NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- This is the way social networks end: Not with a bang, but a "pivot."
Friendster, a pioneering social networking site launched in the pre-Facebook days of 2002, has been struggling for years to justify its continued existence. The site announced Tuesday that it will soon unveil a redesign aimed at giving Friendster a new identity -- but as part of its overhaul, it plans to erase most of the data users have stored on the site.
An e-mail sent Tuesday to registered users told them to expect "a new and improved Friendster site in the coming weeks." It also warned them that their existing account profile, photos, messages, blog posts and more will be deleted on May 31. A basic profile and friends list will be preserved for each user.
Friendster offered an exporter app on its site to let users download their content or port it to third party sites like Flickr or Multiply. Friendster didn't go in details about its new identity, but it appears to be positioning itself as a casual gaming destination.
The site collected nearly $50 million from investors over the years, but technical problems and a general failure to keep up with the times doomed it to also-ran status. Friendster's traffic and active-user count have almost flatlined. Its current owner, Malaysia Internet company MOL Global, bought the site in late 2009 for rumored $26 million price tag.
Unless Friendster is able to pull off a Phoenix-like rise from the ashes, it will be yet another casualty of the Facebook empire, which has nearly stomped out other competitors like MySpace on its path to total Internet domination. Games and other apps have exploded on the platform, giving birth to companies like FarmVille maker Zynga -- and, often, netting Facebook a share of their profits.
In an ironic twist, Facebook currently owns the patents on many social-networking features Friendster helped popularize. Facebook quietly purchased Friendster's patent portfolio from MOL last year, giving it the intellectual-property rights to inventions like connecting users within social networks, linking relationship information with outside databases, and compelling users to upload and share their own content.
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