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Jonathan Abrams

by: Alexandra J Wall - Last updated: 2003-11-02

Jonathan Abrams

Jonathan Abrams

Friendster’s founder Jonathan Abrams is miffed. The 33-year-old programmer insists he did not create the wildly popular site to meet women after a failed relationship, as a recent article in SF Weekly reported. The Toronto native called that claim “ridiculous,” saying there was no way it could be true since the insane hours he keeps allows him no time to date.

He has a point. Since its public launch in March, Friendster has taken off in a huge way; it now has about 2 million users, and it’s still in beta mode, meaning, in its trial phase. The most often heard complaint about it is that it’s slow; with so many new users signing on each day, it is hard to keep up with the technology to fulfill the demand. Fewer than 10 employees work out of two offices — one in Sunnyvale and one in Mountain View. The site only recently began using advertising, and remains free — for now.

Rumors abound that Friendster will start charging. Not so strange, since Abrams has said it will. The mill is working so furiously about the site, he says, that he keeps hearing rumors that simply aren’t true.

While the essential service will remain free, he says, contacting people outside your immediate network will cost a small monthly fee at some point, but he refrained from saying how much or when.

Abrams, of course, has a profile up on the site. He has 190 friends, despite his honest answer in the section “About me” that, awhile ago, stated, “I’m tired and grumpy.” To be fair, in person he is more high-strung than grumpy.

And in “Who I want to meet,” he wrote: “I’m not really crazy about people. Although a sugar mama would be cool.”

His interests: “Sleep.”

Abrams, who came to Silicon Valley in 1996, can wax eloquent about the success of Friendster and its many uses, but he’s been asked one too many times about his personal life, thank you.

“I’m not a celebrity. I’m just a humble computer guy.”

Maybe so, but he comes across as something else. He tells a joke, then tells me not to write it down. He commands the photographer to stop shooting while he’s talking. Later, he sneaks a peek at a photo just taken of him in the camera’s digital screen. “Don’t use that one, it makes me look fat.”

He’s not the least bit fat, though a tad short, with blue eyes, pale skin and gray-flecked hair. Dressed in a black button-down shirt and jeans, Abrams has a smart-ass sense of humor, offering up beer, wine — Manischewitz, specifically — before the photo shoot, none of which were actually on hand. While being photographed, he dead-pans, “Today is the one day I forgot to wear my Star of David.”

Despite his Reform Jewish upbringing (he went to a Reform day school and became a bar mitzvah), he says now, “I’m not a very good Jew.”

If Abrams didn’t create Friendster to improve his own personal life though, in so many words, he says he did it to help his friends. A lot of them found online dating “creepy.”

“With JDate, a guy is almost bound to be 20 pounds heavier or 20 years older than he is in his photo,” says Abrams. “We’re trying to make the process more accountable. People will put a more accurate picture of themselves on Friendster because you know your friends will see it.”

Abrams is clearly someone who believes in his product. When he was first launching the site, he says he went out on a few dates with women he met on JDate, and Yahoo personals to check out the competition. While he didn’t find the love of his life, he says the women he met through his friends were certainly better than the total anonymity of most dating sites.

“Try it,” he says. Noting that my profile says I’m single, he ends the interview by urging me to go out on three dates with guys from Friendster.

First published in J. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California.
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Copyright 2003 - San Francisco Jewish Community Publications Inc.