21 October 2010

Find High School Friends On Facebook

I recently had a 25-year reunion with my high school classmates.  Some people liked the event so much they wanted to have another soon, like for the 27th or 30th anniversary.  A committee was quickly formed but it was decided that they will use a professional organizer for help with the locale, hotel, air travel, etc.  I don't know what they will do about finding more classmates.  We had about one hundred classmates for the recent reunion, with perhaps 200 to 300 on Facebook.  Like sending out resumes, the number of people actually going to a reunion will be a percent of the people located, so it helps to find as many people as possible.  Here's what I and other members of my reunion committee did to find people.

Recall that we already had a Google Doc with all the student names from the yearbook and the commencement roster.  The next thing we did was to search for people in Facebook, the definitive social network of the day.  I discovered that there are a few high schools named Newtown around the world.  There was one in Australia, another in Pennsylvania (albeit that one was Marple Newtown High School), one named exactly the same as mine, right nearby in Sandy Hook, Connecticut.  My Newtown was in Elmhurst, Queens, New York.  Facebook is smart enough to offer the choices but people still make mistakes so not everyone who indicated that they graduated from Newtown High in Elmhurst really belong there.

With about 300 people indicating they are Class of 1985 from Elmhurst's Newtown High, the search is almost over, right?  Even if you subtract 5% for those stumblers from the other Newtown, you still have about 280 people to put together a party with, yes?  Unfortunately, some of those people may be just placebooks, i.e. inactive people on Facebook, like those fake books that take up space on a shelf just to show what a full shelf looks like.  Take away another 5% or so.  It's time to tap into the general population on Facebook.

In these days and age, some people think it is easy to find people on the Internet.  Those Classmates.com ads make it sound easy, but it is far from it.  Especially if you don't want to spend any money.  Still, everyone is on Facebook, right?  All you need to do is type in the person's first name and last name then your old friend would be a Friend Request away.  In reality, many of the people we tried to locate had common names that when searched by names alone returned too many hits.  "John Smith" is understandably too common a name, but names in other ethnic groups that may sound uncommon to us turned out to be extremely popular for those cultures.

The clever idea my search partner, M.P., in the Reunion Committee came up with was to search for unique names.  Sure there are some names that we were mistaken about their uniqueness but there are some that are truly unique.  Remember that I mentioned before about the commencement roster listing middle initials?  Combined with the unique names, the middle initials can really help pinpoint a person.  There are many people to find and some people keep in touch with a small circle of friends years after graduation.  Always hope that those people with less common names are still friends with those with common names.  Sometimes we get lucky and the person has a photo that is recognizable.  One of the fun in locating high school classmates was seeing how people change yet certain traits remain.  Find 'em, Friend 'em, let's party!  M.P. was so good at it that she triggered FB's spam detector and got her account suspended.  The lesson here is to go easy with the friending on FB.  Spread the work out among the other board members.

Life is not always so rosy.  There were cases where we found the people, confirmed their identity, maybe even befriended them, only to have them, for whatever reason, drop off FB altogether.  Whenever possible, grab your friends' regular email address and keep it somewhere safe.  Someday FB may start charging money for its use and people may leave it en mass, like some of those groups that sometimes proclaim.

03 October 2010

High School Reunion - Friend Finder

In the old days, I imagine, looking for high school friends so many years after graduation means getting together physically to pore over the yearbook and call people one after another.  Perhaps two people would open their own yearbook and call each other then go over the names and assign them accordingly.  Depending on how long back you go, there may be no telephones to use and you would send out copies of a form letter to the last address known for a person.  Clacking away on typewriters, running the letter through photocopier, fill out the blank after "Dear", sign the letter then fold it, stuff it into the envelope, and address the envelope.  Finally, lick the stamp and affix it then lick the envelope to seal it.  What fun!

My recent search for high school friends didn't happen like that at all.  We were well into the Information Age, with the Information Superhighway running through our houses, at high speed no less.  We didn't have to get together physically.  One of us was on the west side of the U.S. and three were in New York City, although different parts of the city and rarely see each other, at least for me.  We got on CONFERENCE calls, not one-to-one calls like the days of yore, to discuss things to do and progresses.  We actually sent out a few paper letters and they didn't do much good.

One thing we had in common with the old-fashioned approach was the yearbook.  Regardless of how the process of finding friends is done, it has to start with the yearbook.  However, we had a "copy" of the yearbook in the form of a Google Doc, a spreadsheet, to be exact.  It took some time to type in all the names but it was worthwhile.  We could sort the list by last name or by first name, or later as we got more info about the students, by other columns, like whether they were on Facebook or indicated they were interested in the reunion.  Having all the student names in digital form allowed us to also use the search function to find the names.  After 25 years, some of us may remember only the first name of a classmate.  By searching for just that first name and coming across all the last names that go with the found first name, perhaps something in our mind would be jolted to come forward.

Besides the yearbook, we also had access to the commencement roster.  For some reason, the roster had few or no typos at all so it was a good source to fall back onto.  After typing in the names from the yearbook, I also added the names from the roster.  An additional bonus with the roster was many of the names had middle initials.  If you have to find someone whose first name and last name are common, the middle initial makes a big difference.  Yet one other usefulness with the commencement roster is that it may have names of people who somehow were not in the yearbook.  Maybe someone transferred into your school after the yearbook photos were taken.

Whether you plan to do the work of finding high school friends with your committee made up of classmates or use professional search service, the yearbook, in digital form (read: searchable), plus the commencement roster if possible, will get you to a great start.  It is good to have a pack rat on the committee who can type at decent speed.