I notice that the question mark over the future of Friends Reunited has re-emerged again in the press over the weekend. Very little of ITV’s original investment (rumored to be around £175 million) will be recouped if they allegedly sell to Oakley Capital for £15 million. But needs must and with falling broadcast advertising revenues ITV clearly needs to balance their books urgently. But I can’t help wondering what a would-be buyer would actually do with the Friends Reunited platform if they actually bought it?
Back in 2000, when Friends Reunited launched there was nothing else like it which made it a very compelling proposition. Even having to pay for a subscription wasn’t a big deal because there was no digital alternative. But over the last few years the growth of freely available social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and Bebo has forced Friends Reunited to abandon their subscription model and rely on advertising revenue instead.
Friends Reunited was initially viewed by users as a way to rediscover past relationships but unfortunately they were too slow to use their platform to mediate social interaction. The core user need that keeps users engaged on Facebook is ongoing and persistent social contact. Throwing sheep at one another and tagging photographs of your friends with salacious comments is compelling stuff.
So while Friends Reunited initially met an important user need by brokering a re-introduction to your old school mates they were slow to support ongoing interaction. If you think about it, you’d go online onto Friends Reunited perhaps 2 or 3 times a year now compare that with how you use social media today!
I’d argue the latest Friends Reunited incarnation is well designed and usable – in fact it’s very similar to Facebook in many respects – but unfortunately it’s come too late to be competitive. With Friends Reunited losing market share to Facebook and Bebo it’s going to take a minor miracle to transform the every-reducing unique visitorship into ad revenue.
So the question I’m asking is this: if you were to acquire Friends Reunited what would you do with it?