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Friends ReunitedA website that once boasted 20 million unique visitors and was sold for £175m in 2005 has now declined to 1.5m a month, and was last sold for just £25m in 2009, as users defected in droves to Facebook.

However, all that could change as Friends Reunited has been revamped and relaunched. The one time golden boy of the web, it was written off as ‘a footnote in the history of social networking’, like Bebo and MySpace, but Friends is now hoping to rise from the ashes.

It will now target the over 40s who are interested in ‘collecting and keeping memories’. Users will have a ‘family box’ to store memories and family trees, photos and documents. It will be not unlike a virtual attic corner where treasured but largely artifacts live.

There will also be ‘nostalgic collections’ for people to dip into, including one entitled ‘I Can’t Believe We Wore It’. Long-lost school, college, work friends will still be a feature, but now access to ten million archives of the Press Association and archive business, Francis Frith, will be permitted giving people landmark events in local, national and international history.

In a lifetime, we live through conflicts, accidents/disasters, crimes, inventions, sports and social changes, and the media reports of them are as much part of our personal history as individual memorabilia. Most social scientists and commentators agree it is important to preserve memories for posterity.

What the digital revolution has done is create more photos, cheap, easy to copy and share and store than ever before. The images can also be manipulated, but that is a different debate, and storing them in accessible, retrievable ways is another.

The old art of handwritten letters may have all but died, beyond cursory notes and thanks, but the idea of a letter to the future is not just confined to fiction. PS I Love You Letter is an American business enabling people to leave letters to their dependents to be received long after their deaths.

The idea is that it is heart-warming for a child now grown to an adult to receive a letter from a deceased parent, written while they were alive. Some prefer to record themselves on disk to be watched later. Either way it is all part of the human instinct to preserve what is worthwhile from the past.

Those who fear digitalisation is destroying the past (and how will it be accessed if technology makes present day files redundant?) need to embrace it to preserve more. Who knows what future generations will find funny, sad, unbelievable or moving about the way we live now?

The important point is that we have a duty to preserve the present for the future, because when the present is the past, it can still teach something, just as the past should have taught us.

Daily Telegraph, Emma Barnett, Friends Reunited Can Survive in a Facebook world. 20 March 2012.
Writing letters in the digital age, Michelle Seltzer, June 2011.