Friendster Turns to Google in Search of Profits

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Hoping to finally become profitable, online social networking pioneer Friendster Inc. is joining the crowd of Web sites that rely on Internet search leader Google Inc. for a large piece of their advertising.

Google already has been feeding Friendster ads aimed at making a connection with the surrounding content displayed on a Web page. Under an expanded deal announced Wednesday, Friendster will soon begin to display ads from Google based on Web search requests – a method that has proven to be one of the Internet’s biggest moneymakers.

Last year, Google pocketed a $3.1 billion profit while distributing another $3.3 billion in revenue to its thousands of online advertising partners.

Friendster has been relying on Yahoo Inc. and Eurekster Inc. for its ads generated from Web searches. The switch to Google is scheduled to occur during the second quarter.

After it established social networking online as a hot phenomenon in 2003, Friendster became an afterthought as young Web surfers flocked to hipper sites such as MySpace.com and Facebook.com.

In January, Friendster attracted just 1.3 million U.S. visitors compared to 61.5 million at MySpace and 19 million at Facebook, according to comScore Media Metrix.

But Friendster has been faring better outside the United States, particularly in Asia. In January, Friendster’s worldwide audience totaled 19.4 million, a 25 percent increase from the previous year, comScore said. MySpace’s worldwide audience more than doubled during the same time to 94.8 million.

Despite its global growth, Friendster remains unprofitable. The Google deal should put the company over the hump, said David Jones, Friendster’s vice president of marketing.

Friendster has been drawing upon venture capital of about $25 million to survive so far. Before turning to venture capitalists in 2003, Friendster considered selling to Google.

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