The sad, slow and entirely predictable death of Friends Reunited

Friends Reunited
Friends Reunited is the plain-looking friend that the successful Genes Reunited drags around with it

When we discovered that Friends Reunited has been sold for three copies of the Beano and a few back issues of the official


magazine, we were amazed - not by the purchase price, but by the fact that Friends Reunited is still going.

ITV bought Friends Reunited in 2005, by which time it was pretty obvious that free social networking was going to be a big deal: MySpace was already attracting millions of users, and Facebook was catching up fast.

Despite this, Friends Reunited was convinced that charging people to get in touch with other people was a really brilliant idea. Until April 2008 if you wanted to harass your first love or send a cheeky "I'm rich and you're not! HA HA!" message to your teenage tormentors, you had to pay for it.

Amazingly, a lot of people did: subscriptions accounted for around 40% of the site's revenues in 2008.

ITV's big mistake was that it paid too much attention to that 40%. Yes, people were paying - but even four years ago it was pretty obvious that charging people for basic communication wasn't going to work in the long term. By keeping the fees until April 2008, it effectively handed the grown-up social networking space to its rivals.

Too late

By the time it saw the light it was too late: announcing the end of subscription charges in April 2008, FR's Jon Clarke admitted that the site's users were very infrequent visitors: "Typically, people use the site once in every three or four months," he told the Guardian. "Then [they do] not come back for four months." Of the site's 19 million members, 13 million visited "at least once in any 18-month period".

So what did Friends Reunited do to encourage people to visit more often? That's right! It made its website as horrible and annoying as it possibly could! Friends Reunited? Ads Reunited, more like.

Have you logged in recently? Compare your FR home page with the home page you get on the social site of your choice.

Where every other site is dominated by content, with a few smallish ads here and there, Friends Reunited is dominated by advertising.

When we logged in this morning we had to scroll down to see any content whatsoever, because the homepage needed to provide a tabbed bar linking to the paid-for Friends Reunited Dating and Genes Reunited services, a big animated banner ad, a full-width strip pushing Genes Reunited, an ad for personalised number plates, an enormous boxed ad pushing - yes! - Genes Reunited, and another box alternating between fat-fighting systems and credit cards for the desperate.

The truth is that DC Thomson didn't buy Friends Reunited: it bought Genes Reunited, and Friends Reunited is the plain-looking friend the successful genealogy site drags around with it.

Friends Reunited itself is effectively dead: like Second Life, dogging and Nazism, it's something the mainstream can do happily without.

Let's face it, the only reason you registered in the first place was to stop someone else pretending to be you and claiming that you've got a balloon fetish.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.