Too much contact at this Reunion

The social-networking site uses members' e-mail address books to try to boost its roster.

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The name of the game for social-networking websites such as MySpace and Facebook is to draw as many users as possible into the fold. Typically that's done by creating a community and features so irresistible that people feel they just have to join.

Then there are the tactics employed by Reunion.com, a Los Angeles-based site with 36 million registered members.

West L.A. resident Elaine Schmidt experienced Reunion.com's aggressive marketing for herself when she received an e-mail the other day that appeared to be from a longtime acquaintance.

It said: "Hi, I looked for you on Reunion.com, the largest people search service -- but you weren't there." The e-mail instructed her to click on a link to see who else has been searching for her.

Curious to see if her acquaintance had left a message, Schmidt, 44, clicked on the link and found herself at Reunion.com's site, where she was prompted to register so she could see who'd been searching for her.

As part of the process, she submitted her name, gender, e-mail address, birth date and ZIP Code.

Then Schmidt came to a page saying that "we'll find your friends and family who are already members and also automatically invite any nonmembers to join (it's free!)." It instructed her to enter the password for her Yahoo e-mail account.

"I thought I was just signing up to read my friend's message," Schmidt said. "At no time did I think I was authorizing them to access my online address book."

Within minutes, though, she started getting e-mails from friends and colleagues asking why she was searching for them on Reunion.com.

As the day progressed, Schmidt realized that every one of the roughly 250 personal and professional contacts in her online address book had received an e-mail, ostensibly from her, saying that she was searching for them and encouraging them to join her at Reunion.com.

"I had to send an e-mail to everyone apologizing for what happened," she said.

Size counts when it comes to social-networking sites. The more members they have, the more they can charge advertisers and the more clout they have with business partners. MySpace boasts 110 million members worldwide. Facebook claims 70 million active users.

Jeffrey Tinsley, Reunion.com's chief executive, said the privately held company, which was founded in 2002, registers about 1 million new members every month. This is due in no small part to the millions of e-mails sent out monthly to those in each new member's address book.

"We're not doing anything different from any other social-networking site," Tinsley said.

Well, no.

Both MySpace and Facebook also prompt new users to reach out to the people in their e-mail address books. But the two services allow members to decide for themselves who will receive invitations to join, as opposed to Reunion.com's automatic blitzing of everyone.

No less important, the e-mailed invitations are just that -- invitations. For example, the e-mail from Facebook says: "I set up a Facebook profile with my pictures, videos and events and I want to add you as a friend so you can see it. First, you need to join Facebook! Once you join, you can also create your own profile."

That's a good deal more straightforward than an e-mail saying that so-and-so is searching for you.

In Schmidt's case, the e-mail that prompted her to open her address book to the company appeared to come from Vera Eck, a Santa Monica psychotherapist whom Schmidt has known for a while.

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