Friends Reunited is so old, in social network years, that its home page contains a link for those who created accounts there with now-obselete email addresses. It began in 2000 — a little more than two years before Friendster (RIP) and (slightly later) MySpace launched; and four years before the first iteration of Facebook. And now, one of its founders announced earlier this month, the UK-based social networking site is shutting down.
“Whilst it’s sad, I believe it’s time to move on and put FriendsReunited to bed,” co-founder Steve Pankhurst said in a Medium post. Basically, Friends Reunited existed to help people find and connect with old friends from way in their past. While in the early 2000’s, that might have been a useful service for which people were willing to pay, that idea is something that Facebook provides for free. In fact, Facebook has lately made these online reunions harder and harder to avoid.
Pankhurst told the BBC that Friends Reunited had a “handful” of active users still, but that those accounts weren’t using the site for its original purpose. Apparently, most of Friends Reunited’s remaining active users were basically using the social networking pioneer as a message board.
Despite its lengthy decline, Friends Reunited once had a lot of promise in the U.K.: Its original founders sold Friends Reunited to ITV in 2005 for $250 million (roughly Rs. 1,698 crores), the BBC notes. It was then sold years later to a comic publisher, DC Thomson, for a lot less money. Eventually, the publisher asked Pankhurst if he and co-founder Jason Porter wanted their old site back. They took it on for a trial period to see if they could find some way to revamp the site so that it could cover its own costs, but that didn’t work out, Pankhurst wrote.
“Of the 10m+ users registered, a lot had done so over a decade ago and hence their contact details were out of date,” he explained. “So even if you were coming to the site to find someone and wanted to contact them, how frustrating it must be to see them listed there and try to contact and then get no response.”
Friends Reunited went through a number of iterations over the years as it changed hands, increasingly focusing on becoming a nostalgia and genealogy brand, according to Pankhurst’s assessment. But before that, as the Guardian’s autopsy notes, Friends Reunited was also an early pioneer in online infidelity concern trolling.
A 2005 article in the Mirror with the headline “IF YOU VALUE MARRIAGE DO NOT VISIT FRIENDS REUNITED” featured dire warnings from a divorce lawyer about “Friends Reunited divorces,” and a marriage guidance group explicitly connected a rise in divorces to Friends Reunited in a Guardian interview in 2004:
Christine Northam, a spokeswoman for Relate, said: “A lot of people have a rosy impression of the first relationship they had at school or college. If they are feeling unhappy with their partner, they begin wondering what it would have been like if they’d stayed with the old flame. Friends Reunited makes it possible to get back in contact with old classmates. It doesn’t cause breakdowns, but for those who were scanning for another relationship, it’s a nice way of doing it. You make contact, you meet and Bob’s your uncle.”
Like many social networks that aren’t Facebook, Friends Reunited’s decline was almost certainly triggered by the success of Mark Zuckerberg’s online empire, which leaves little need for other reunion-type sites.
However, Pankhurst — who said on Medium that he had to sign a pretty “harsh” contract promising not to create competing products for five years after the site’s original 2005 sale – has announced that he’s going to have another go at creating a social networking site this year. It’s called Liife, and it looks quite a bit like a stripped-down Facebook timeline.