The Friends Reunited story in brief
Friends Reunited was launched in 2000 over two years before Myspace and four years prior to Facebook was introduced to the world by Mark Zuckerberg. The site was founded by Steve and Julie Pankhurst of Barnet, Hertfordshire and friend Jason Porter in 1999 prior to its millennial launch. It gained quick fame and in the early 2000s it was relatively easy to monetize. However, when Facebook came along and that information was free to all, albeit with a different remit, it made for a tricky market for Friends Reunited to function in without a major overhaul. In 2005 the founders managed to winkle £175m out of its sale to ITV, who then flipped it to DC Thomson for a huge loss of some £150m! At a complete loss over how to revitalise the site, DC Thomson eventually turned to its creators to see if they wanted their site back. Pankhurst et al took it on for a trial period but in 2016 they decided enough was enough – there were still some members making use of the site, but not for its initial purpose, rather more of a message board.
Gaps in the market
As of today, there is no Friends Reunited website to be found live on the internet. That is not to say there is no place for a similar site, but the story of Friends Reunited’s demise is one familiar to the bricks and mortar retail world. When any enterprise becomes so staggeringly successful and grows so big in such a short space of time, then suffers a major hit, it is very hard to recover. It could have become stripped down to size and functioned on a smaller scale, with fewer employees and overheads, but instead it was stripped of its soul, sold on and mishandled. A sad story in a sea of other sad stories. But the hole that Friends Reunited has left has not been filled entirely by Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the other social media sites, so there are opportunities that will be taken by new sites.
What have the Pankhursts done since?
Julie and Steve Pankhurst were the face of Friends Reunited, the former having had the idea for the site while on maternity leave and the latter the geeky genius behind the site. They came out of the experience far wealthier and yet they are incredibly grounded people. No round the world cruises or fancy cars for them. Instead Steve has enjoyed the breathing room the money has given him by walking to and from Lands End with mates and becoming something of a ‘business angel’, offering advice to struggling or new enterprises and often investing in them, with somewhat mixed results. The itch to get back in the game has led to him coming up with a new idea – a site called Liife, which is not yet erm, live, that aims to plot key life events on a sort of social media chart – a very stripped back idea aiming to get to the real meat on the social media bone.