Back to the future – Friends Reunited relaunches

Friends Reunited, the first UK social network, has relaunched today. It’s easy to forget, but this site was once an internet titan, attracting over fifteen million users by 2005 and making its founder Steve Pankhurst one of the first dot-com millionaires.

In 2005, Pankhurst sold his creation to ITV for £120m, but the media company had to sell it on in to Brightsolid (owners of Genes Reunited and Findmypast,) 2009 for just £25 million. It has around seven million users now, and one and a half million visits a month, having joined various other networks in being wiped out by Facebook.

The relaunch does not involve the site’s founder, and it will now have a more nostalgic, scrapbook based, feel. According to a press statement:

The new site will take you on a nostalgic journey through all of those “Remember when?” moments, using the power of iconic images,”

The new idea is that users combine personal memories and pictures of significant events, with Live Aid in 1984 or the Royal Wedding being cited as examples. Accordingly, Friends Reunited has teamed up with both the Press Association and the Francis Frith Collection photographic archive, who will make 350,000 photos available to users.

Privacy has also been made very simple in the new design, in a attempt to lure users away from Facebook, with the only options being to make your postings public, or available to only your contacts. This new style of Friends Reunited is an attempt to counterbalance the information overload users cans get form Twitter, Facebook and similar social networks. It builds on newer social networks like Path, which limit the amount you share, and who is in your network, and are increasingly popular (Path had two million users this February.)

Friends Reunited may well actually have slick new design and content, but some fresh paint and a new stereo doesn’t save a clapped out car. It all feels a bit a web 1.0, a bit Yahoo. Friends Reunited was once a pioneering product, but it has long been struggling to keep up with nimbler, younger creations. This perception of being aged is devastating in social networks, and will end up counting against them. Just ask MySpace.

People may log on to Friends Reunited once or twice for a nostalgic look around, but the likelihood is that it will not build up the critical mass of users that once made it such vital social tool. If you wanted to find old friends via the interent, you have probably already done it on Facebook.

That said there are plenty of people getting sick of Facebook and it does tend to put off older users.

Yet Drew Benvie, who worked as part of the original Friends Reunited team in 2008 and is now MD of UK Hotwire PR, told BBC News he thought there was still room for the site to attract otherwise hesitant social networkers:

“I’m quite excited to see it come back. I can see a lot of opportunity here for the slightly older social media users of today – those who aren’t digital natives.

“I think what Friends Reunited could do is fill a bit of a gap for the average internet user who isn’t being served by Facebook.”