The first big social network in the UK, Friends Reunited, is set to relaunch with a new focus on online nostalgia.

The website was one of the pioneers of social media: offering old school friends a place to meet up, reminisce and contact lost loves.

At its height, Friends Reunited had 20 million users – small potatoes when compared to Facebook’s 800m-strong base – but still a huge figure considering Friends Reunited opened in 2000 and peaked almost a decade ago.

In 2005, ITV bought out the site for £175m, but by then, MySpace had already become the network of choice. Just two years later, MySpace was abandoned in favour of Facebook. Friends Reunited saw its userbase fall and it became all-but-forgotten.

ITV cut its losses and shifted the site for £25.6m in 2009, selling to publisher Brightsolid, but losing £150m on its original investment.

Brightsolid has since been looking at ways to rejuvenate the site: and has settled on a nostalgia focus.

It believes providing an open network for reminiscing, sharing memories and asking questions to fill the gaps in long-forgotten will be unique enough to attract users back. The homepage offers users the chance to log-in with their Facebook account, so it’s clear Brightsolid hasn’t set its sights on dislodging the current king of social networks.

The refocus has been based loosely on the success of a brand new social site, Pinterest.

In an interview with BBC News, Brightsolid chief executive Chris van der Kuyl said: “We wouldn’t do this if we thought it was just another also-ran. It’s about every blast from your past – every kind of great memory you have.”

Rather than relying solely on users’ recollections, Friends Reunited has enlisted professional archivists, including the British Library and the Press Association, to provide historical information, newspaper clippings, and  other documents, which users can then attach to their “memory box”. The boxes can then be shared with other Friends Reunited users, or posted to Facebook via a special app.

Friends Reunited will stay free at first, but clearly, Brightsolid will investigate potential revenue streams, such as nostalgic brand pages. How effective the site could be for social media marketing remains to be seen.

It’s likely older users will make up most of Friends Reunited’s userbase: it’s unlikely to draw younger users away from Pinterest or Tumblr or Facebook – but, with a focus on simplicity, and memories from the past, it may be that less web-savvy, older Internet users help make this relaunch worthwhile for Brightsolid.

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