I've seen a number of claims recently from people claiming to have founded "the UK's first online social network' or "the first online network without VC funding". The earliest such claim I've come across dates from 1998.
Now, I'm not hugely competitive, but I would like to set the record straight. On November 4th, 1996, a network called Which? Online was launched, by Consumers' Association in the UK. It was both an internet service provider and a content service, rather like AOL (remember that?). Most significantly, it featured a way for members to post information, connect to each other and get together to gain discounts on products and services. It was like a combination of Facebook and Groupon, years before either.
Not only that, it charged members a tidy sum to belong - around 14 pounds a month. Tens of thousands joined in the first year, and it still thrives to this day. The developer and manager of the service delivered a keynote speech to the first-ever UK conference on virtual communities (as social networks were called in those days) in 1997.
How do I know? I was that developer and manager. I don't suppose I'll ever get that film deal though.