Family gatherings are always somewhat bittersweet for me since my immediate family lives about 2,000 miles away and can’t necessarily come to where we are, and vice versa. Now, with our little boy in the picture, they make it here more, but it still isn’t the same. We try our best to stay in touch with them through Skype, and sending pictures on our blog, but it never seems to be enough. Not only that, but the majority of my family members are not on social media sites like Facebook, so that doesn’t help either.
All that to say, I am always looking for ways that our family can stay updated with each other through the beauty of the web. With family all over the western United States, that can be tough, but I came across a web app called Family Leaf a little while back and I was somewhat intrigued by what it did and what it could accomplish for families like mine. After I started to play with it a bit, I knew that I had to try to convince the rest of my extended family to sign up as well.
Adding Family Members
It’s easy to get your family sharing online with Family Leaf. After you get yourself signed up, you can immediately start to add other family members as well and inviting them to join you on Family Leaf. What is nice is that you can fill in the majority of their information for them so all they really have to do is just sign up. I know this is a good feature for people like my parents who are somewhat computer illiterate when it comes to things like this. You don’t have to be limited to just your side of the family, you can add other families as well, such as your extended or spouse’s family. Don’t worry: if they don’t get along, each family can have their own separate area on the app.
Using Family Leaf
The easiest way to explain this part of Family Leaf is that this is kind of like your own private Facebook, but just with your own family members that you add. First, you can add pictures to your Family Feed so that everyone can keep up with what is going on in your life. They can be added by selecting them from your computer, or you can connect to a variety of services, including Facebook, Flickr, Picasa, and Instagram, to put your online pictures into your feed. Pictures can be put into albums that you create within the app, which can then be “Loved” and commented on by other family members as well.
The other interaction feature that Family Leaf provides is called Discussions. This is exactly like what it seems like: it’s a way for you to post messages or random thoughts to other family members, where they can also participate in the conversation. It can be a way to get a family discussion going to, say, plan a trip, or as a way to just shoot out a quick message to everyone. The one feature that I wish this had was a way to write a private message to a specific family member or members.
The last major feature of Family Leaf is the Directory, where you can see all the different family members and their personal information. I can see how this can come in very handy, especially remembering birthdays or finding an address of a family member that you maybe write to once a year. I am always calling my mom up to ask for a specific family members’ mailing addresses, so this will definitely save me some time in that area.
But Will People Really Use It?
Within 5 minutes of using Family Leaf, I told my wife that she needed to sign up for it and that we needed to convince the rest of our family members to as well. I was excited to see how it would work with the rest of our families, and immediately I heard “Ugh, not another social network thing to sign up for.” Ouch, so much for that plan; if I can’t get my wife to sign up, there is no way I am going to convince the rest of my immediate family to sign up. Then I got to thinking, and realized that this may be a big problem for this web app. There are so many different social networks out there that we are already using, so to sign up for one more that we may not use a lot was a frustration I could definitely sympathize with. Then comes the part about teaching my parents how to sign up and to use the app as well. Needless to say, it can definitely be a somewhat daunting task to even get your family on here.
For the most part, this is not Family Leaf’s fault; they just came into this space at the wrong time, in my opinion. I am not trying to say that this isn’t a good app, I can just see how it may not get a ton of traction since there are many other apps that have very similar functionality that we have already been using for a while and are used to. If they are going to make it work, they really have to go out of their way to show people, how their app is different than others and what the benefits are.
Really, the only place it fits in perfectly is for families that aren’t already using Facebook, and want to avoid the world’s most popular social network to preserve a bit of their privacy. It’s a great option for that, but it’s a hard sell for those who really didn’t want to use social networking anyhow, and an even harder sell for those who are already using Facebook, Twitter, and more.
All that to say, I really enjoyed testing out Family Leaf and I really wish the rest of my family would start using it because I think it would be a great way for all of us to stay in touch. What I really appreciated about the app is the privacy, and this is where they have to start selling people more on. With apps like Facebook, privacy is a foreign language, and so when something like this comes along, it is almost a breath of fresh air to know that there is a social network site that can be private and I don’t have to share a picture of my son to 300 other “friends.”
The app is free to use, which always makes me a little nervous because if they are going to stick around, they need to make money some how. I am not sure how they are going to do this, but here’s to hoping they have some kind of long term financial strategy so they can stick it out for the long term.
At any rate, if you are looking for a way to stay in touch with family and to have your own private social network, go and check this out. It’s likely the best private social network now, if you can get those most important to you using it!
Create your own private social network for your family using Family Leaf9