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Social Networks

Friends Reunited finally put out of its misery

Though you probably didn’t know it was still even a thing, Friends Reunited has finally shut up shop.

Steve Pankhurst, one of the original founders, announced via a Medium post that the site was no longer covering costs and he would be closing the site permanently.

An early social success

The pioneering social network, founded in the year 2000 by Steve and Julie Pankhurst and Jason Porter, was one of the earliest sites of its kind and gained an impressive (for the time) 15 million members at its peak. However, it wasn’t to last.

Sold to ITV for $208 million in 2005, it rapidly lost ground and was bought by a subsidy of DC Thomson for just $35 million four years later. A few death rattle reorganisations were announced in 2012 and 2013 but it was already in terminal decline. DC offered the site back to Pankhurst in 2014.

“Our plan was to put Friends Reunited back to make it more like the original site — that is, listing your schools and memories of your school days,” he explains in the Medium post. “I knew it was near impossible to reboot something that was old and in decline. I had hoped that after putting it back to near its original form that it would plateau off (which it did) and be self-sufficient in terms of covering its costs.”

“It hasn’t covered its costs and like any business this can’t continue indefinitely. Therefore, whilst it’s sad, I believe it’s time to move on and put Friends Reunited to bed. And I feel like I am the right person to do it.”

The graveyard

Friends Reunited isn’t the only victim of the Facebook Monopoly. Bebo, another English social network founded in 2005, went through a similar journey not long ago: After selling it to AOL for over $800 million, Bebo founders Michael and Xochi Birch bought their creation back from a private equity firm – which paid just $10 million to AOL for it in 2010 - for just $1 million on a whim in 2013. Boasting almost 40 million users at its peak, Bebo is now a cutesy messaging app with few followers.

Google has made many failed attempts at social networks: Google Wave and Buzz never got off the ground, Google+ has undergone several painful rebirths and re-launches, while Orkut only ever found an audience in Latin America (and was eventually closed due to competition from Facebook and Twitter).

Even MySpace, once a powerhouse social network and a genuine challenger to Facebook, is another social network in terminal decline. Founded in 2003, it was sold to Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp for $580 million in 2005. Though it was once more popular, not even MySpace could stop Mark Zuckerberg’s relentless rise and NewsCorp sold the social network for just $35 million in 2011. From there it underwent a Justin Timberlake-branded re-launch to become a music platform of sorts and apparently still enjoys a small but dedicated audience. What happens to that audience once all those #TBT pictures are on Facebook or Twitter however, we will see.

More for the pile

With Twitter currently in flux, it’s easy to see why newcomer Peach is grabbing all the headlines. But for every Peach-like success story, there’s a pile of forgotten social startups crushed by Facebook.

Part of Parkhurst’s announcement includes a plug for his new endeavour; Liife. From his description, it seems to be a new social network akin to Facebook’s “Milestones” feature but with an added layer of only sharing them with people who were at that event or moment.

While we wish him good luck, it’s hard to see any new networks making a dent. Granted, some new networks find their place - Pinterest, Instagram, Whisper (but not Secret), VK, Yik Yak and Ello all have their fanbases – but it’s a hard market to break into. Does Parkhurst really think he can muscle into a space he’s already been muscled out of once?

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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is a journalist at CSO Online. Previously he was Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect.

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