By Michael Stodola Special to Published Jan 17, 2009 at 9:59 AM

OK, I'll go as far as to say that social media is mending our society. And though, I admit, it has its fair share of ills (a less-than-accurate Wikipedia, "haters" leaving excessively negative comments), the open dialogue is priceless. It's rebuilding the village lost long ago to industrialization, radio and television.

I love the entire social media thing -- from blogging to Facebook to reading consumers' comments about products on Amazon. The opportunities that lie within social media are as plentiful as all other media combined. Not only can it sell better than any Super Bowl spot, it can also expose fraud inherent in so much marketing. Social media keeps you honest. Imagine killing Kennedy these days -- you'd have 30 different videos of the assassination posted on YouTube by the time his body got to Parkland Hospital. Social media is cool.

And then there's the un-cool. A few sites out here look, feel, smell and taste like social media, but they're far from an open exchange of information and ideas.

The site that frustrates me the most in this arena: The potential of Classmates to be the ultimate social site is large. Naturally, thousands of people go there for information about old friends, reunions or for an "old-time's-sake-booty-call." However, there are a number of roadblocks before you actually communicate with others.

For starters, you gotta pay. WTF? These people can't throw together a business plan that is powered by ad revenue? And not only do you have to pay-to-play, they also taunt you with spam that there is "someone thinking of you." These hard-sell tactics are anything but social.

Number two: Stilted, rigid questionnaires about who you are. This inability to personalize your information is an obvious obstacle to real sharing.

Number three: It takes about six months to upload a photo.

These reasons, along with a few more, make Classmates a jagged pill to swallow. And it's especially frustrating because it's a site that could be on top. I love the concept. I love that you can search and find old female friends by their maiden name. But I vow that when my $15 membership runs out, I'm done. (Besides, I already have my real e-mail address on my Classmates bio as well as a note to find me on Facebook.)

I suppose they all can't be perfect sites, but their intentions should be. When creating a gathering place for friends or colleagues, let people gather freely and on their own terms. And like MySpace, Facebook and the Field of Dreams: If you build it correctly, they will come.

Michael Stodola Special to
Michael Stodola is the Creative Director at Boelter + Lincoln – a Milwaukee advertising agency. He loves his job, but not as much as he loves scuba diving, crab cakes or playing with his kids. His favorite thing is sneaking off for dates with his hottie wife. Born and raised in Nebraska, he’s been calling Milwaukee home for well over 10 years. After Michael’s impending death, he’d like to return to this world as your next American Idol®.