Long before Facebook, or even MySpace, there was Friendster, a Web site that gave many people their first taste of the socially networked world to come.
Friendster, which started in 2003, long has been eclipsed by younger, more nimble rivals, turning into something of a ghost town. Its current owner, MOL Global of Malaysia, plans to change its business strategy -- and to wipe out the site's trove of digital memories, including ancient dorm-room photos, late-night blog entries, and heartfelt friend endorsements known as testimonials.
It said the site's basic profile information and lists of friends would remain intact as it becomes more of an entertainment site. It is offering ways for members to download threatened photos and other material.
Nonetheless, the announcement set off a wave of nostalgia among Friendster members, even though most had stopped visiting the site long ago.
Jim Leija, 31, who works at a nonprofit music organization in Ann Arbor, said that even though he had not used the service in three or four years, the news of its plans to erase older material tugged at his heart.
"Your emotions get wrapped up in it," he said. "It reflected a particular moment in time in our lives."
Danah Boyd, a social media researcher at Microsoft Corp. and a fellow at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, said, "We want to forget our misdeeds and bad choices, but we also kind of want to remember them. These old networks are our memories."
Jason Scott, founder of the Archive Team, a group that tries to save such online content, recently rallied efforts to preserve clips from Google Video, which Google Inc. is shutting down in favor of the more popular YouTube.
He called the shuttering of social Web services and online communities a "critical cultural issue."
"This is the everyday neural activity of a world, of a society, scooped up and saved," he said. "To me, that's completely valuable and worthwhile to make sure it is saved for the future."
Mr. Scott said his group planned to try to download as much of Friendster's public data as possible before it is erased at the end of May and to make it available online in some form.