The Drum Awards for Marketing - Extended Entry Deadline

-d -h -min -sec

The man behind Friends Reunited's relaunch talks privacy, Facebook and making money from memories


By Cameron Clarke | Editor

March 27, 2012 | 7 min read

As Friends Reunited relaunches today, The Drum asks the man behind its comeback, Brightsolid CEO Chris van der Kuyl, how he plans to return the site to its early noughties glories when it attracted more than 20 million users.

What's the idea behind the new Friends Reunited?

People went to Friends Reunited originally because of this nostalgic feeling of ‘Remember when?’ So we’ve taken that concept and really brought it to what we believe is a natural evolution – remembering every blast from your past, not just workplaces or schools. So for instance you can find great pictures of gigs you were at or sporting events and store them in your own memory boxes.

As you go round the site there’s a ‘keepsafe’ button which you use to store the pictures and content you like in these memory boxes. [Friends Reunited has signed deals with the Press Association and photographic archive company Francis Frith to offer users 350,000 images which may be relevant to key moments in their lives]. It’s like creating a massive number of digital shoeboxes. You can have a box for your old school with all your old classmates or completely private boxes for photos and memories that you want to keep to yourself.

Where do you see Friends Reunited compared with other social networks? Are you pitching this as a rival to Facebook?

We don’t see ourselves competing with them. We’ve got a product that does something really significantly different to them. We’re focused on nostalgia and memories. It’s quite liberating to say we’re not about instant social life sharing or group meetings. We’re about sharing and enjoying and keeping what’s important to your life. That’s why we link to the Timeline - if people want to surface their memories on Facebook that’s fine by us.

If you look at a map of the social media landscape you can see you’ve got LinkedIn for business, Twitter for news, Facebook for social life and we hit that memories market. That’s the one thing we want to be successful in.

If you take Facebook as trying to do almost everything in social media to a shallow depth, we’re taking one area of that and going far, far deeper.

How do you intend to make money?

Even though it’s completely free to browse all the content we’ve got, we definitely think there’s an opportunity to look at some niche and premium content, like the British Newspaper Archive. We won’t do that on launch day, but as time goes by we could allow people to keep premium content.

Then there’s the classic merchandise side from web to print, so once you’ve built all these memory boxes you might want to see them on books or on calendars.

But probably the biggest opportunity is engaging large-scale commercial partners in the memories themselves. So a major car brand for example might want to upload images of every car they’ve ever made so people can ‘keep’ the cars they once owned in their memory boxes. Once you’ve got that relationship you’ve got a pretty warm marketing channel, because the marketers will be able to go out to everyone who used to own a Fiesta and tell them about their new car. That takes us away from in your face display advertising and into a much more classic social form of media.

But we’re not going to run before we can walk. If you look to Google and Facebook and how long it took them to really get a format that worked for their customers, it wasn’t overnight. We understand that. We want to do that in the mid to long term rather than launch something half-baked overnight. So it will be display advertising on day one, but it will evolve into something much more.

Privacy has been a major concern for other social networks, particularly Facebook. How will Friends Reunited tackle that?

Simply the privacy is around these memory boxes. A box can either be private, it can be shared or it can be public. When you take it or you join it you know it’s going to be one of these things. It’s really simple to understand. If it’s public, there’s no restrictions on who can put content in, who can see it – it’s wide open and everyone can be involved and participate. That would be for say a major event or a school. If it's private, that's somewhere you'd put really important memories that you don't want the world to know, and that won't be indexed or made searchable for the whole site.

That’s it. There’s no other buttons, no other settings. It’s just round the boxes, dead easy to understand: private, shared, public.

Do you have a figure in mind of the number of users you wish to attract?

No. We’ve built the plan on engaging the 20m registered users we currently have. At the moment we get one and half to two million people every month coming back to the site, but when they’ve been coming back they’ve seen that nothing’s changed and gone off again. The dwell time is pretty low. Rather than them coming and spending two or three minutes with us, we want them to come and spend half an hour or an hour and lose themselves in the content. If we didn’t get one more user but the current crop started spending five, six, seven times more time on the site, then that would be a huge success by itself.

When you were developing the site, were there things you’d seen other social networking sites do that you were keen to emulate or avoid?

One of the big hot topics at the moment is social influence marketing. We think the concept is really interesting, but the execution of things like Klout is very sledgehammer-like. They’re trying to insert analytics. We watch all these new things coming in. Some of them have great ideas, but generally they set a firework off too early rather than understand their audience.

I’d be crazy to predict we’re definitely going to be successful and this is going to work 100 percent, I’m not going to say that, but I do believe we’ve got a great chance of success and one of the reasons for that is we’re focusing on a core area: memories. People talked about the Myspaces and the Bebos reinventing themselves, but if you actually look at what they’ve done, they’ve had a bit of a facelift but they haven’t really changed what they’re offering.

I think that’s key for us, staying focused and giving people a clear understanding of what it is we’re providing and also what we’re not providing. We’re not trying to substitute the use of other social networks. We’re trying to give them something additional that fills a need.

Who is Chris van der Kuyl?


2007-present: Chief executive officer, Brightsolid

2005-present: Visiting professor of digital entertainment, University of Abertay

2005-present: Chairman, 4J Studios

2005-present: Chairman, Tayforth Consulting

2006-2009: Chairman, Add Knowledge

1999-2006: Chairman, Young Enterprise

2000-2005: Chairman, axis animation

1996-2005: President and CEO, VIS Entertainment plc


The University of Dundee

The University of Edinburgh


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +