Let’s assume that all you have right now is a desktop computer, an Internet connection, stacks of old family photographs and a huge email list of all the assorted members of your extended family.
Interlinked: Start small with free applications before graduating to full-fledged websites such as that of the Kumbanads.
Get everyone in one place
First of all you need to make sure that as many family members as possible are on a single platform. The easiest way to do this is to pull all those email IDs into a single email group. Don’t put all those IDs into a single email and hope that people stay connected. Instead, use a simple email group which offers recipients more flexibility and makes it easier to make additions in the future. Use Google Groups (www.groups.google.com) to create and maintain the list.
Create that blog
Now that everyone is on one platform and talking to each other, give them a place to post and discuss news. While emails might work, you also need to save all this news and chatter somewhere for good—which is why a blog is a must. Set up one for free on Blogger (www.blogger.com) or Wordpress (www.wordpress.com). Both services will have you up and running in minutes and are easy to use.
Add authors slowly at first, so that you can keep tabs on the quality of posts, before opening up the blog. It would be a good idea to have coordinators in each country or region to start off with. Decide as a family if you want your blog to be public or for members only.
Tip:When you are starting off, it helps to email a weekly summary of blog posts to everyone on the email group. Ask them to go to the blog to comment.
Now throw in some pictures
Most families have tonnes upon tonnes of pictures. Draw them all into one location on Yahoo’s Flickr service (www.flickr.com). The service has a bandwidth restriction, 100MB a month, that should do for smaller groups. Otherwise, upgrade to a pro account for $25 (around Rs1,250) a year for unlimited storage.
If you have a lot of prints lying around, you could get them scanned on to a CD at any good quality photo studio nearby, or you could just take a photo of a photo using a digital camera and upload it.
Once your network starts growing, it’s a good thing to let everyone know how they’re related to each other. Online family trees are simple to use and can be a lot of fun to keep track of. They can also be used to track back lineage to previous generations. We recommend the popular Geni (www.geni.com) service. Once you start the family tree, you can invite everyone in the email group to add their branches as well.
Once you have a reasonable number of family members participating in things, you might want to take things more hi-tech. There are several things you can do:
¦ Start a monthly audio podcast that members can listen to on their MP3 players, with updated news and gossip
¦ Why limit yourself to photos? Start a family channel on YouTube (www.youtube.com) where anyone can upload videos of festivals, functions and get-togethers. Make the videos private and by invitation-only for security purposes.
¦ If there are enough young people, you might even want to go to Second Life (www.secondlife.com), the online virtual world, and set up a virtual ancestral home for everyone to hang out once in a while. Why not place it at the exact same spot on a virtual world as your actual home?
¦ And finally, you could organize a worldwide meeting of all members at a suitable location when there is enough enthusiasm. Just remember to take photos, videos and blog about them.