friendster.bmpGary Rivlin, of the New York Times, has just written the best overview yet of the terrific bungle of social networking company, Friendster.

Jonathan Abrams, founder of Friendster, had a great initial vision, and sparked the social networking revolution by allowing friends to hook up with others. The company had an amazing lead, and potential.

But when he took money from high-profile venture capitalists, he paid a high price: These mostly “50-year-old white guys” had their own ideas about how to run the company, and they got more heavy-handed when they realized how much Abrams was “over his head.” In short, everyone was a fault, and it is a great lesson for entrepreneurs.

Here is the tragedy: Had one coherent vision won out, either Abrams’ initial vision for the more “closed” version limiting people to communicate with profiles of their friends, or the more open model adopted by MySpace, the company may have succeeded. Had it forcefully implemented the “closed” version, with conviction, it would have learned, like Facebook did, that gradual opening to others made sense. It could have evolved as it learned. Instead, it seems, the company was mired in indecision. Each executive change (happening every six months to a year) meant a new strategy, a change of course. And once Abrams was out — however arrogant he may have been — so was Friendster’s soul.

Aside from caution, the story also offers hope: If you’ve got a good idea and vision, you can succeed against a seeming formidable competitor that has all the money and best minds at its disposable.

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