Looking for Old Friends?

Old Friends (www.oldfriends.co.nz) was a popular social networking website owned by Trade Me. Its purpose was to help people locate former school friends and workmates. Members who signed up to Old Friends could upload photos, post comments, contact each other and compile information for reunions. The site was launched in 2002 and finally closed in 2016.

When Trade Me announced that they would be taking the site down, the National Library quickly got in touch to see if we could work together to harvest a copy of Old Friends for the Library’s collections. Both Trade Me and the National Library were keen to ensure the content contributed by thousands of New Zealanders would not be lost, but could remain available through time. We very much appreciate the assistance Trade Me provided that enabled us to harvest a copy of Old Friends.

We’ve had great interest from researchers wanting to access the archived copy of Old Friends. We realise that the content is not only useful for people today, but future researchers will see Old Friends as a wonderful example of a popular site created during the early years of the New Zealand web.

The front page of Old Friends featuring yellow and blue and a green map of New Zealand with hyperlinked regions.The home page of Old Friends as it appeared before closing in 2016.

Technical challenges

We faced some technical challenges along the way, relating to the crawl itself and also the new viewer we needed to install, so that you can view the archived site. We're happy to announce that, as of today, it's now available in our digital archive.

If you were an active member of Old Friends, you’ll see that the archived copy has limitations. You may not have been aware how much content you were creating that was password protected and assumed that we’ve captured it. But we haven’t, because much of that content would have been subject to the Privacy Act. That’s why we only captured the content people chose to make publicly accessible. If you click on some links and you get the login box below, you won’t be able to log in.

The login screen for Old Friends.The Old Friends login screen. If you see this in the archived copy you won't be able to log in.

When I heard that Old Friends was closing down, my first thought was “I hope people keep a copy of any important information they created on this platform!” I know Trade Me advised people to do this, but if you’re like me it’s easy to put it off until later. Then it can be too late, especially in the digital world. My colleague Val wrote an excellent blog last year called The history of you and me about preserving your digital treasures. It’s a good reminder to think about the digital content you’ve created and ensure that they’re kept safe.

I was curious to see what we’d captured in the Old Friends web harvest, so I took a trip down memory lane, back to my school days to see if I could find some old school friends.

I started by using the map because the search box doesn’t work in the archived copy. My old primary school is in Taupō which is part of the Bay of Plenty / Waikato region. I clicked on the Waikato link initially.

I discovered there were 985 schools listed so I clicked on the “school” link and then “T” to find Tauhara Primary. Not much there, so I went back to the Bay of Plenty and found Tauhara School. There were 50 photos listed but when I clicked on the link I got this error message:

Error Message

For some reason the Old Friends site was experiencing a server problem at the time the harvester was copying the pages from the Bay of Plenty region and it harvested the error message that popped up rather than the photos. Normally we would reharvest the site, but we didn’t have that option, because the site was going down. What a pain!

However, all is not lost – that’s where web harvesting by other organisations really helps. If you can’t find it in one place, you may find it elsewhere. I copied the URL for that page (http://www.oldfriends.co.nz/InstitutionPhotos.aspx?institution=8642) and pasted it into the Internet Archive browser to see if they’d captured the page - they had!

Tauhara

I found the names of some former pupils and I recognised one of them. What a memory jogger that was!  She shared a brief snippet about the teachers who were there between 1970-1975:

Memories From Tauhara Primary: Mrs Brown.. Infants teacher.

I’d forgotten Mr Charteris was the principal back then. I have a vague image in my memory of what he looked like. Some of the photos I looked through dated back to 1959 when the school first opened and there were some from the years I attended. None of my class photos though.

My next stop was Taupō Intermediate School. Here I recognised quite a few people in the class photos, some are still my friends today. The class photos have names listed if people have been identified, otherwise there’s a question mark. In this photo I noticed some pupils wearing the ‘new’ blue school uniform. I think we were the first group to start wearing it. Glad I got to wear the new uniform and not the old grey gym slip! And no, I’m not in the photo – still couldn’t find one!

Class photo of Taupō Intermediate Form 1 Room 22, 1975.Class photo of Taupō Intermediate Form 1 Room 22, 1975.

I went back to our copy of Old Friends and started checking out some of the other pages where people posted about old friends they were trying to locate. You get smatterings of conversations – members referring to people I knew who moved to Australia to work in the mining industry; that in 2006 “Hilly” – The Hillcrest Tavern near Waikato University was closing down (Noooo!!).

It makes you want to login to be a member to find out more, but you can’t, because the platform’s not there anymore. But the snippets are interesting nonetheless. They reminded me of people, places and events that I hadn’t thought about in years. It makes me wonder when I see a list like the one below – did you find your friends?

A page showing some of the 8,863 attendees to the University of Waikato.A page showing some of the 8,863 attendees to the University of Waikato.

While it was sad to see Old Friends close down, other social media platforms have emerged to fill the gap. A quick search on Facebook shows at least three groups taking up the challenge to help members find old friends: Old Friends New Zealand, Old School Friends New Zealand and Old Friends New Zealand Schools.

Our archived copy of Old Friends may not be perfect, but there’s still enough information contained in the public-facing portion of the site to make our efforts worthwhile. We hope you’ll agree.

If you’d like to know more about the websites we collect, visit the New Zealand Web Archive collections page.

See the NDHA for our archived copy of Old Friends.

By Gillian Lee

Gillian Lee is the Coordinator, Web Archives at the Alexander Turnbull Library.

Post a Comment

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Darian Zam June 17th at 3:24PM

So many are grateful for your work on this. Thank you!

Jennifer Hudson June 17th at 7:34PM

Schools NEV, DNI, OGHS
Teachers College Dunedin
Otago University

Diana Curle June 25th at 4:54AM

I was so disappointed when this site went and i even pleaded to keep this site. It was a place that I was able to find my friends.

Gypsy Stockley June 26th at 2:21PM

As the person who uploaded the bulk of the 386 photos for Whenuapai School in Auckland I am so grateful that this work has been saved- we did it for the School's 50th Jubilee- it took me forever! Thank you so much National Library team.

Andrew Henry July 10th at 2:50PM

Great stuff, Gillian!