Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The FriendsReunited Conspiracy (?)– Part 7 – The Facts

In summary a group of people have been after me for years and have completed a 12-year investigation into the history of FR in an attempt to discredit me. They allege that we copied the idea from them through contact with a developer that they had engaged to write their website, and that we lied about our launch and have been doing so ever since. They have been contacting us on and off for 7 years.

Part 6 – The Connection
OK – so far the blogs have been all about these people. This one I’m afraid is going to be a bit boring and long. I’ve sort of gone to town on it so sorry if it’s a bit dull in places. 

Before I start, bear in mind this timing issue.  In order to have any chance of showing that we nicked the idea from them, these people need to be able to demonstrate that we did not come up with the FR idea before some time in July or August 2000 (when, they say, they disclosed the idea for their “innovative” web-based reunion concept to a developer).

Now read on…

The domain registration date and the invoice we showed them back in 2005 should have been ample proof to any reasonable person of our story, and put an end to everything. There was (and is) no reason why we should have to justify any more of our lives to these people.

However these people have crossed a line (as outlined in previous Blogs). And whilst I started to reminisce about how we started FR, I realised it was sort of quite fun and I began to enjoy it. Not the reason why I was doing it, but the gathering of information -  bit of FriendsReunited Reunited.

Also, in telling the story to friends and family involved around that time, a lot of them felt compelled to help and put pen to paper as well because they were as angry as me – and for that I am very grateful.

Now onto the history of FriendsReunited and the thing that these people are obsessed with but do little about - FACTS. All of this has been told to these people repeatedly over the years and a lot of it is in the public domain.

The idea

The story of how Julie came up with the idea has been well documented. In summary: in 1999, whilst she was pregnant, Julie managed using the Internet to track down a lost relative. This inspired her to think that the advent of the power of the web could be used to track down old school friends and find out what they were up to and where they were now.

We and Jason (who was my business partner already) were all in full time work. We had lots of other ideas contributed by friends or originated by ourselves. It wasn’t until after our daughter was born in January 2000 that Jason and I decided to give up our current contracts and have a go at some of the ideas.

I can get statements from dozens of people about these facts and what happened in 1999. Here is one example from a friend – I have many more.

“I remember at a friends gathering held at Barnet where Steve asked us to brainstorm ideas for websites, as he was thinking of changing directions in his career and wanted input. I had recently left South Wales and had just settled in my new home, placing this meeting in the Autumn months of 1999. At this meeting a number of ideas were put forward, one for a fantasy football site, another for retail service site for children’s parties, another for a light hearted daily picture site and another for getting in touch with your old school friends (Friends Reunited). This last one was suggested by Julie. The pregnancy had triggered wonderings and musings of the whereabouts and exploits of her former school friends. She was very enthusiastic about this it was clear to me this was an original idea born out by Julie due to her pregnancy.”

Jason and myself started playing around with some of the ideas for the rest of 1999 and with my daughter being born in January 2000 we were obviously very busy. 


HappyGroup was formed around February 2000. Its plan was to try out lots of websites that we wrote ourselves, very quickly and very cheaply, to see if any had legs.

The school reunion idea that Julie had was one of these.

Four friends invested some seed money to enable us to try out our ideas. Each of them can provide proof of this and that the school reunion idea was one of the early ones. See below a statement from one of our first investors.

“I first met you and Jason in December 1994 when you started working for CTC on a contract basis. Over the next 6 years you were instrumental in developing CTC's initial internet based developments.
During that time we had many conversations about use of the web outside the financial services sphere in which CTC works. These culminated in the first quarter of 2000 with your proposals to set up the Happy Group to develop a number of ideas - which included the Friends Reunited website. My colleague and myself assisted you with the development of business plans and this culminated with our agreeing to provide you with part of the initial funding you needed in April 2000.”

I have three more investors with statements about their involvement.

We worked on a number of small sites, whilst still keeping down a reduced consultancy role. Around this time it became clear that Julie was not going to be able to get involved in actually developing the sites – originally the plan had been for her to learn these new skills whilst on maternity leave. But anyone who knows what it’s like to have a new baby will appreciate the demands of parenting.

In spring 2000 we bought our own server and rented out rack space and bandwidth in a small ISP called Aflex in NW London. A friend had recommended them to us.

At the same time in spring 2000 I started the early stages of writing the school reunion website. In was also around this time Julie decided on the name FriendsReunited. The site didn’t take long to write. I am a database developer not a graphic designer, so I knocked up very quickly the first version of the site ready to put live. There was no need for expensive design - that was our strategy - as we had no idea if people would actually use it.

Below is a statement by a work colleague and friend.

“Shortly after Steve left CTC in 2000, I was on my way ‘down south’ on business and arranged to meet him for lunch in Barnet on my way past. This would have been around May of that year, although I am uncertain of the exact date.  I met Steve at his house, my first visit there, prior to us going into town for lunch. Steve was keen to show me some of the sites that he and Jason (the Happy Group) had been working on and I was taken to the apocryphal ‘back bedroom’, which was actually at the front of the house! I recall the sites included a fantasy football site called ‘Half Time Orange’, a party bag retail site, I think called Party Bags, for Jason’s wife, and a fun site called ‘Men in Hats’ featuring Steve’s mate Colin. On the same occasion, Steve also showed me another site he was working on, which he referred to as ‘some silly idea Julie came up with’. I recall this information clearly as I have relayed this story on a number of occasions to friends for obvious reasons. Steve explained that when Julie was pregnant (their first child having been born in January 2000), they had been sitting on the sofa and she had been wondering what some of her school friends were doing, i.e. were they married, did they have children etc, she had suggested setting up a site that allowed you to get in touch with school friends. Steve had been working on it ‘on and off’, as it were, since. I was shown some of things that the site did i.e. the schools database that was on there and the register and search functionality, clearly quite a bit of work had gone into and it was a functioning site (although I must confess to some disinterest at the time as I had no desire to get in touch with anybody I went to school with and I was hungry!). However, Steve asked me to have a go at registering on the site, which I did and became, without realising it, the first ‘official’ member of Friends Reunited.”

This again is one of many friends prepared to provide statements, if required.

The Launch

We purchased the domain www.friendsreunited.co.uk through Aflex and it was registered on 30th June 2000. 

This FACT is available to the world through the Nominet register, which you can see on the WhoIs database.

Below is an email from Nominet received on 15th August 2012 that I asked them to confirm the details they had.

“I can confirm that the domain name was registered on 30 June 2000 in the name of Happygroup Limited, company number 3932836, the company changed name at companies house in March 2005 to Friends Reunited Limited and this was updated on our database in August 2009.”
From July 2000 the site was officially live.

I also have a very old laptop that has documents mentioning FR around the spring of 2000 all date stamped. I actually created the project as early as Feb 2000 but started coding in May 2000 – all the files are there. Plus we have been reading all the first emails we received from users from July 2000 – its actually been really good fun revisiting some of the first comments by users.

And here’s out first ever-marketing email we sent out to people – dated 24th July 2000.

FR was one of a few sites we were trying out as well as surviving doing a small consultancy job.

We started in our spare time to try and get people to find the site through various message boards. Registrations started to grow slowly. Over the next six months there was a slow but steady increase as we did more work promoting the site through message boards and as search engines started to pick up on it after a few months. By the end of the year we had just over 7,000 members.

Below is an email from the current Head of FriendsReunited at Bright Solid on 13th August 2012. [We sold FR in 2005 to ITV who have subsequently sold it onto BrightSolid. We have no formal connection with either ITV or Bright Solid]

“The guys have checked the member table and it shows the following monthly counts from July to December 2000:

Members   Date

114         2000-07-01 00:00:00.000 and 2000-08-01 00:00:00.000
654         2000-08-01 00:00:00.000 and 2000-09-01 00:00:00.000
1222       2000-09-01 00:00:00.000 and 2000-10-01 00:00:00.000
2269       2000-10-01 00:00:00.000 and 2000-11-01 00:00:00.000
1258       2000-11-01 00:00:00.000 and 2000-12-01 00:00:00.000
2131       2000-12-01 00:00:00.000 and 2000-12-31 00:00:00.000”

Just a further point here. Each and every one of these 7,662 registrations will have email addresses attached to them, so whilst a number of them will be defunct, a large number of people could be contacted and prove their registration – not that it will ever be needed. I am sure a lot of them are proud to be early pioneers of the site.

[And just as a further observation to the people who are pursuing us. To collect the above information on registrations took an email, followed by a phone call, and then it was sent to me – all in the space of an hour. Why I ask myself have these people not thought of pursuing these sort of lines of enquiry to prove our story rather than 12 years trying to prove something that didn’t happen ?]

The Hosting Switch

During autumn of 2000 we added more and more features to the site. It was clear that the site actually worked for people and we were onto something. Julie spent a lot of spare time now answering the emails that came in from the site, users asking for help, suggestions and emails of thanks.

One area that we were not happy with was the hosting. The service had intermittent problems of dropping out, and it was a long way from Jason, who lived in Kent, to support when issues arose. Jason was busy doing Happy Party Bags at this time but also was much more technically minded when it came to the servers than me. Therefore we decided to move to a new hosting company – Densitron – based near Jason which turned out to be a cheaper and better service long term.

Below is a statement from a technician from Densitron who helped with the move at the time.

“I know the (approximate) dates very well. You moved to us when we were supposed to open the new data centre (November 2000), but we had delays and didn't open in the end until Feb 2001.
I know this for a fact because I remember helping Jason move your server from our old data centre to our new facility just before you had your first mention on Steve Wright.”

The Re-design

The other area that we clearly also needed to improve was the design. I got a friend who was a graphic designer to knock up a new skin around November 2000 and started the work of improving the site’s functionality, adding lots of new features. These were put live around December 2000.

I am still in touch with our graphic designer and they still have the original PC with all the old and new files on it with relevant date stamps. They were also using the FR site around this time.

2001 and beyond

Registrations were still growing nice and steady.

In January 2001 a journalist from The Net magazine contacted us. He had found the site. He did an interview and photo shoot with Julie back at her old school. 

The feature came out in the March 2001 edition of The Net and here it is.

Also, in January 2001, we were mentioned as website of the day by Miles Mendoza on the Steve Wright show on BBC Radio 2. [I don’t think we need to provide proof of this FACT.]

The effect of this was obvious. It caused a massive spike in our traffic and registrations. As a result of this and continued growth FR went on to become one of the biggest websites in the UK, and the rest is history.

As you can see from the above there is nothing but FACT. This is the 18-month period that we are alleged to have lied about, and continued to cover up. All of these people would happily give testimony under oath – not that it would ever be needed. And there are many others waiting who would also like to give evidence. I also have lots of other evidence that I could use if I had the time or inclination. 

I think this is the END of the matter in terms of FACTUAL information.

You may ask why I haven’t done this before. I helped these people a lot initially, and provided more than ample proof of these facts – this took up my time trying to prove 18 months of my life. I did ask myself why should I waste time on people who never believe anything I say anyway. However after that email and their document were sent and seeing the extent that they went to, I decided enough is enough. 

Of course, I can probably already guess what these peoples’ response to all these FACTS will be. Our friends are all part of the conspiracy of course. The data provided could be back entered or setup by me all those years ago. It’s all a setup, conspiracy and cover up. We bribed Nominet. The file screen shots could be doctored. Blah blah blah.

But one final message to these people - be aware that these statements above are just a tip of the iceberg. There are numerous others who are very keen to give statements and provide further proof of the truth of our story. Any attempt to discredit these statements could have serious consequences. That’s not a threat. It’s FACT.

Coming Next – The FriendsReunited Conspiracy (?) – Part 8 – The Crime


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