How many friends is too many?

A couple of friends have been in a heated debate off and on during the last few months regarding Friendster. The bad news is there hasn't been a resolution yet, but the good news is they are both glad to see Alf back on TV.

Simply put, Friend 1 wonders why Friend 2 is using Friendster. A better description is not just using it, but trying to win a contest with officemates to see who can have the most Friendsters. Therefore, she has acquired many new "friends," probably ones with whom she hasn't had contact in years. Friend 1 thinks it's crazy to spend so much time digging up the relics of the past, while Friend 2 claims it's a good way to get back in touch with people who have lost touch.

I suppose I'm somewhere in the middle on this issue. The concept of Friendster is interesting. From the Web site, Friendster is an online community that connects people through networks of friends. Basically what you do is fill out a profile, then invite your friends to join. Your friends invite more friends, and the networking grows exponentially, just like a pyramid scheme without the get-rich-quick information packets about selling tiny classified ads.

Like any picture/profile site, it can be addicting, rummaging through other people's random friends for no particular reason. It is easy to search (by name, location, interest, etc.) for others who might have profiles on the site, and you can send messages or add others as friends (assuming the person on the other end confirms the fact that you are a friend). I found it amusing to write to celebrities to find out if they were real, which of course, they weren't, at least the ones I contacted. Bill Walton was the only one to write back, and even though he sure looked like the NBA commentator, the email said the user was in no way affiliated with the real person.

Lisa Kopp, the Friendster spokesperson, said the site will be launching new features and a line of products starting this month. Included in this will be a way to list favorite celebrities, places and objects without appearing as if the user is actually that item. They have already fine-tuned performance issues by switching from JSP to PHP (for those more tech-minded who want to know what this has to do with anything, click here to read from one of the programmers). And Kopp said the company is always looking to improve communications between its users.

But that still doesn't answer my question: What is the point?

Friendster is not for everyone. First, for you to take full advantage of the system, you must have friends on the system. Sure, you can make friends and send messages to people you find through the site. But unlike a personals site, many people on there aren't necessarily looking to meet people. Some are there just to be there. It's almost as if you are walking in a crowd, maybe at school or to a ball game. You see strangers and familiar faces, and you may even have friendly exchanges with these people. But rarely, though, do these people make it into your routine, where you would contact them on a regular basis, unless you were truly interested in making new friends and reconnecting with old ones.

The environment can change, though, even when you see the same people over and over and over, and you do have the potential to find out a little more about these people without intruding. Thefacebook was specifically built for colleges and universities to create an online community. It's similar to Friendster, but due to the proximity of most users, it's more likely that a true networking device can succeed. There's a whole list of other sites out there