Before there was Facebook, Twitter, Bebo or MySpace there was Friends Reunited.
The social network, owned by Dundee-based publisher DC Thomson, is to close after years of falling user numbers. The decision to shut down the 15 year-old service which aimed to put old school friends back in touch was announced by co-founder Steve Pankhurst in a blog post on Medium.
The ageing social media site was one of the first in the world to create an online social network, but failed to keep pace with the explosive growth of rivals such as MySpace, Bebo and Facebook.
In the online announcement, Pankhurst said that the option of taking Friends Reunited back to its origins “was not a service people would get excited about using again”, adding that a complete re-write of the site was “just not viable”.
After launching in 2000, the site rapidly grew in the UK and was sold on to ITV in 2005 for £175m. In an interview with the New Statesman, Pankhurst revealed that Friends Reunited went from 3,000 users in 2000 to 2.5m users by the close of 2001.
But four years later, following the success of rivals and the effects of a paywall on Friends Reunited until 2008, the enterprise was sold to Dundee publisher DC Thomson for just £25m.
it is with a heavy heart, that we have decided to close the service down.Steve Pankhurst, co-founder Friends Reunited
On the topic of Friends Reunited’s decline, Mr Pankhurst said: “They [DC Thomson] were a company who already had a genealogy site called Find My Past, so it was obvious they were purchasing the company for GenesReunited rather than FriendsReunited — which obviously had started to decline with the likes of Facebook taking over social networking.” Mr Pankhurst added: “It is with a heavy heart, that we have decided to close the service down.”
A spokesperson for DC Thomson said: “Through Findmypast, Genes Reunited, and our partnerships with several prominent organisations like The British Library, and the Imperial War Museum, DC Thomson continues to have a core investment in the family history sector.
“The genealogy sector continues to be an integral part of the DC Thomson portfolio and we wish Steve all the best in his new venture.”
In 2009, DC Thomson approached Pankhurst and original business partner Jason Porter to try and reboot the social network, but enticing users to remain active and update their out-of-date contact details was a challenge. Instead, the website was redesigned to try and limit the decline.
Friends Reunited is still operational at present, though Pankhurst added that users will receive a link to download their photos “within the next month”.
2Within the same announcement, Pankhurst revealed that he will be setting up a new service called Liife. This new social media service is designed for people to share key life moments with only the people directly involved in them.
He said: “Don’t get me wrong, Facebook is fantastic for lots of things and keeping in touch, but as a tool to plot my life its rather cumbersome [sic]”.