Ever wonder how people rack up ungodly numbers of friends on MySpace? Many of them game the system by using “friend adders.” Essentially, they strike a Faustian bargain with a huge pool of other members also wanting to boost their numbers, to trick casual visitors into thinking they’re more popular than they really are. But how do they find other members willing to participate in the deception?
Google “friend adder” and you’ll quickly see that this is not an underground phenomenon. It reminds me of the mp3.com days, where artists were paid monthly based on how many plays they got. There was big money to be made, so artists teamed up to help each other out. The technically savvy found more devious ways to rack up millions of plays, generating thousands – even tens of thousands – of dollars per month. Even a relative unknown like Color Theory took in $1600 over a year and a half (yes, legitimately). In contrast, today Rhapsody and Lala shell out a penny per stream.
Getting back to the topic at hand, most of the friend adders I’ve seen work the same way. They display a list of their members with “add to friends” links, which work just like the links on their MySpace profile pages. You click the link, confirm the add, and move on to the next. Each time you add somebody, you earn one point. The users with the most points at the end of the day move to the top of the list, which will give them the most adds the next day. Alternately, you can skip the tedium and go to the top of the list by paying for a “featured listing.”
Ironically (or justly, depending on your point of view), there’s even a site that games the friend adder sites! It automates the process to earn credits on a bunch of different adder sites at once, but supposedly it could get you banned from those sites or even from MySpace.
Unfortunately, the gaming extends beyond friend requests. You can buy $35 software to automate mass comments, messages, you name it. And it’s not just MySpace. You can do the same thing on Facebook, Bebo, even YouTube. For example, you can automatically send friend requests to all the members of a Facebook group with a accompanying note about how you share the same interests. In short, this is not the level playing field for artists that we were promised the internet would provide.
So where does that leave me? I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t curious to see what an extra 10,000 friends might do for sales and search engine rankings. When you really think about it, it’s not like I’m in the habit of turning down friend requests from people I don’t know. Hmm…
Actually, I do turn down friend requests from porn merchants, which brings me to my possibly flawed method of detecting gamers. When you find a profile with 2000 or more of what you consider unlikely friends, click the “view all friends” link. If half of the pics that come up are girls in bikinis or less, you’ll know why.