A friend e-mailed me a great question the other day:
I've got a profile posted at Classmates.com . In order to do anything of significance on the site, you have to pay to access profiles of the people you went to high school or college with. Has this idea been superseded by , and other social networking sites where I don't have to pay to see profiles and reconnect with old friends?The short answer is YES. The long answer is still YES, but it's a little more complicated.
Classmates.com had a phenomenal opportunity to build a social networking site to rival its competitors at the time--Friendster and a new kid on the block called MySpace. Classmates.com had an advantage, too: it could build a social network based on real world relationships, with people already predisposed to connect online to relaunch or continue that relationship. Instead of creating income by harnessing the value their audience might have to potential advertisers, however, they decided instead to try to make money off of memberships and fees. That created a significant barrier to entry.
Around the same time, Facebook was launched for a limited audience: college students with a college-issued e-mail address. No memberships and no fees, but with the e-mail address prerequisite serving as a barrier to entry nonetheless. Once Facebook realized the power inherent in letting everyone in, however, they removed this barrier. The result? It's unclear exactly how much Facebook is worth today, but here's one estimate.
Amid all this, whither Classmates.com? Well, it's withering. Instead of opening their doors, they're still trying to survive by building barriers. For example, they keep telling me I have two e-mails in my in-box, but when I try to log-in and read them, I'm told I can't unless I buy a membership. And sure, I'm curious about who those e-mails are from, but not that curious--especially when I've probably already connected with the same people elsewhere. I have no idea why Classmates.com thinks this will work in a world where free e-mail and free network memberships are the norm. I can only guess they're hanging on to it because they can't come up with a better idea. What's the next move for Classmates.com? Well, I pretty much agree with this guy.
Classmates.com could have been named Most Likely to Succeed. Now they look like the class clown.