Friendster has just introduced a way to send and receive payments with friends on the social network through your mobile phone — if you’re using Filipino currency, that is. This is a smart way for the site to take advantage of the trusted relationships that its users have already made in one of its core demographics (apparently, about a third of the company’s traffic comes from the Philippines). By taking a cut of every transaction, Friendster is also creating a new revenue stream for itself.

The service is a partnership between Mountain View, Calif.-based Friendster and Philippines-based telecommunications company Globe Telecom. To send money, a user must first register their mobile phone number with their Friendster account (here) as well as enable their mobile number to send and receive payments through Globe’s mobile payment system, GCASH (here). Then, users can send money to anyone on their friends list who also has a GCASH account by viewing their friend’s profile and clicking on the “Send GCASH” button. The sender enters the amount of money to transfer, and GCASH sends the recipient a confirmation text message. The sender then confirms the payment transfer by entering the PIN number for their mobile device. The two companies charge users P2.50 (Philippine pesos) per transaction.

Friendster itself became popular in the Philippines (and eventually other Asian countries including Indonesia and Malaysia) in part through Filipino-Americans telling their friends and families about it. One day, Friendster’s payment service could potentially disrupt the business of other wire-transfer services used by Filipinos in the U.S. and other countries to send money to relatives back home. I tried using the service myself, but it’s not available for mobile users in the U.S. — Friendster will need to bring together disparate mobile and payment systems to make its payment service truly international.

In the meantime, Friendster has a strong position in the Filipino domestic market. It had more than 13 million monthly unique visitors in the country last December, according to the company’s internal numbers — that’s in a country of 14 million internet users. Friendster also has the number one mobile site in the country, according to Opera’s mobile browser stats. As the Philippines and other Asian countries continue to develop, and as the average person becomes wealthier, a payments revenue stream could eventually become significant for Friendster.

But the company is already, to my knowledge, the first large U.S.-based social network to enable this sort of money transfer. Rivals like Facebook and hi5 have been experimenting with getting users to put real money into their own sites — but only to spend on virtual currencies and virtual goods. Perhaps they’ll also move in the direction of direct payments? It seems like a promising new way of making money using the data they have about users and friend relationships.

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