerable ‘regular’ members if it co-exists with Facebook, particularly if it is trying the social gaming route which Facebook practically invented. With both Friendster and Hi5 are queueing up to take the benefits of Facebook’s shadow as ‘the other’ social network, perhaps there is a business and potential in syphoning discontented users.

However, the Facebook revolution is still early, as I say, and Asia seems less preoccupied with the privacy issues which had western markets up in arms and circulating ‘how to delete your Facebook account’ tips. I suspect, these issues will emerge in time but for now all I see is Facebook growing its kingdom further still.