Like Me? Follow Me.
Friends Reunited (FR) was one of the first ‘social networks’ in the UK, long before the term had even been coined, and allowed web users to re-connect with people from their past as well as spark up new friendships, as far back as 2000 (Imagine what life must have been like then - Ed).
By the end of their first year FR had attracted over 3,000 members - not bad for an early pioneer. Like all social sites, FR relied on a network effect and quickly went viral, attracting 2.5 million members by 2001. However, like all online phenomenons, the fuel burnt too fast and it wasn’t long before the site was struggling to keep up, stifled by its own success.
Once you’d registered, seen what your friends were up to, connected with the people you’d lost contact with and had a laugh at how hilarious or tragic your childhood lives were, there was actually very little reason to stick around.
Another problem FR had was its business model. With so many users, FR capitalised by charging a membership fee. This made it less of a community and more of a commercial relationship, and of course, once the value ran out, people began to leave.
Today’s social networks do a much better job at keeping their members engaged. This is why Facebook could so easily and quickly expand from a way of getting to know people at university, to connecting with old friends and making new ones. What's more, they did it all for free.
Lack of appeal
I never used FR. Even during its public buyout by ITV for £175 million in 2005, I had little interest in using the site to connect with friends and, since the launch of Facebook (which posted its billionth member this year) it has been pretty much irrelevant to me.
The appeal of FR was reuniting long-lost friends from school days, and so it attracted a much older audience to its newer, more dynamic social counterparts. The original design of the website was comically amateurish, however it had a lo-fi aesthetic that did make it feel genuine; it also had a perceived value and that allowed users to overlook the design faults. At the time there were no credible alternatives or competition, so it’s no surprise people were happy to make do, however the site failed to change and adapted with the times.
Redesign to the rescue?
Earlier this year the site relaunched in an attempt to re-establish itself and potentially crack the middle-aged market. In my opinion when ITV offloaded FR to Brightsolid for a mere £25m in 2009, it was time to put the site out of its misery.
However the re-launch undoubtedly offers a new sense of purpose, with a focus on providing users with a place to collect and keep their memories. For me this is the right decision and offers at least something slightly different for older users who wish to avoid the likes of Facebook and Twitter.
Users will have access to more than ten million images to collect and share, an archive provided by the Press Association. Images of landmark events, such as women voting for the first time, or the 1966 World Cup win, which can be stored alongside personal pictures in a ‘keepsafe’ box (Great... - Ed).
My final thought is that although the rebrand was essential to ensure the longevtiy of the site, with the popularity of smaller platforms such as Pinterest and Tumblr, I just can’t see FR getting a look in.
Hopefully it’ll prove me wrong, after all if it manages to get the interface, financial model and publicity right, it could crack the middle-aged market wide open and not only attract older, first-time sharers but also those who are increasingly confused by Facebook’s privacy terms.