Before Facebook (FB) became popular, there were a number of social networking sites that captured the attention of users, at least for a time. Lack of strategic planning, poor timing, or just plain bad luck contributed to the failure of these social media sites to achieve staying power. Three, in particular, remain in memory as fantastic upstarts that existed before Facebook came along and swept them all away as the dominant player in social media. In this article, we'll discuss what made Friendster, Myspace, and Second Life popular, and what eventually happened to each site.

Key Takeaways

  • Before Facebook became a dominant social media site, a variety of social networking sites briefly captured the public's attention.
  • In 2003, Friendster was a premier social media site that at one time had three million monthly active users.
  • Music-oriented social networking site, Myspace, was acquired by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp in 2005 in a deal valued at $580 million, one of the biggest purchases of an Internet company at the time.
  • In 2008, Facebook overtook Myspace in popularity; News Corp sold Myspace in 2011 to Specific Media Group and Justin Timberlake for $35 million.

Friendster

At one point, Friendster was considered the premier social media site. Within just a few months of its launch, the company had more than three million monthly active users. In 2003, Friendster's founder, Jonathan Abrams, was offered $30 million by Google to purchase the site. Instead, Abrams chose to take on venture capital investment and try to grow the company.

The company ended up falling apart. It was unable to manage the pace of new subscribers. Web pages routinely didn't load on time or at all. And a site redesign didn't seem worth bothering about.

Friendster pretty much died in 2006, though with a strong following in some of the Asian markets it managed to survive a few more years. In 2011, it resurrected as a gaming site and remained live until 2015. 

Research published by Cornell University says the main reason for Friendster's demise is that even though the site had millions of users in 2009, the links were not resilient enough between the networks people created to sustain their connection.

Myspace

Myspace burst onto the scene in 2003 when co-founders Tom Anderson and Chris DeWolfe and their friends—who were all employed by eUniverse (later Intermix Media, Inc.)—essentially copied Friendster's model but left out the features they didn't like or feel were necessary. Myspace focused on sound infrastructure and scalability. It became a place for users to build a personal community and house personal profiles, blogs, groups, photos, music, and videos.

In 2005, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp bought Intermix Media, which owned Myspace, for $580 million. By that time, the social network had more than 16 million monthly users. At one point under News Corp, the website was valued at a whopping $12 billion.

But, post-2007, Myspace experienced a fall from grace in the social media space, losing millions of users monthly to the rising site Facebook. Some reasons that have been discussed widely were an oversaturation of advertising, slow load times, and a loss of innovation where features were concerned. 

News Corp sold Myspace to Specific Media Group for $35 million. Notably, entertainer Justin Timberlake took an ownership stake in the company. The new Myspace was focused on music where users could access millions of musical tracks and videos. Myspace still exists today. Time, Inc. bought it from Viant (formerly Specific Media) in 2016. 

Second Life

While not a traditional social media networking site, Second Life was at one point, one of the most popular ways to meet and interact with friends on the Internet. The website launched in 2003 by Linden Lab as a virtual world based on 3D modeling. The site aimed to empower users with the ability to interact with other people virtually, participate in jobs, and engage in other activities online through the use of an avatar.

While the business model was different enough from Facebook that it never became a true direct competitor, Second Life became so popular at one point that people began to make legitimate livings through their avatars and tapping into the Second Life economy. Some Second Life users even felt more at home with their virtual avatars than they did in the real world.

By 2013, Second Life had one million regular users. Similar to Friendster, Second Life's rapid growth in users caused the company to struggle with the stability of its infrastructure. In addition, the company was forced to comply with international laws that tried to regulate the money and activities that users were exchanging through the website. Security issues arose as well as a host of other problems, including pornography, intellectual property disputes, and fraud. 

These factors, coupled with the high growth and user adoption of Facebook, caused Second Life to falter and lose users month over month. Second Life remains operational by Linden Lab.