Friends Reunited: not quite Facebook
Social networking site relaunches.
Friends Reunited relaunched today, in a decision even the most nostalgic might call brave.
How – one might ask - can it possibly survive in a Facebook world? Since 2003, the site, (which then dominated the social networking industry in the UK) saw its users drop from 20m to 1.5m – and is lucky to have any at all. Described by one technology analyst as “just a footnote in the history of social networking”, it was bought by ITV in 2005 for £175m and sold off two years later for only £25m. Social networking – like an increasing number of industries, including those occupied by Apple, Google, and Amazon - is winner-take-all.
But the investors – publishing firm Brightsolid, in combination with the photo archive company Francis Frith and the Press association - clearly think a niche is there.
A look at their attack plan reveals it to be two-pronged. Both ideas are aimed at areas where Facebook is weakest. One is “straightforward privacy settings”, the other “unashamed nostalgia”.
Chris van der Kuyl, Brightsolid’s chief executive, identifies privacy settings as a fraught area for Facebook. In an interview with the Telegraph in 2010, he said they were too complicated:
“The next generation of social networks need to make their privacy settings simpler. Facebook’s privacy settings are too complicated and people are still not sure what is going into the public domain or not…Facebook started out as a classroom product and has added so much to its service that its privacy settings have become too complicated.”
“It is not in Facebook’s or other social networks’ interest for people to be able to completely lock down their data as these businesses wouldn't be able to monetise their social graph…I am never going to feel sorry for Mark Zuckerberg [Facebook’s founder and chief executive] but he is now in the position with Facebook users where if he gives them more control over their data, he will lose out cash-wise as he won’t be able to serve highly targeted adverts.”
Nostalgia- or “the keeping and collecting of memories”, as Brightsolid have it, is the other place where Facebook falls short.
Despite the new timeline feature, where users can more easily access past conversations and photos, Facebook is very focused on present interactions, with actions quickly dropping off the newsfeed and off individual walls. With frequent updates on layout, information is lost.
Friends Reunited, in contrast, is dominated nostalgic collections - ranging from “I Can’t Believe We Wore It!” to “Maggie Thatcher’s Britain”.
Whether Friends Reunited’s plan will work remains to be seen, but this sort of attempt, by smaller rivals of industry behemoths, is familiar.
Tablet manufacturing competitors of Apple, for example, have long been trying to survive by offering all the things that Apple didn’t add to the iPad. Extra hardware ports, for example, and Flash. The trouble is that on the hardware features that really matter to customers – Apple is already there. On battery life vs power, for example, Apple is pretty much unbeatable. There are tablets running Microsoft’s Windows 8 – which Apple doesn’t do – but then this lacks all the Apps that make Apple’s iPad so attractive.
In short, then, finding untapped niches hasn’t worked yet. Partly because the dominant player is generally ahead on the features that really matter, and party because, once tethered to a particular provider in this sort of industry, it is difficult to extract yourself without leaving all your nostalgic memories behind.
Good luck, then, to Friends Reunited – they’ll need it.
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