Here are some key considerations when you set up your family Web site:
- Get input from other people who use family Web sites. Talk to friends in person and in your Online Communities on AARP.org. Find out how these people have set up and now use their sites.
- Identify a purpose. How do you want to use the site? What do you want to accomplish for your family? Make sure the site you choose will accomplish your goals.
- Beware of hidden agendas. As you look at the various sites, keep in mind some of them exist as a means to get you to use their other products, such as photo–sharing, creating family trees using their software, or planning reunions.
- Shop around for useful features. A variety of themes and options are available in the templates offered on most sites. You can choose different designs, calendars, and photo galleries. Other options include file uploads (for sharing family documents), guestbooks, discussions and chats, lists of members and their addresses, and family news. Some sites offer the ability to post recipes, create family trees, take polls, or even to build an online "family museum." Others include links to helpful articles, world news, or the weather. Try all the features you would like to include to see how easy they are to use.
- Examine and compare costs. The price of the 11 sites I tried varied greatly—from free to more than $200 per year. Every site had a complimentary level of service, with the option to upgrade by adding features, disk space, or by increasing the number of users. Some sites offered a 30-day free trial rather than an ongoing free option. One site had a one-time, $100 activation fee. When looking for yourself, closely examine and compare costs before you commit. I tried each site's free option first before choosing an upgrade. Finally, write yourself a note in your calendar so you remember that most sites will automatically charge your card again in a year to renew your account.
It is important to remember that a Web site like the ones I've described will only be effective if your family members use it. Here are some tips for creating a usable site: Before you get caught up in all the cool features you can include, and before you spend a great deal of time setting up the family site, ask yourself whether any of the features would make the site easier or harder to use. Avoid themes or templates that are visually disorganized or frenetic. "Less is more" is a good adage for you as you design and lay out the site. Remember you want to make it simple for family members to find, use, and contribute to the site. Get a user-friendly site up and running to start your family connecting, and keep them coming back.
Here’s hoping my family Web site and yours will keep us from forgetting any more important events this year and beyond!