Classmates.com, where nothing comes free

At some point, I signed up for a Classmates.com account. I don't remember exactly what prompted it, but from the onset, I figured it was some place I wasn't going to end up visiting often. For one thing, my high school days weren't exactly full of fond memories (moving around as often as I did, I was always the outsider). But more particularly to this site, even though they advertised that it cost nothing to create an account, every page, every feature seemed to be designed to push getting a paid account.

The extent of this push has only become more apparent as time has gone on. The first was when I got an email from someone I knew. It came in through my Classmates.com account, and I was able to view the message. I thought it would be neat to respond and see what she had been up to in the past decade or so. However, I couldn't respond. That feature is for paid members only. Fortunately, I could see her email address, and I was able to respond to her directly.

It seems this little loophole has not yet been closed, as I got another message from someone very recently. Not only could I see his email, but he typed it in the body of the message as well, when he listed a couple different accounts at which he could be reached. I'm not sure if he did this because it was habit, or because he was also aware of how crippled Classmates.com is to free accounts and wanted to make sure I could reply, in case "view return address" was something that had become hidden from free account holders.

Probably the most annoying was an email I got from the Classmates.com server just this past week. Subject: Who's the mystery signer of your guestbook. "Find out who's thinking of you" the link proclaimed. So I clicked. Apparently, there's a "guestbook" feature that lets you leave a message for someone. However, as I clicked on the link and visited my Classmates.com account, I found that I could not view my own guestbook, unless I paid. The lowest charge one could make was $15 for three months. Thank you, no, I'm not that curious to see what random person happened upon my profile (and considering my guestbook has a whopping two entries over the life of the account, I don't see a burning desire to be able to view that guestbook). For all I know, the message waiting for me is from the Classmates.com server, "demonstrating" the usefulness of this feature and "congratulating" me for giving them my money.

Unfortunately, this may mean that someone is actually trying to get in touch with me, and now they're disappointed or annoyed that I'm ignoring them. I'm sure Classmates.com is hoping for this guilt to coerce me into paying up. It is a shame, but one that I refuse to lose sleep over. I can be found outside of Classmates.com if someone wants to chat that much, and if not, well, it's not worth worrying about anyway.

What's worse, the site now hits you repeatedly with popups (the type that are loaded in the browser window, on top of your content, so you cannot view the page without interacting with the popup), encouraging you to upgrade to Gold status or "reminding" you to join the Classmates Dating network (the close link on that particular popup says "remind me later"). Perhaps the subscription requests would disappear if I paid for an account, but would the dating ads, which have 0% relevance and 100% annoyance to me? Although I can't confirm or deny it, their subscription-pushing behavior leads me to believe I'd have a lot more ads in my face if I spent any more time there.

I also have a LinkedIn.com profile. This site has a lot of the same features, although it seems to be more focused on the networking chains rather than the "who did I go to _____ with" idea -- although that feature is available, too. But the best part is, I have not (yet) been pressured to pay for the basic functionality they've advertised. Perhaps this isn't the more profitable business model, but I do know one thing: I've made a lot more page hits to LinkedIn.com than I ever plan on doing to Classmates.com. And if I ever need LinkedIn.com's premium services, I'll be more willing to pay them for it than I will ever consider Classmates.com.

Sure, Classmates.com is entitled to sell their product, and they're entitled to lock up certain features behind a paywall. But when their free services are so limited as to make it almost useless, and they constantly annoy me with ads, they certainly don't give me much incentive to stick around.

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