If you’re like us, you’ve got family spread across the country and maybe even overseas. Although the costs to travel mean we don’t get together as often as we would like, that doesn’t mean we haven’t found creative ways to stay involved with far-away family and friends. Facebook has revolutionized how we can “keep up” with each other, but it does have serious privacy and security issues. I’m not about to share vacation photos on Facebook because that sends an open invitation to crooks that my house is just waiting for them to help themselves to my stuff. Personal news like new babies and deaths in the family can alert con artists of potential marks. I still enjoy Facebook. I’m just not putting much personal stuff out there.
Our family has been building its own family communications network. Some of it was intentionally set up, but a lot of it has just happened. For example, we have used Skype – a lot – to make video calls. It’s great to visually participate in birthday parties and other special events even when we can’t be there. Today, there are a growing number of web-enabled televisions offering both a high-def webcam add-on and Skype access. Imagine that same birthday party on a big screen tv! Skype supports free group calls too. Up to ten users can participate in a group call – audio or video. Skype’s text messenger component can be used in conjunction with an audio or video call to share photos or files while you’re talking.
As more and more in our family have moved to iThings, Skype is being augmented with FaceTime. We can even FaceTime directly to the grandkids through their iPod Touches. Although FaceTime doesn’t support group calls, the combination of FaceTime and Messages – sort of SMS and IM on steroids – make it easy get “status updates” just about any time. And, while nothing’s totally secure or private, it’s a much better option than Facebook.
We also use Posthaven to maintain a family news service [see article]. It functions as both a mailing list and a family journal and is so easy even the most digitally-challenged can participate. Here’s where birth announcements, family news and vacation pics are shared. Because posting is done via email, it’s a mobile-friendly platform that works well for posting vacation updates. Posthaven will cost $5.00 a month to use, but each account supports up to ten blogs.
For our photo archive, we use Flickr. You can define who can see your photos and Flickr has a group feature that lets a group of Flickr users share selected photos to one or more groups. Flickr supports private groups which are only visible to group members. One of the nice things about using a group is that group members can see all the photos shared to their group regardless of the privacy settings the owner set for them. This means I can post my current vacation photos privately, yet members of our Flickr family group will be able to see any of them that I share with the group. Yahoo has increased the storage limit for free accounts to 1 terabyte (the equivalent of approximately 560,000 photos) making it a good off-site storage option for our photo collection as well.
Our network combines easy apps and platforms with a comfortable level of privacy and security. It allows everyone to participate regardless of their digital skills. Best of all, it allows us to stay involved with our families both near and far. No, there won’t be letters handed down to generations to come, but the family web site, photo archives and other cloud-based services will take their place to provide a rich record of our lives.
Ain’t technology great!