In 2001, a US entrepreneur came up with the idea of creating a website that would echo the real-world way people meet – through their friends. In August 2002, the site went live, pioneering the online social networking sector. The concept was such a hit that, in 2003, Google offered to buy it for a cool $30,000,000. The offer was turned down. The site remained the top online social network service until around April 2004 when it was overtaken by MySpace. That site was Friendster.

Since then, Friendster has been positively eclipsed by MySpace, which now has more than 50 times the number of monthly domestic visitors as its predecessor (comScore Media Metrix, 2006).

Friendster has become the archetypal tale of unrealised potential in the online world. Why? Because it failed to listen.

In an environment where creative freedom is everything, it dared to dictate, evicting users who put up photos of their dogs instead of themselves, or who attempted to use the platform to launch their garage bands. MySpace, in stark contrast, let chaos reign, encouraging users to do pretty much as they pleased.

The history of the web is littered with the debris of ‘could-have-beens’ like Friendster. The lesson is clear: there is no room for arrogance online. More so than in any other channel, complacency in this space is commercial suicide.

At the recent ad:tech conference on interactive marketing, there was one consistent theme – the consumer is in control. Whether you like it or not, as an online marketer, you are now the chauffeur and you had better listen to where your consumers would like you to take them.

And don’t kid yourself that you can rest on your laurels just because you’re a big player in the offline world. You only have to look at the likes of YouTube (which has experienced 5000 percent growth this year alone) to know that disregarding the little player is a dangerous strategy. As the last few years have clearly shown, the competition is likely to spring from the corner you’ve got your back to.

The smart marketers in this new media world order will be those with one ear to the ground and an eye on that back corner, poised and ready to jump when the need arises.

The likes of YouTube, MySpace and Flickr might be riding high on the wave of popularity right now, but could just as easily join Friendster in the world wide waste bin tomorrow if they let arrogance intervene. In fact, there is a social networking site rising through the ranks right now that claims it can topple MySpace by the end of the year. Guess which one.