A Central Family Website

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Photo by James MacDonald

Starting  right after my dad’s funeral in May I have had multiple conversations with multiple cousins and siblings wondering about creating something online where members of the various families could share news together to help us all stay connected. One suggested solution was to create a Facebook page but seeing as the common theme seems to be having a place exclusively for family news and considering that not everybody uses Facebook (despite what it sometimes seems like) the feeling has been that Facebook has two drawbacks: it leaves the news mixed in with anything shared by the many other friends any of us may have on Facebook and it completely locks out anyone who isn’t on Facebook.

While I haven’t started any of the conversations on this topic that I have participated in I have the advantage of having conceptually designed just the kind of collaborative family website that would allow family members to easily share their news to a central location. I began designing the concept a few years ago in anticipation of my own family growing up and becoming geographically dispersed. The two key features I wanted to ensure were easy content creation and easy content consumption.

Content Creation

I wanted to have a system that would be able to draw from any online self publishing that family members were already doing so that those who were in the habit didn’t need to split their energy between two forums while allowing those who weren’t already sharing things online anywhere to also contribute if they wanted to. My design allows for the group site to pull content from other personal sites that members of the family might be publishing to. The nice thing is that not only can the site automatically pull content from other sites, but in some cases it can pull content selectively. For example, if someone is running a WordPress site already I can pull all their content or only content in specified categories or with specified tags. If someone is running a Blogger site I can pull all their content or if their have their site set up for it I can pull only content with specific labels. For those who publish to Facebook the only option to automatically pull content (as far as I know) is to pull everything. For those who want to contribute to the shared site who don’t already have a place they publish things, I can set them up with an Author account at the site.

Content Consumption

The appeal of social sites like Facebook is that you can easily see information from a range of sources all in one place. One key to making the content shared to the family site valuable is to not force people to come check another site to get the latest news. For people who are in the habit of using an existing news reader they can add the site to their list of feeds. For those who use Facebook we can publish the content to a Facebook page if someone wants to set one up. (We can do the same for Google+, Twitter, or other social sites too.) Hopefully family members will be able to get the latest from the shared site without altering their existing online habits (unless of course their current habit is to not get online).

Prototype

Seeing interest from multiple people I have decided to throw up a simple working site based on my design at chm.davidjmiller.org. Please think of this as a working model – open to many forms of revision and refinement.

  • I currently pull content from my website and Matt and Elise Lane’s blogger but I’d love to add more people.
  • I’d be happy if we could find a permanent home for the site besides that subdomain on my site but we can make that change if we find a suitable home.
  • If people are interested we can begin sharing the content to other social sites they may be using.
  • If any family member wants me to create an author account for them here just contact me – I’ll be happy to set you up.
  • I have done nothing with the visual design of the site – if you have ideas for how to make it look better I certainly wouldn’t mind it becoming more visually appealing.

Please share this with other members of the family and lets see what kind of connections we can make and what kind of fun we can have together.