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But just two years later the wheels had well and truly fallen off the bandwagon.

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He first got involved after the Pankhursts and Porter tried to sell their business for £18million in 2002, when it was making revenues of £6.6million a year.

After that ploy failed, Murphy joined the business as part of a management buy-in, a process that involves newcomers taking a stake in the business in return for investment and expertise.

In sharp contrast, Facebook’s UK traffic grew by 2,393 per cent and Bebo’s by 173 per cent.

In a bid to recover market share Friends Reunited dropped the subscription fee it required for users to contact other members in March 2008 but by now it had other problems.

Facebook, founded in 2004, was still in its infancy.

And, unusually for an internet business of the era, it was profitable.

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.

“I describe this period as both the best and worst of my life,” says Pankhurst.

“But I also believed only a fraction of the brand’s potential had been monetised.”With the new man at the helm, Friends Reunited launched a dating service and Genes Reunited, which traces users’ ancestors, as well as expanding into CDs and books.

Turnover grew to £12million and the site was named by Nielsen ratings as among the 10 most influential sites ever.

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