August 31, 2004 12:33 PM PDT

Friendster fires developer for blog

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With Friendster like this, who needs enemies?

Friendster, known for breaking new ground in online social networking and promoting self-expression among peers, fired one of its employees Monday for her personal Web log, or online diary. Joyce Park, a Web developer living in Sunnyvale, Calif., said her managers told her Monday that she stepped over the line with her blog, Troutgirl. They declined to elaborate, except to say that it was CEO Scott Sassa's ultimate decision, Park said.

"I only made three posts about Friendster on my blog before they decided to fire me, and it was all publicly available information. They did not have any policy, didn't give me any warning, they didn't ask me to take anything down," said Park, 35.

Friendster spokeswoman Lisa Kopp said that the company does not comment about employee matters.

Park's termination is the latest warning shot for employees who are participating in the blogging phenomenon. Comments made in public forums can boomerang if they come to the attention of the boss, even at supposedly hip, Web-savvy companies such as Friendster.

The firing could dampen widespread enthusiasm for blogs, which by their own right have fostered the development of elaborate social networks on the Web. It also, once again, raises questions about how the new publishing medium changes roles of corporate communication, news media and the community online.

Park isn't the first employee to lose her job for comments made on a blog. But it may be the first such instance involving an employee for a dot-com that promotes connecting and community among Web users--a hallmark of blogging.

For example, Microsoft fired contractor Michael Hanscom last year after he had taken pictures of Apple G5 computers being unloaded onto the software company's campus and posted them to his Web log.

Critics of Friendster's move called it "silly" in light of Park's boosterism of the company.

"Especially for a social networking company, it seems to reflect a particularly poor understanding of the medium," said Wendy Seltzer, staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. She added that because Friendster is a private company based in California, it can fire people at will, barring any discrimination.

One blogger even urged Friendster users to terminate their accounts in retaliation.

Park said she was hired in January to rewrite the Web site in the programming language PHP, replacing its Java J2EE, which had caused the site to congest as Friendster grew in popularity. The revamped site was launched in June without much fanfare, but some outsiders caught on to Friendster's new file extensions and noted the change.

That's when Park wrote about her work on Troutgirl, referring to Friendster's earlier "pokey" site performance. The item was then mentioned on Slashdot, a popular discussion board for techies. That in turn prompted a story on InfoWorld in August. Park also recently wrote about how social networking needs to evolve.

"I felt I didn't say anything disparaging," Park said. "Friendster is in the business of getting people to reveal information about themselves, and for them to terminate me like this is sort of undermining their whole mission."

 

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