John Shin refuses to buy a copy of his high school yearbook. Instead, he's turning to the Internet to preserve and share memories of his sophomore year.
The 15-year-old has posted a collection of school-related photos and videos, as do many of his classmates. They're able to exchange virtual notes, vote for the most likely to succeed and take part in other yearbook traditions.
The Tuckahoe High School student is trying to persuade as many as his friends as possible to sign up at MyYearbook.com — and save some money, too.
"I'm going to bring everyone who matters to me to MyYearbook," said John, who attends school in Eastchester, a suburb just north of New York City. "I'm confident in that, and besides, they're like $70."
But skeptics wonder if the free Web site can ever truly replace the traditional printed chronicle of high-school memories — even for the generation that's grown up with the Internet.
"Students continue to say they prefer print yearbooks for obvious reasons," said Rich Stoebe, director of communications for Jostens Inc., which sells yearbooks, class rings and other scholastic memorabilia.
After all, will anyone want to haul a laptop to the 25th class reunion? And what happens if the technology changes, or something happens to the dot-com?
Jostens and other yearbook companies have responded to changes in technology by offering a supplemental DVD offering student-compiled music, photos and video.
Jostens reported $348.5 million in yearbook sales in 2005. By comparison, MyYearbook.com just started bringing in money — about $40,000 a month with strategically placed banner ads on its site.
Still, the teenage siblings who created MyYearbook.com, Catherine and David Cook of Stillman, N.J., are confident their generation will trust the Internet with their school memories.
"We just think yearbooks are obsolete," said Catherine Cook, 16. "If you think about it, all you're going to do with it is put it on the shelf and never really look at it."
MyYearbook.com allows users to create a profile with separate sections for high school, college, graduate school and professional life. Students who sign up are automatically linked to others at their school.
Acting as their own editors, they can select friends from their classmates.
Members can "autograph" each others' yearbook pages. The site also connects students through school club and sports pages. Like other so-called social-networking sites, it allows members to upload photos and post messages.
Students have access to multimedia and interactive components that old-fashioned yearbooks can't offer, including a place for creating polls and storing music and videos.
Users also can vote for the biggest flirt, best athlete, most popular students at the school.
After graduation, voting starts over for their college or professional life. Meanwhile, portions of the school sections are preserved, unchanged, with the same friends, classmates, clubs and superlatives, said Geoff Cook, Catherine and David's older brother who invested $250,000 in the venture.
The site is independent of school authorities and available year-round. If inappropriate usage is detected, it can be reported to MyYearbook.com and staff there will delete it.
Catherine Cook and her brother, 18-year-old David Cook, founded the site in 2005 and built it up to about 950,000 members in about a year. They developed the idea after becoming frustrated with the cost and layout of their own yearbooks.
Teenagers want different things out of their yearbook than their parents did, and thrive on the up-to-the-moment aspects of the Web site, said Geoff Cook, 28.
Eventually, the Cooks hope to attract more than the 80 million members of the leading social networking site, MySpace.com.
In 2004, 16.4 million high school students were living in the U.S., according to the U.S. Census Bureau. MyYearbook.com plans to grow its membership by sticking with students after they leave high school. About 30 percent of the users on MyYearbook.com are college students, Catherine Cook said.
A similar site, Facebook, has 7.7 million users, mostly in college. The site's layout is similar to a yearbook, but the creators never intended to replace the traditional book, said Chris Hughes, a Facebook spokesman and co-creator.
At Tuckahoe High School, most of John Shin's friends have decided against buying a yearbook in favor of the online version, while others have chosen both, he said. Of about 270 students at the school, 63 use MyYearbook.com.
The Cooks are considering using a print-on-demand service to offer a hard copy of MyYearbook.com pages. Students could keep it on a shelf like a traditional yearbook, at a fraction of the cost, they said.
"I tend to think people don't want to (buy a hard copy)," Geoff Cook said in an e-mail. "But we are exploring it."