PracticePeople In PracticeHeadstart: Information management – Illumination of the alumni.

Headstart: Information management - Illumination of the alumni.

Wonder what happened to that kid who blew up the chemistry lab? Now you can find out says Philip Smith

Accountants have always been keen on networking to drum up new business.

All the Big Five firms and no doubt many of the other larger firms have well established alumni programmes.

These networks exist supposedly to allow the old boys and girls to keep in touch with each other, but clearly the motivation, from the firms’ point of view, is to keep the alma mater front of mind when alumni want to buy their services.

The internet, by its universally accessible nature, is an ideal way to maintain contact between large groups – first there was the extended email distribution list, where at the press of a button a message can be sent to literally thousands of addresses. Chat rooms also bring together disparate groups with a common interest.

But now the web is witnessing a rapid growth in old school networks.

These are not produced by schools, but by independent organisations that have realised there might be money to be made out of helping people get back in touch with those with whom they grew up.

The most popular, judging by the number of messages received about it, appears to be www.friendsreunited.co.uk.

To get full use of the service, you need to spend a fiver to register – the site operators say this is to discourage unsolicited emails and spam – but even without buying the full service you can see who has registered at your school and register yourself, though this then becomes publicly-available information.

The site is very easy to get around, the registration process quick and there is plenty of space for you to let everyone know what you are up to. A word of warning however – if you go for the free option, everyone can read what you say about yourself, so a little bit of modesty might not be a bad thing.

Registering at www.oldschoolmates.co.uk is more complicated, and involves email verification – that is to say, you give the site your details, then it emails you a password.

After that you can browse the whole site, which at the moment is not very extensive. The design is good, but content is lacking. This might explain why not so many people have signed up. Also, the login process requires you to remember the ID number emailed to you.

Likewise, www.lostschoolfriends.com is a well-designed site but does not appear to be as popular as friendsreunited. The content is more comprehensive than oldschoolmates and the registering process is less complicated, but does require an email-confirmed user name. And the ‘lost loves’ could be fun or very dangerous depending on your point of view – there are nine pages of potential relationship-wrecking messages.

There is a much greater international element to www.alumni.net than the other sites, and it extends to old workmates as well. Registration is easy, though it is at this point that you realise there is some cross-selling going on with www.jobs.net.

The site claims to have more than two million alumni registered, but this is spread out around the world.

Our top old school network sites: checking out ‘lost loves’ could be dangerous

www.friendsreunited.co.uk
It might not have been the first, but it looks like it has become the most popular way to find out what happened to your schoolmates.
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www.oldschoolmates.co.uk
Nice blackboard layout, but limited content makes this site less attractive – the forthcoming message board may help attract registrations.
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www.lostschoolfriends.com
Another well designed site, but registration process could put off sign-ups. Check out ‘lost loves’ to see if there is a message for you.
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www.alumni.net
Claims two million registrations for schools and workplaces, and has a far wider international appeal. Strong links with www.jobs.net.
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