Way back in 2000, if you’d told the creators of Friends Reunited that by 2016 around 1 in 4 people worldwide would be using social media, they’d probably have been pretty excited. They’d most likely have been rubbing their hands together, confident that their website, which by allowing people to look up their old schoolmates was one of the first true attempts at social media, would be responsible for a fair chunk of these numbers. Unfortunately for them, it didn’t work out like that, and Friends Reunited recently announced its closure.
To a younger audience, Friends reunited now sounds pretty tame. It might even sound innocent to the point of boring; social media before it became cool. But many of the results from it were far from that. At its peak Friends Reunited had ten million users, and in 2005 one lawyer warned: “If you value your marriage, do not visit this site,” as divorce rates peaked.
Friends Reunited had nowhere left to go. As a result, people went to Facebook and to their new, real friends; once again leaving their schoolmates behind.
There is no doubt that it was good at what it did. The problem was that what it did had limits, which the arrival of Facebook only served to highlight. Finding out what former classmates were doing with themselves now answered nagging questions that people often wondered about, but once that notion was satisfied, Friends Reunited had nowhere left to go. As a result, people went to Facebook and to their new, real friends; once again leaving their schoolmates behind.
There was no shame in it. Friends Reunited is certainly not the only platform to fall to the wayside in the wake of Facebook. For a different, younger generation, Bebo came first, having itself managed to overtake Myspace as the most popular social networking website in the UK. Ireland in particular loved it: at one stage Bebo was Ireland’s most popularly visited website, with over a million users. The AOL takeover of Bebo that would follow, however, is remembered as one of the worst deals in the ‘dotcom’ era, and by 2010, there were few users left who hadn’t already switched to Facebook or Twitter. Bebo has since returned, but as a company that specialise in social apps, having conceded defeat in the social media arena.
Other platforms have come and gone, and Instagram, Vine and several others have plenty to offer, but in terms of stature and all round world-fame, twitter has come closest to challenging Facebook. It works in a different angle, focused more at (attempted) interaction with celebrities, than with friends. It has created a hugely substantial place in modern culture; providing a window into the wider world by showing what is ‘trending’ out there, and allowing quick and easy discussions varying from the business world, to sport and celebrity. Yet even twitter is struggling financially, and hasn’t seemed to dent Facebook’s monopoly over social media. In truth nothing has.
While twitter’s disappearance seems unlikely to come any time soon, Facebook’s feels positively impossible. Friends reunited disappeared because it ran out of things it could offer, but it doesn’t seem like that will happen to Mark Zuckerberg’s creation. daily – if not hourly – routines
, and the recent introduction of business manager apps which will allow business and workers to avail of Facebook technology in the office, and an imminent ‘break-up’ feature, which will allow us to lose contact with ex-partners as well as keep contact with people, suggests that whereas other social media platforms eventually die off, Facebook continues to reincarnate itself, and only gets stronger.