Saturday, March 15, 2014

OK Facebook You Win

My first post on Facebook was in 2007. I have used it off and on for nearly 7 years – that’s scary. But my use has been purely as a consumer. I have looked on sort of in disbelief at the figures of revenue it achieves. The ads have appeared all over the place but I honestly can say I have never knowingly clicked on one. They are a unsightly blight on an already busy site.

My use of Facebook has also changed over the years. It hooked me and a lot of people with the early apps – throwing virtual poo at each other was the worst one I remember. Then it was connecting properly with friends, seeing what they were up to on a regular basis. But now I would say at least 50% of my newsfeed is full of articles and pictures shared that has nothing to do with my friends. It’s a bit dull actually and twitter is a much more rich source of “real” information in my mind.

Then there is news of Facebook’s demise. Apparently teenagers don’t use it anymore. I was having lunch with my kids and 4 of their friends the other day – I asked them. They all still use it. And my 12 year old signed up the other day for the first time (a year too early legally but why is there that 13 year old age limit?)

And have you seen their share price? Perhaps news of their demise is a bit premature.

Recently though, I have started using Facebook from a business angle for the first time on 2 new startup ideas (well one is an old one)

The first is a football iphone app called FBDB. Apart from setting up a Facebook page and trying to build up an audience, I wanted to see if I could get some downloads through Facebook.

First of all I spent a small amount on buying some likes. These are notoriously poor in terms of results and I am skeptical on their use but you need a certain amount of likes to get access to Facebook stats it appears. I did so and quickly got a hundred likes to get me through this. I am still skeptical.

Getting downloads for an independent app is very difficult – getting your name out there is a lot harder amongst all the noise and tens of thousands of other apps. So I decided to spend some money on some targeted mobile ads. Reading up about app ad networks (Chartboost, Revmob) a lot state the industry price to pay for your app to get installed is about $2. Almost instantly using Facebook, I saw the cost per download to be around 25p – and as I have an in-app purchase then the net cost was about 15p. This has continued for the last month and I am very happy with these results. Admittedly I am targeting my ad at the right type of audience but this is still impressive.

So far so good.

I have also taken back control of FriendsReunited recently. 2 weeks ago I got access to the Facebook account. It has lay dormant for the past 6 months. After a few hours of analyzing their audience and stats I started testing it out.

The account has some 20K likes. I didn’t think this was very good. I started adding one post a day, something to do from your youth that is retro and fun – old TV programme, toy or game etc. And something that happened on that day in the year. The response surprised me – each posting got thousands of views, and dozens of  likes, comments and shares. Some obviously work better than others – mention your first car and you get hundreds of comments and likes.

This engagement is costing me nothing and is not time consuming– but it is a natural source of reach and traffic – something I never had access to when I first started in 2000. And I can boost each posting hugely by spending small amounts of money and instantly testing their results.

I still have to test its real value to the website but initial suggestions are good. Similar tests so far on twitter have been disappointing.

I have to admit I am sold on using Facebook as a marketing tool. I was na├»ve in terms of its power and now realize you have to embrace it rather than reject it. It’s audience is too vast to ignore.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Friends Again

A couple of years ago I was invited to take a look at the new version of FriendsReunited – a pivot from it’s original form of finding old school friends into more of a picture memory board. I wrote about it here - The current owners of the site are DCT Thompson and what nice people they are.

It was a brave and tough thing to do with the site. Since then I must admit I haven’t used the site, or the sister service that I created back in 2002, GenesReunited. Since selling both websites back in 2005 it has felt a bit like a separation and having spent so much of my life involved with them, I needed time apart.

But over the past 8 years I also have had many ideas along the FR/GR line – some I have even dabbled with at trying, but only really half heartedly.

Then  a few months ago I was invited in again into the offices of DC Thompson in Shoreditch. A new CEO was on board and had decided to concentrate the business on family history. FriendsReunited was being either put out to pasture or was to be “reincubated”. I was being asked if I fancied being involved in that reincubation.

My initial reaction – no chance.  But then over the following weeks a few ideas started to take shape in my head. I tested them out of friends and family. I met up with my old business partner at FriendsReunited, Jason, and he too was interested.

We started formulating them into a proper site and plan. We were then invited to present them to DCT Thompsom. They liked them – everything fitted so nicely into the old site and even their genealogy sites.

So we have now completed a joint venture for me and Jason to take back control of FriendsReunited. The first job was to put FR back to it’s old format – a way to find old school friends – that is already live. 

The next step is to write the new service – details of this will emerge in the coming weeks. And we are doing it all old school (no pun intended) – the way Jason and I used to work – cheaply and quickly. People keep telling me you can’t do things the way we did back in 2000, so I suppose I am trying to prove it can still be done that way.

I must admit I am really excited by this new service – it’s something of a cross between Friends and Genes and it’s something I am dying to get my hands on and use. Hopefully others will too. It’s nothing unique, has been done in part before, and is very simple to implement and use. We want to do it more boldly and grander in a way that really engages people. In fact we want to create a new lifestyle past time in the way that genealogy has become.

This all feels like it has all come together at the right time. I didn’t want to see FriendsReunited disappear and slowly fade away – let’s give it one more go.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The End Of Britain?

I've been following the unprecedented comings and goings on the Cyprus financial melt down. Some amazing statistics and yet another country in deep financial crisis. From our comfortable island we have now watched Iceland, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Spain and Portugal all go through uncertain times - and we ourselves in Britain are not in great shapes.

But how bad could it get over here?

I came across an article the other day which initially scared the crap out of me. It's called "The End Of Britain" - the full article is here

Be warned if you do want a read - it's long, and full of facts and charts - but also be warned its from a magazine called MoneyWeek and by the end you realise it's intention is to scare so that it try and sell you a solution at the end of it.

However, there are sections of it that I initially thought so far fetched - especially the section called "How the government could seize your wealth" - but what Cyprus has shown us then anything is potentially possible.

Whether I believe some of it or not I am off to buy a bigger mattress now and get to that cashpoint on the way home.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Dear Me

I was flicking through a book I was given the other day called "Dear Me - A Letter To My Sixteen Year Old Self". Pretty self explanatory but in it is a bunch of celebrities who have written letters to themselves aged 16, giving themselves advise on what to do as a teenager with the knowledge now learnt. Some are boring, some quite funny - coffee table book really.

I suddenly thought today - I want to do that. I sort of think everyone should have a go so here goes.

Dear Stephen (or Steve as everyone now calls you)

How's things going? It's 1980 there and 2013 here. Sounds like ages away but the time just flies. Therefore I thought I would write and give you some advice so you don't waste too much of your life and get on with the important bits.

First off - music. I know it's really important to you - or so you think. Believe me, the last 3 years of the stuff you have been listening to and probably the next 3 years are the best ever. Music is OK from the mid 80's on but it doesn't get much better than it is now for you. I know you are already going to gigs but do as many as you can. And look after all those punk singles.

And whilst on the subject of music - your guitar playing. I have to be honest - you are crap. You won't get any better so stop believing you will. And please please split up the band - whatever the name is currently. Again, you all think you sound OK but I have heard some of it recently and I hate to say it you really are shit. And if anything else, please don't sing - especially at the sixth form gig in a couple of years. Just split up and save us all the embarressment.

You are probably working for your O Levels at the moment. Slow down. You will be alright. Stop worrying about exams, college, job etc etc. My advice is take a year off before or after college and travel. Your career and life can wait. Visit far flung places and have fun. Again these places will soon become trendy so do it soon. You will get more time later in life but it will be too late - other commitments come along (but I won't give too much away)

Let your hair down a bit - and whilst on the subject of hair, get a proper haircut.

And girls - they won't bite. Rejection is not something to worry about - try and deal with it and start practising sooner rather than later. 

Your love of Spurs will remain - but stop getting so down when they lose (which is most of the time back then) It doesn't get any better over the years. And don't believe any hype over England - that too doesn't get any better.

Talk to Dad more as you get older - find out about his youth and his Dad. These things have a habit of being too late by the time you realise.

In about 10 years you will start having an ambition to to work for yourself - keep that path going, it will  reap rewards. And whilst your at it, in about 20 years create a dormant company called Facebook - I won't say why but it will be fun.

And one last bit of advice - in a couple of years you will go out drinking in some real ale pub in Harrow on a Sunday night. Keep clear of the Old Peculiar beer - or at least stay within range of a toilet the next day and don't go walking down Kensington High Street.

Spanky (yes I have now embraced that hated old nickname)

PS - 2:30 Chepstow tomorrow - put a fiver on Morning Dew

Monday, February 18, 2013

The FriendsReunited Conspiracy (?) - Part 16 - Coming Soon. The Movie!

I was travelling home on the tube the other day, going through my emails. I was reading the latest weekly newsletter from the Kernel (called the Nutshell)

[as background - the Kernel ran a story about my blogs and the conspiracy. The conspirators then sent the full dossier to the Kernel which they then printed under another story with the tag line "Someone needs to be reunited with their marbles". Needless to say, neither article was very complementary towards these people. ]

Suddenly I came across the following


More news from the ongoing Friends Reunited saga, in which founder Steve Pankhurst and his wife are being hounded by Wiklevoss-lite fantasists for a quick buck. (You can read the full, utterly bonkers dossier here.)

We were contacted anonymously at the end of January by someone claiming to be a "slolicitor" [sic] acting on behalf of John Meyer, crackpot in chief, asking if we'd like to appear in the book and movie Meyer claims he has secured "global rights" to.

But only if we take down the two posts linked to above and do a U-turn to support Meyer's zany consipiracy theories.

It doesn't get much more plausible - or professional - than this. Next, Meyer will be asking, Louise Mensch-like, for us to reveal our sources...  
I will try and get hold of the full email as this was the first I had heard of it. But how hilarious
  • a solicitor apparently sending something anonymously, sort of negating the point really
  • a slolicitor - is that a drunk one?
  • asking a journalist to do a U-turn. Really going to happen? Sort of surprised they didn't do their usual and offer a "substantial financial reward".
  • and asking to take down the dossier that they had sent!
But the best bit - global rights to a book and a movie. They have gone on about a book before but ...

A Movie!!!!!

Brilliant. My gob is well and truly smacked. Lets do it.

Can I help in any way. I can help with fund raising, setup investors, the script, locations etc.

We've had a brain storm and come up with some suggested actors.
Me - Ray Winston (I know someone who knows someone who once saw him in a pub if that helps)
Jason - Jason Statham
Julie - Meryl Streep
Our conspirator - if only Norman Wisdom was still alive

The script - I am sure Aaron Sorkin would be available to do The Social Network 2. However, I am a bit worried about the first 5 years of the film. Basically it involved me in a box room programming and answering emails every day. We need someone to inject some crazy conspiracy and made up content into it - hang on I think we know just the guy.......

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Nightmare Customer Services

Back in 2001 I think I spent too much time answering emails - see below one of my favourite's so far that I have found on how to win over people. 


Dear Steve - Tosser!

On your magnificent website, there is 1 person from my ex-school whom I
know, and even he seems to be more fun than you are, despite also being a
complete ******* (just like you). Anyway, thanks again for this most
informative(not) e-mail about your crap site. I will remove myself from your
site as soon as I have sent this mail since I don't want to be associated
with it any longer. Come on everybody, let's pay 5 pounds to e-mail someone
who can be found in the phone book, or simply by asking around. I'm sure you
will keep sending me junk mail once I've left the site but that's to be
expected, and a BIG SORRY for not being Scottish and not having an
interesting story. Luckily for you, some people will still pay for your
non-services. Tell me, how do you justify the money you charge again?

Maybe you and your friends can somehow manage to extract my credit card
details from somewhere and rip me off. Good luck and a BIG GOODBYE. Please
publish this e-mail in your 'customer comments' section. Please do write
back to me to with your reaction to this. I am a professional person who has
taken the time to write this nasty e-mail. The last but one e-mail I
received from your site was to supposedly tell me about all the "NEW"
members who had joined. These 'new' members happened to be all the existing
members I had already seen, but never mind - I felt so wanted having been
sent an e-mail from a computer. Maybe you should call your site
"". Now, I've wasted enough time on you. TIP - If
you want to make a website work and make money, do it like the Americans do
it and actually offer some kind of service for the money and miss out the
spam and the bullshit because people (like me) see right through it. I do
hope your website is a hobby as opposed to your livelihood, for your sake.

If I don't receive a reply to this e-mail I will assume that either I am
talking to a badly configured computer, or a faceless dickhead lacking the
guts to reply. Please, make my day and justify your existence Steve!

Jason xxxx.


Wow - thats some email. Ive been running the site for nearly a year and personally answered over 10,000 emails, yes some of them complaints, but I must say yours is the best. I shall try to "justify my existence" but I feel the battle is already lost. I must say its the first time Ive had abuse (thats out of over 100,000 members)
Firstly about the charge. The charging for full membership came into force in March. It gives you access to send contact emails and add to the message board. Normal registration and use of the rest of the site is and will remain free. We dont push anyone to pay - in fact you can carry on using the site and all its memories and teacher boards etc and just wait to be contacted.
We started the site a year ago as a trial and this year it has become very popular, so much so that it is taking up lots of our time and also costing more and more in ISP services. Because of this we reluctantly decided to charge people for full membership to try and cover our costs. Lots of members are also urging us to start advertising but again this costs money. We tried banner advertising to earn revenue but this pays peanuts. We had no idea whether people would pay for this service, but if we didn't try, the site would ultimately have to close down, which obviously we and the tens of thousands that have registered will not want.
The overwhelming verdict on the charge is a positive - people who do find someone think £5 is a small price to pay. I can believe some people can think we can run this as a charity.
The emails, all emails are sent because you subscribe to them - which you can change your options at any time. We do not spam. If you didnt want to receive emails then why did you set the options when you registered. Thats normal proctice. No one else has ever accused us of spamming.
Yes - some schools are pretty empty (its early days) and probably some will remain empty. Others already have over 200 members. Read the succes board - the site works, 1000's of others have also contacted their old friends.
The american site I think you are talking about (classmates) costs $29.95 and offers the same plus some freebie vouchers.
By all means add your comments to the guestbook - I hope you come back and read the replies because for every 1 like yourself I get 100's thanking us for the service - yes I know that sounds crap but unfortunately its true bullshit.
In fact Ive already spent to much time on this email so Ive now removed your details from the site.
So finally - a BIG GOODBYE
the faceless dickhead


Hi Steve,
I already feel bad about what I wrote and I really do apologise. I went over the top for sure. OK, let me just put it this way - I work in the computer business myself, over in Holland so I know basically what the crack is. Until today, I had nothing against your site. Since I joined, I got 3 e-mails and each time I opened them, I was expecting something good. The first one told me about some new members which were really already existing members, the second one told me about a real new member (so this one was OK) and the third one today was little more than an advert.
Anyway, what I want to say is that I would be very surprised if anybody who saw my details up there and wanted to get in touch with me (little chance) would pay your site 5 pounds to do this. They wouldn't! They would look at what I wrote and find me some other way, like by asking my parents for my address. OK, I admit that there will be the odd person who really has no other way to get in touch with someone and go for the 5 pounds option, but surely, the number of people who would do this has got to be quite low? And the amount of money you make is going to be low too. Only you can know this.
The reasons I attacked you in the first place are:
* I was convinced I was talking to a computer and not a person (looking forward to me expletives being sent back to me by a computer)
* I really like the idea of such a database, but done a bit differently.
I don't have the experience to create such a site myself, but if I did, I really would do it as a hobby for the sake of getting people in touch. I really have nothing against charging, or even making money, but if you just charged a bit less, like 1 pound, but maybe per e-mail, and not unlimited, you'd get more positive responses. Again, I do feel bad about the mails I sent you, but when I saw a new e-mail from your site in my inbox, I was hoping it was something proper. Why not make the header of your e-mails indicate that it's just an information e-mail rather than a contact?
The guy who joined the other day - the real new person (john Mellor), I know about anyway. He lives in the same town as I work in the Netherlands, I have his address and everything. The fact that he suddenly appeared on your site tells me little more than that he wants to be contacted, not a way to get his address. I already have his business card anyway!
What I'm trying to say here is that if everybody registered, your site would be great, but unfortunately, there are too many people like me, who as soon as there is mention of payment, feel they're being ripped off.
If I were you, I would change the disclaimer at the beginning slightly. Don't make it too pushy. People like me who want to get in touch with people, or at least know about the existence of other people, need a different sales pitch. I am a writer, so I know a bit about writing to a specific audience. Try and make it sound more romantic and don't mention the charges until the very end. Also, 5 pounds is too rounded. Why not 4 pounds or 6 pounds or 6.37 pounds? When you put 5 pounds people just think its a value too easily arrived at - a fiver.
I would be the happiest guy if a website like yours succeeded and it was my disappointment that provoked me into writing the shitty e-mails I wrote - sorry again, it's not really like my, honestly. But you do ask people to send their comments. Of course, after getting a reply from you, I don't want you to put my bad comments on your 'customer comments' section, just perhaps change the way your site works, for your benefit. I genuinely did think I was writing to a computer and that at best I would get an automatic reply, thanking me for my message. The fact that you replied, and so quickly too, proves that you are doing this properly. I simply think you need to bring the human aspect of your site across a bit more on the site itself. Make it look less professional and more human. As I said earlier. the kind of people who want to get in touch with old mates are more emotional than normal and will go for a more humane angle on the manifesto.
Sorry again for the out-of-order e-mail I sent you. I really did get the impression I was being spammed. Sorry. The fact that you replied at all (and so quickly) impressed me a lot. I really hope the site is a success, seriously mate.  I think your list of people is quite large, but I can't stress enough the importance of drawing people in by the idea of getting in touch with lost mates.
Please try and ignore the previous two e-mails.  JASON.


No problem - I'm just glad I didnt send you my first email I wrote. Apologises accepted but I must admit it got my blood boiling. The site is so busy its taking up every hour of the day at the moment and I get pretty knackered (doesnt help the baby got me up at 5 this morning and Ive been on the computer ever since) so when I receive complaints I set to them straight away.
I do take your points. I always try and accept critisism of the site and where possible make changes. I suppose the problem with something like this is that its really hard to please everyone. FOr instance, you say to make it more human and less professional(which in a way is a compliment) - whereas I get of people saying they love the site because its so human and not commercial. Also, some people complain that we dont mention the charge up front.
Having said that - there are loads of things that I want to do to make the site better and friendlier and add content to it. I suppose the incredible growth weve had the last couple of months is the reason why I havent had a chance - basically it did start as a hobby but because so many people were hitting the site, my wife and I decided to go full time on it and have a go at making a living. So far so good, yes it is a small percentage of people who pay, but with a large membership thats growing weve been pleasantly surprised. I suppose only time will tell. The publicity band wagon is also taking up huge amounts of time.
Hopefully over the coming months you will see suptle changes to make it better. If not then let me know (without the abuse hopefully) - I'll do my best


Again, sorry Steve. I must just be too emotional myself, whether in a good way or a bad way. I happened to be not in the best mood this morning when I arrived at the office, the stress of moving house and the lack of sleep that goes with it all. It's really not like me. I do hope the site is a success because it's a great idea and I have the vision of the future as everyone being connected (whether they like it or not).
So, all the best and again, sorry for what I wrote earlier. What you wrote below made me laugh, about how you didn't send the first e-mail you'de drafted - fait play there, you bit the bullet and kept the raply professional, just explaining to me the way the site works, and that, I don respect. I should have just written you a constructive criticism rather than an abusive e-mail and I realise that now. If nothing else, it made your ears prick up, but in the worst possible way. Anyway, I won't take up any of your time now. Glad to hear you're overrun with hits. Keep on keeping on and make it work. In a similar way to what you said previously, I'm sure that there are 100 others like me who look at your site, so do make sure you cater for them too..... I feel a lot better knowing I wrote to a person and not a software package. Best wishes,  Jason.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

I am a Hoarder

I admit it - I'm a hoarder. Even worse - I am an disorganised hoarder. I struggle to throw personal stuff away and keep it in cupboards for years with no knowledge sometimes of what it is or what I will do with it.

I have all my old vinyl records, thousands of DVD's and CD's, comics, books, every laptop I ever owned, computer games - Spectrum and gameboy, mobile phones, computer cables and gadgetry, photos, magazines. On top of that I have filled every bank statement, credit card statement, every receipt, utility bill, mortgage statement, insurance documents, investments portfolios. You name - I keep it just in case one day I might need something.

Of course the problem is that when I do need something then I can't find it - cue every January when I come to do my tax return - the information is there somewhere, just I don't know where.

So -  last year I started to do something about it.

In August I employed a company to take over my book keeping and to take away nearly 100 files of the above mentioned paperwork and sort through it and file it properly. It took months. They only just returned it last month in January and I am pleased to announce well over half of the paperwork went away to shredders. And the rest is now organised in archived and correctly filed.

At a similar time last year I also had a massive purge of house hold stuff on Freecycle. I got rid of lots of stuff although the personal stuff and vinyl, books, comics etc I have now stored away permanently. There is also a pile of about 8 laptops that I had no idea what was on them. I was about to dump them in the skip but something stopped me and I held back. This was a year ago.

The point?

If you've read my previous blogs recently you may well know I have having the odd problem with some people - basically what I call the FR Conspiracy. It's all so much crap since there is so much proof  already - however something has changed in me over the past few months and my hoarding and recent tidying up has helped.

When we sold FriendsReunited in 2005 I was sort of burnt out. It had been a 5 year roller coaster, really hard work, and an incredible journey where our lives had been plastered all over the news for a long period of time. I hated that part of it and wanted to just disappear back into our own little world. Of course I was proud of what we had achieved and the sale price was more that we ever dreamed of and allowed me the time to pursue things I find fun. I suppose I was sort of embarrassed too with what happened.

Therefore for the past 7 years I was happy to disappear and be forgotten about - and to forget about all things FR related. During that time of course other social networks took over and became hugely more popular. We just sort of forgot about our baby that was FR.

So the people who started accusing us from Spring 2012 again have managed to ignite a flame again in me. Every time they question our story, calling us liars - and believe me they do it regularly and still are - then actually it makes me even prouder and more determined. So much so that I have started to look back at those years with renewed satisfaction and pride.

Back to my hoarding. Two things have happened recently.

Firstly - when my files came back last month from my new book keepers, everything was nicely filled for me to quickly scan through and decide what to keep and what to shred. And there amongst it all was a file called FriendsReunited. It contained lots of early documents - including our "mad" 5-year business plan which was achieved and surpassed inside 6 months, lots of legals, and low and behold, all the letters from our conspiracists.

I thought they had all gone to the lawyers at ITV but I must have been sent a copy. Back then they were just another small example of the types of people who hassled us.

These letters are great - I've always wondered and asked for these people to print them so I could see them but for some reason they haven't.  Now I can see why - almost each of them had some veiled threat associated and I will print parts of them later.

Secondly - I had already found and booted up one development machine I used back in 2000 and had printed screenshots in a previous blog. Of course these are ignored as I "must have fabricated them" of course. Ho hum. But I knew there was also a lot of data missing from 2000 which must have been on a laptop that Julie used. Don't forget for the first 6 months in the summer of 2000 this was a tiny site that was more of a hobby for Julie whilst she was on maternity leave.

One laptop would not boot - I took it down to my cousin's a couple of weeks ago as he is a hardware genius. After many hours of trial and error we managed to recover the data.


How brilliant has the last couple of weeks been.

There are thousands and thousands of emails from 2000/2001 - brilliant personal ones with loads of pictures of the kids and friends, lots of funny stuff, but the whole documented history of our baby that was FR from its first inception.

I have not yet finished going through them all but its been such fun - shrieks of laughters, emailing friends who were involved, unbelievable emails from people trolling us, abuse from all corners, hundreds of happy stories of people being reunited and much much more. So much stuff I had forgotten about. I didn't realise that we had started to receive so many emails even back in July/August 2000 from users - including a success story within 1 month of launch.

If nothing else I should sort of thank our conspirators because they have made me go back and revisit our time from over a decade ago - and it's been great. I still have another 6 laptops to see what is on there from later on (or even earlier) so watch this space. I will document all these emails into a timeline - for my own personal archive - but as a by product some people are going to be highly embarrassed again (not that it will make a scrap of difference to them)

My favourite iPhone App at the moment is Timehop. It shows you every day what you were doing exactly a year ago in terms of twitter, Facebook, texts and photos. It's great. What I have just done is a 13 year Timehop and I recommend it to anyone.