Classmates.com URL classmates.com Commercial? mixed Type of site Social network service Owner United Online Created by Randy Conrads
The social media website was originally designed to assist members in finding friends and acquaintances from kindergarten, primary school, high school, college, work and the United States military. In 2010, CEO Mark Goldston described the transition of the website "to increasingly focus on nostalgic content" such as "high school yearbooks, movie trailers, music tracks, and photographic images." To this end, and to appeal more to older users, the website name was changed to Memory Lane, which included a website redesign.
Classmates Media also operates the following international sites designed to enable users to connect with old friends:
- StayFriends.de (Germany)
- StayFriends.se (Sweden)
- StayFriends.at (Austria)
- Trombi.com (France)
The previous time Classmates appeared on Hitwise's top 10 list of social networking websites was June 2009, when it appeared tenth with 0.45% market share.
In early 2008, Nielsen Online had ranked Classmates as number three in unique monthly visitors (U.S. home, work) among social networking sites. As of June 30, 2008, Classmates Media had more than 50 million members, but only 3.8 million pay subscribers.
According to the Online Publishers Association Paid Content U.S. Market Spending Report, Classmates.com was Number 4 among the Top 25 Web Destinations Ranked by Consumer Content Revenue in both 2002 and 2003 (the last years that individual site rankings were broken out). As more users move to Facebook, the site has fallen in popularity. Alexa.com shows Classmates.com to be the 4,211 most visited website on March 12, 2011, falling from the top 1,000 as recently as January 2010.
Classmates.com members use real names, not screen names (although some members use a "fake name"). Member privacy is protected through a double-blind email system, so email addresses and contact information are never revealed unless self-disclosed by members one-on-one.
Registering and networking
It is free for people to register as a Basic member of Classmates.com. Basic members can create profiles and search the entire social network service for friends. Basic members may also post to and read community message boards and view information about upcoming reunions, but they may not email anyone or view other members' profiles. They can write emails and send them, but the recipient cannot read them unless the sender becomes a paid member. This doesn't become apparent until an email is already composed and sent. Basic members who try to send emails or view profiles are funneled to a page where they can upgrade to Gold member status for a fee. Gold members, who pay a fee, may view other members' profiles, photos, biographies, timelines, interests, announcements and send email to and receive email from any member, view notes posted on their profile bulletin board, see the names of others who have visited their profile and signed their guest book, access and use tools for planning reunions and create their own private groups.
Controversial business practices
It is standard practice for Classmates.com to auto-renew memberships at the end of each billing period. In December 2006, when PC World magazine field tested several companies to determine how easy or difficult it was to cancel their service, Classmates.com was one of the companies that received their worst rating.
Classmates.com also routinely sends e-mails indicating that one of the recipient's classmates is looking for him/her. Allegedly, this is frequently untrue, and Classmates.com currently faces a lawsuit for this practice (which, if the allegation is true, constitutes fraud). In addition, Classmates.com does not allow members to provide each other with private e-mail addresses, street addresses or phone numbers since this would allow the members to communicate with one another outside of the site and therefore not pay for communications.
On August 18, 2010, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced a settlement with six companies, including Classmates, as part of a probe into the discount club industry. Classmates was among the retailers that agreed to pay $2.1 million toward refunds and consumer education. Under the scheme investigated, consumers who signed up for discounts or cash-back promotions were asked to enter their payment information; entering this information triggered small, easy-to-overlook recurring charges on the accounts, billed to unfamiliar company names. Classmates' share of the settlement amounts to $960,000 and a commitment to end these practices.
False Advertising Lawsuit Settled
Seattle-based Classmates.com has agreed to pay up to $9.5 million to its users to settle a lawsuit that accused the social network of sending fraudulent emails that told recipients their old friends from school wished to reconnect (and the recipients would need to buy Classmates.com memberships to receive their old friends' contact information). The lead plaintiffs in the case, David Catapano and Anthony Michaels, would each receive $20,500 as part of that provision.
United Online, the parent company of Classmates.com, earned $70 million from marketing practices under investigation in 2009 by the Senate Commerce Committee involving piggybacking a second credit card transaction with membership to Classmates.com involving a loyalty program.
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- ^ "UPDATE 1-Cuomo says 6 settle on hidden online shopping fees". Reuters. August 18, 2010. http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSN1820540420100818?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+reuters%2FprivateequityNews+%28News+%2F+US+%2F+Private+Equity+News%29&utm_content=Google+Reader.
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