Tuesday, April 21, 2009

One Idea in Detail: Create a Family Website

If your family, like most, has become far-flung geographically and hard-pressed for time to communicate, building a Website just for your family members makes a great HarvilleQuarter for you and great tool for your family members to keep in touch with each other. If you're lucky, even the college students will take an occasional peek and use it to update you on their lives.

Creating a Website for your family's exclusive use is surprisingly cheap and easy, with a number of pre-formatted sites available to choose from. (Just Google "family website" and you'll see at least half a dozen on the first page.) Depending on how many family members use the site, how many features you want, and the number and size of videos, photographs and files you upload, the cost can range from zero to $5.00 to more than $10.00 a month. In other words, even with a pretty full-featured site and a good bit of storage, it will make for a pretty cheap HarvilleQuarter.

Needless to say, this is one project that should outlive your HarvilleQuarter, so plan on spending some ongoing time keeping it up to date and feeding PayPal's virtual meter every month or so.

Another option is to build a customized Website from scratch. This would obviously be more time-consuming but you'll learn a heckofa lot more in the process and you'll be able to make many more choices about design and functionality. It's up to you.

What can you do on a family Website? Each one I've looked at is a little different, but there are some pretty common features:

Calendar/events schedule: You can post all the recurring events - birthdays, anniversaries, holidays - as well as one-time happenings - the family reunion, a graduation, first communion, operation, visits, and more. (I guess I'll no longer have an excuse for missing my brother's birthdays....)

Photos: Family members can post the most recent pictures of their vacations, birthday parties, holiday celebrations, or just hanging out. You can also upload old photographs of family members and memorable events. Photographs can be grouped into slide shows with narration.

Videos: These can be a space hog but short videos of baby's first steps, the T-ball home run, or the star turn in the ballet recital are sure to receive many viewings by grandparents and aunts and uncles.

Family tree: One of the Websites ties directly to any family trees documented in Ancestry.com. For others, a family tree can be created in the site - or uploaded as a document - so everyone can remember exactly how they're related to cousin Agnes who lived with Grandma's family as a girl.

News items: Post news tidbits and announcements from daily life that you'd like your relatives to know about - winning the first job or promotion, earning a driver's license, painting the living room, the record-breaking (and back-breaking) snowfall, the great movie you saw, your day volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, results of your mid-terms - whatever you and yours have done that you'd like to share. Some of these can be further documented through photos or videos.

Family documents: Documents both historical and recent can be shared. Consider old newspaper clippings, Grandpa's love letters to Grandma when they were courting, wedding announcements, school programs, favorite poems, children's stories, Christmas letters and many others. You may also have a separate section for favorite family recipes or new recipes that someone has tried and would like to share.

Polls: At least one site has an automated mechanism for taking a poll. You may, for example, want to solicit opinions on the best time and place for a family reunion, or whether to draw names for Christmas presents.

Discussion: Most sites allow for blog-like posts and threaded discussions - so you can ask a question for others to respond, or simply post news and observations.

Contact Information: You can have a central source for current addresses, phone numbers and email addresses for all family members.

As the "site administrator," you will have certain responsibilities, besides getting the site going and paying the period maintenance if you go beyond a free site's limits. You'll determine who has the access rights to upload new documents or photos - or to delete old ones. You may also want to set a few ground rules, so that one person doesn't start dominating the site while others are rolling their eyes at daily updates on young Joshua's toilet-training tribulations and triumphs.

It seems to me that there is a danger of a family Website getting entirely out of control and morphing into the Christmas letter on steroids - and the last thing you want is for family members to stop enjoying it because of information overload. Part of your job is to encourage participation by the reluctant and to gently suggest moderation on the part of your family's irrepressible know-it-alls and show-offs. And you already know who they'll be.

Good luck with that.

1 comment:

  1. Bruce - great idea. I would not suggest building a website from scratch except for those few geeks who already know how to do it. Otherwise a LOT of work is likely to result in a poorly organized and hard to use website. In addition you should realize as you and other family members age you are very likely to develop visual, motor, or other disabilities which will become challenges in using your family website. In this case, a site designed with accessibility in mind will be a huge asset and is not likely to result from a first-time effort. BTW, I am currently utilizing this blog site with a screen-reader designed for blind users, and I can say that it works very well - good choice.