Internet-based social networking is really nothing so new. There has been a slow evolution since the mid '90s when services such as Bigfoot and similar basic whitepage-like directories began popping up. Unfortunately, such services failed to see their potential and faded away.
The one service that really had things going for it was North American-centric Classmates.com. It was the first social networking site many of us signed up for. Via ubiquitous advertising, Classmates managed to establish itself as the go-to place to find old friends and bullies. The service quickly spread across the U.S. and Canada and really did help millions to re-connect.
But in their attempt to go for the gold, the owners of Classmates.com failed to adjust their business model, and began to resemble what many considered to be more of an internet marketing scam. According to stories from around the internet, Classmates.com's business practices were dubious bordering on the fraudulent.
In an attempt to sell their $10/month "Gold" level service, the company allegedly sent members e-mails informing them an old friend was looking to re-connect, and the price of potential happiness was a mere Gold membership fee. This blackmail-like business model didn't last long when it was discovered that it wasn't the senior class's lead cheerleader who always desperately wanted to get to know the shy, awkward, lonely guy sitting in the back of the room. Nope. As it turned out, those messages were actually often from Classmates.com wanting to reconnect with your cash.
I'm sure Classmates.com management is now wondering what might have been. In their attempts to go for the short-term gold, the service failed to adjust to threats from Facebook. And thus, sadly, they failed to reach their long-term potential.
One service was wildly outclassed by another. And now Classmates.com is some sort of sad yearbook depository trying to push $100 re-prints.
The lesson learned here: Be aware, and be fair and djust your business models given changing ecosystems, or go to the back of the class.