Night Of The Living Social Network: Friends Reunited Relaunches Tomorrow As A Digital Scrapbook

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Friends Reunited — which once laid claim to being the UK’s first social network before falling far behind the Facebook juggernaut — is relaunching this week as a “digital scrapbook” where users can collect their own pictures along with copyrighted photos, through a series of deals with image libraries.

The first two libraries to sign up, the Press Association and photographic archive company the Francis Frith Collection, collectively will contribute some 350,000 photos into the service, and a spokesperson says that there will be “more images and deals with more libraries added in the next few months.” Altogether the site will offer users 10 million “memories” in the form of 6 million photos, 2 million events and 2 million places to tag alongside their own content.

The idea, says the company, will be to collect images to share with friends and family around “remember when” moments: giving some wider context to pictures created by users themselves.

The company does not detail how it intends to make money from the service beyond the usual advertising element we see on other social networks like Facebook. But it does make a point of saying that privacy will be front and center in the service, and pretty simple by the looks of it: users will be given the option of sharing either with their contacts only, or publicly.

It’s crazy to think that in Facebook’s early days, Friends Reunited rivaled it for mindshare and audience in the UK. These days the site only has 7 million active users across the UK, of which 1.5 million visit every month. These days, Facebook is accessed by around half of the UK’s population, so closer to about 30 million users.

While it’s anyone’s guess whether this new venture for Friends Reunited will gather momentum with users, it does touch on two important areas that seem to be very current at the moment: social networks that are more focused and private, and a lot of big questions coming up around the use of licensed content and images in these social networks. (Specifically, Pinterest has been seeing some issues around this as its users have crossposted copyrighted images.) A site that can navigate the latter, while promising something compelling in the former, might just have a shot at something.

The pivot is the brainchild of Friends Reunited’s owner brightsolid, which bought the site from broadcaster ITV for £25 million in 2009 (that had been one of the more disastrous investments made by ITV as it tried to ride the wave of digital and social media). Brightsolid — itself a part of publisher DC Thomson — also owns a number of other online assets around the family/geneology space, including Genes Reunited and Findmypast sites in the UK, Australia and Ireland.

Brightsolid has been inking deals with other content libraries, and it looks like they too will eventually also fit into the Friends Reunited service. Last November, the company signed a deal with the British Newspaper Archive and the British Library to contribute millions of pages from that archive, going back as far as the 18th century and up to more recent editions covering some 200 newspaper titles. These will be added “in the future” to Friends Reunited, the company says.