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Pankhurst on dotcom life: How we're staying connected in this disconnected world

I've always been a great believer in the internet's power to be a substitute for the traditional community ties that no longer exist to keep people together, but it really comes into its own when connecting people around the globe as the traditional barriers of time and travel bear no obstacle.

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Friends Reunited was quick to catch on in the UK and the concept was soon copied around the world. We expanded internationally, buying competitor sites in Australia and New Zealand, and establishing a South African presence.

In the early days we also tried to export the idea to Europe, but its close-knit communities left less of a demand for the service as people were more likely to stay in contact.

This month, we took the landmark step of merging all our operations into one single entity, to create a global database of more than 15 million people. For our members, this means they can now search for, and email, friends around the world from one site for one fee. And, for businesses, it means we're more efficient and more effective at cross-selling sister sites Genes, Dating and Jobs.

Emails from our members have already started flooding in, saying how they've been reunited with friends and family across continents. One lady told how she'd been looking for more than 30 years for the son she'd put up for adoption, but on trying Friends Reunited for the first time, she found him in Australia. They are now in regular contact and she plans to make a trip there.

So, as the reunion stories continue, so too do the overseas growth opportunities.

For example, in Australia, only 15 per cent of the adult online population is registered on our web site, compared with 50 per cent in the UK, and we see no reason why we can't reach the same level of penetration over there.

Genes Reunited is also a key growth area for our members around the globe, especially as 1.2 million Australians and 200,000 New Zealanders were born in the UK, with 60 per cent estimated to have British ancestry. The genealogy site is growing at a rate of two names every second as more members are using the web to unlock the secrets of their family tree.

Ultimately, our aim is to reunite friends and family all over the world, concentrating initially on English-speaking countries. For me, Friends Reunited's real achievement has been to offer a way for us all to stay connected in a disconnected world.

- Steve Pankhurst is the co-founder of Friends Reunited.

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