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By the end of its first year it had 3,000 users, an impressive total for a kitchen-counter operation but hardly enough to take the world by storm.

The tipping point came when Steve Wright mentioned the site on his top-rating Radio 2 show in the summer of 2001 and its popularity exploded.

Realising the power of the internet, and a desire to find out what some of her old school friends were up to and whether they too had families — she came up with the idea of Friends Reunited.

“Myself and my business partner, Jason [Porter], both of us being [web] developers at the time, were looking for ideas to branch out on our own.

As Eden Zoller, principal analyst at new media research group Ovum, said at the time: “Its image has fallen by the wayside.

It is not hip and there hasn’t been enough investment in applications and services.

We saw the internet as the future.”But one investor who ran the rule over the business when it was later put up for sale says the reality was rather less romantic: “The founders went to America to look at which sites were performing well there with the idea of repeating that success over here.” The website that impressed them most, he says, was classmates.com, a site that helped users find classmates from school and college or their workplaces and the military.

Whatever the truth of the matter, Friends uk was launched in 2000 and users started registering at the rate of one to five a day.

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Just keeping the site going was a challenge under the amount of traffic we were getting.” What they needed was a big hitter from the business world to take the company to the next level.Turnover grew to £12million and the site was named by Nielsen ratings as among the 10 most influential sites ever.Just two years after Murphy’s arrival, the company was sold to ITV, and the three founders left on completion of the deal which earned them £30million apiece. By now the online social network market was becoming increasingly crowded.“I describe this period as both the best and worst of my life,” says Pankhurst.“On the positive side the site just didn’t stop growing and revenue was flowing — and we were having a fantastic time being interviewed on TV and radio nearly every other day.