14 November 2008

Your school chum's not asking about you: Classmates.com sued

Everybody hates me, nobody loves me
I'm going to go and eat worms
Big fat juicy ones, little itty bitty ones
See how the big ones squirm
First you bite thier heads off
Then you suck the juice out
Then you throw the skins away
Nobody knows how I can thrive
On worms three times a day.

Did you sing that, or something like it, at school, when you thought no one was your friend?

Well, guess what -- in spite of advertising by some social networking sites, they're still not your friends.

Your school chum's not asking about you: Classmates.com sued:
San Diego resident Anthony Michaels had been a free member of Classmates.com since last year. However, the site—like dating sites that offer paid membership tiers—doesn't let you do anything all that interesting with the free tier. In order to see who has been looking at your profile and read messages from other members, users must first upgrade to a Gold Membership. That's when Michaels said he was tricked. He said that he began receiving messages from Classmates.com claiming that old classmates of his had been looking at his profile and trying to get in touch with him through the site. If only he would fork over some cash for a paid membership, he could see those messages and reconnect with that old high school crush!

Who could resist such a temptation? Michaels couldn't, and that's why he finally paid up in hopes of reading all those messages that his classmates had been sending him. Upon doing so and logging in, however, he was greeted with crushing disappointment. Not a single message was waiting for him in his Classmates.com inbox, and none of the people who had been viewing his profile were ones he knew or was familiar with.

Clasmates.com is not the only or even the worst of such sites. There is also the Names Database, and Alumni.net, and several others. Many of them practice sneaky advertising of one kind or another. The Names Database, for example, offers to give you some of the interesting information, provided you give them the e-mail addresses of 20 or more of your existing friend so that they can spam them (I don't know if they sell the addresses they harvest in this way so that others can spam them too).

There was one called Word of Mouth, which I think has now disappeared. They invited people to give information about others anonymously, so that they could post malicious rubbish if they wanted to. Then potential employers could pay them to consult the gosspip -- and they could keep spamming to say that someone has written about you, come and see what they've said -- but of course you had to pay to do that. Entering malicious gossip was free, reading it was for subscribers only.

Some such sites are actually quite useful. One of the better ones is ZoomInfo, which just collects stuff from the web. They charge business users, but don't charge people for simple people searches. Not all the information they collect is accurate, but you can sign on and organise the information that is really about you for free.

Another of the better reuniting old friends sites is:

Is someone looking for you? Who? Me? Type your last name and search!

I've not actually found any old friends using their site, but I like their style.

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