Class Reunion Web Site

This summer I got a broadcast email plea from a high school acquaintance asking someone to volunteer to help with a new reunion website for our high school graduation class (1969).  It has been a long time since I did any website volunteer work and this looked like it might be a good match for my talents and experience.  There was not much information in this email other than the old reunion web site was gone and to use Facebook was the last option he wanted.

Richardson High School 1969 Annual

I composed an email to my friend outlining my experience levels and some recommendations along with some links to some recent web site work I had done.  The next day I got an enthusiastic response and a meeting was set up to get together in person to discuss the various pros and cons of the various recommendations I had made. Who could turn down free web site consultation and development? Ha. Ha.

I did about 4 or 5 hours of research before I responded to my high school friend’s request (David).  My research involved the use of content management systems (CMS).  A good CMS will allow an inexperienced nonprofessional to create and maintain a great looking web site without very much knowledge except perhaps with a word processor.  Blogs are excellent examples of CMS systems.  The last thing I wanted was to saddle David with a website he could not maintain without my help (which is partly why he was unable to keep the last web site going).  I did want to assist in any way I could to make this transition easy for him and give him a beautiful web site to look at and navigate easily.  It was an obvious choice to go with a CMS, the next criteria was to select a CMS that had plenty of great features, strong security and one that did not burden the classmates with any extra charges or fees.

Joomla came to mind first.  I have created and maintained a couple of web sites on that CMS platform.  Joomla is free and open source.  All you need is server space and a URL and you can start creating your web site, once you have downloaded Joomla.  Joomla does require a learning curve (even to install it requires some research) and unless you use it regularly you can forget some of the finer points of using it.  If you want to customize the look of a template in Joomla or create your own template having a knowledge of html and CSS is essential to getting the exact look you want.  The plus side is, once you have a great template, maintaining the web site is easy.  Backups and extensions don’t’ come with the basic setup.  You must get those separately and install them one by one.  The main extension I needed was an extensive database, enough for the possibility of over 900 classmates and their profiles.


Adding a database to Joomla is possible, there are plenty of options out there.  Some knowledge of database structure and query is required to use these extensions.  This did not fit my criteria of allowing any administrator to easily maintain this web site.  The learning curve seemed a bit steep, even for me.  What I needed was a CMS specifically designed for class reunions.  Turns out there are plenty of these out there.  It is just a matter of picking the best one for the features and price.

Here is a brief list of class reunion web sites and their features and prices are on links I have supplied.  These are sorted by how Google responded to my search, “Class Reunion Web sites”:

  1. – Pricing structure monthly with a credit card fee to process tickets
    1. Standard features include database for classmates, forums, a way to add donations etc. and more.  The monthly fee seemed a bit high and fees to process tickets was also a bit on the high side at the time of my research (5%).
  2. – Free, no pop-ups, no spam.  Only a donation is suggested, $15/year per classmate.  The look of the web sites did not impress me.  They all looked pretty much the same.  We had a large class and we wanted a professional appearance that would attract attention.  Plus, adding up the suggested donation per classmate on a graduating class our size seemed pretty high fee.  Seemed to me that it might be time consuming and nagging to ask for money from your classmates.
  3.  Pricing structure is reasonable, web site header design is customizable, and template structure was easy to navigate.  They also can point to an existing URL, which the free web sites don’t offer (they create a directory structure under their own URL).  There were no fees to the classmates at all.  FAQ page offered some detailed information before you purchase anything making the decision to recommend with this particular company much more comfortable.  In addition, they allow you to backup the database to your computer as well as the automatic backup they provide on their servers, plus you can set up the site with more than one administrator.  This seemed like a perfect fit to allow both me and David to maintain the site at the same time.


There are more companies out there, I looked at several more, however if the fees were cheaper, it was reflected in the look of the web sites, which generally all looked the same.  Most had the exact same header design graphics, and no change to the links above or on the side and most of the content was crowded on the home page.  I wanted to have the ability to make this web site relatively unique and use an existing URL, plus post photos and links where I wanted them.  I also wanted to feel confident that should I be unable to help David, he could easily do any changes himself without me at all.  This would leave me free to go on vacation, or shut down my system without feeling guilty, while someone needed some help.  I also looked at each vendor to see how many customers they each had and the age of the users who posted these web sites.  I was specifically looking at web sites for classes before 1970.  I wanted to see what folks our age were posting and how they used their system.  Also, I checked to see if they posted any remarks regarding how easy this system was to use.  Classcreator has an open forum which posts many user comments, and questions.  It was good see that folks 10 years older than me using their system without a problem.  I was lucky to be in a geek family.  I have programmed in html, javascript and more.  Not everyone my age is into computers in the same way.

The last criteria was to make certain any web site created using this system would work on all current mobile devices.  I may be a computer geek, but I have also noticed many of my friends who are hooked into their mobile phones and tablets.  Some of these folks don’t use a personal computer at all any more.  I have both an iphone and a tablet at hand to check on just how easy these web sites are to use on a small screen.  Classcreator passed this test too, all of the web sites I tested that used this worked just fine on all devices I had, they were easy to navigate and see.  As an added plus, several graduating classes from our school also use this same company.

Mobile Device Availability

My meeting with David a couple of weeks later resulted in him wanting to think this recommendation over carefully.  He felt burned after his last web site developer, who hosted the web site on a private server, disappeared and the site was offline.  A great deal of time and research on David’s part had vanished and all he had left were whatever records were on his hard drive.  He felt a bit gun shy and I can’t blame him.  His backup included a large list of classmates and their contact information in Excel, plus countless photos and other memorabilia from previous reunions.  He supplied me this information on a portable drive, which I took back with me pending his decision on which system to use.

After our meeting, at David’s request, I did my best to try to contact his previous web site developer to see if there was any possible way to obtain a copy of that code to restore it.  It seemed that was the first choice to save the most time and money.  A week later, we both gave up.  No emails or phone calls placed to them were returned to either of us.

After this last effort failed, David immediately contacted the site administrator for Classcreator and began asking questions.  His questions were answered promptly and after a few days he too was satisfied that this system was our best choice.

Next:  Where do we go from here??

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