Many families enjoy keeping up with each other via social media networks like Facebook. Creating your very own family website takes this concept a step further by having your own unique space to share with each other.
Setting up a Website
The basics of setting up a family website are the same for setting up most other types of websites. There are some steps you'll have to go through first before actually creating the site.
Domains and Hosting
You will need to buy a domain name and find a hosting provider for your website. It pays to shop around different domain registry and hosting sites as prices can vary and it's not hard to find inexpensive options for your family site. If you choose to use a web builder or Wordpress.com, you can do your domain purchase, hosting setup and website design all in one package.
Once you have your domain and hosting covered, you'll need to decide how you will build the site. There are many options today to set up a website that require absolutely no coding knowledge. These web builders typically use a "drag and drop" interface that is easy even for the least tech savvy person to use. Many web builders are also free or low-cost, although you will generally have to display advertising on your site and have limited features for the free versions. Some popular low-cost web builders include GoDaddy, Squarespace and Wix.
The popular WordPress software is another low-cost choice for a family website although you may have a harder learning curve depending on the features you want to add. While you can use WordPress on any host and domain, a simple and economical option is to use WordPress.com which bundles hosting, domain names and your website into one.
There's a free plan which gives you a subdomain (e.g., thesmiths.wordpress.com) with 3 GB of storage and basic features. The personal plan for $4 per month offers additional features, more storage and a custom domain name (e.g., thesmiths.com). While it's not as easy to use as a web builder, you do have access to hundreds of different themes and plugins to customize your family website.
Family Website Web Builders
Another option is to use a web builder designed specifically for family websites. These drag-and-drop builders come with features of particular interest to families.
- Zalong: This family site builder has a free version that requires you to have ads on your website. There are two paid versions with no advertising. The Pro version is $12 per year with editing privileges for one family member and the Pro Family version is $99 per year and all family members can work on it. There's also an app version available for iOS and Android devices. Some of Zalongo's features include a family calendar, polls, wish lists and photo galleries.
- Family Crossings: You have the option of a free version with basic features and 250 MB of storage. The Standard version is $39 per year with more features and 500 MB of storage. The Premium version is $99 per year and has the same features as the Standard version but 1,000 MB of storage. Some of Family Crossings' features are a calendar, photo galleries, a section for family history, forums, games and live chat.
- Shutterfly: While this site is known for its photo services, Shutterfly also offers free personalized websites. Families can share photos and videos on the site as well as order hard copy prints. There's also a calendar, news section and an area for blogging about the family.
Creative Family Website Ideas
Once you've decided on how you will create the site, it's time to come up with ideas on the features you and your family will enjoy the most. There are many creative ideas you can implement. You should also query other family members to find out what they would like to see so you can use the site to meet everyone's expectations.
If you have family members who enjoy writing, a blog page is a great way to let the family know what they have been up to. Blog topics can cover events such as birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, or simply fun or heartfelt stories that keep everyone feeling connected to each other. Other family members can use the comments area of each blog to respond to blogs as well and get everyone involved.
Photo and Video Galleries
It used to be when families got together, you'd sit around the slide projector looking at family photos projected on the wall. Flash forward to today where families all over the country (and around the globe) can instantly share each other's photo memories on an easily accessible web page.
You can organize photos into albums with categories like vacations, special events, baby photos, pets and anything else that your unique family enjoys. Just as with a photo gallery, you can set up video galleries that showcase family activities. Another option is to scan and post old photos and documents related to your family history. For example, imagine what it will be like for the younger generation to see a picture of a great grandparent's immigration records or a sepia-toned photo of them from the early 1900s or even older.
For your younger family members, you could create a gallery of scanned images of their creative drawings for everyone to see, rather than in the past where they would be posted on your refrigerator for only immediate family members' enjoyment.
If you have a family with members who tend to move a lot, having a place where everyone can keep their updated contact information is very useful. It's also much more "immediate" than having to wait to get their information and update your address book or contact information in your phone if they can go in and update the information themselves.
Another option is to create individual pages for each person where they can post information about themselves, photos, all their social media links, contact information and whatever else they'd like family members to know about them.
A family website can be a place to keep a repository of your family's history, which can be a wonderful tool to teach younger members about where they came from. While there are many websites available to create a family tree, you only keep the information within their site on your own page. Moving the information to your family site gives you more control and immediate access.
It also allows you to be more creative with how the family tree is displayed rather than using a pre-determined template. Creating a family genealogy on your family website is also a way to bring everyone together to research where your family came from and how they lived.
Have you ever wanted to get your grandma's best cookie recipe because you have a craving and she's not reachable? A family website can be a place to collect all of your relatives' classic dishes, as well as a place for the younger generation to add new ones. If you need one in a hurry, just log on and download it and you're ready to cook!
Planning family events such as birthday parties, reunions, barbeques or even carpooling can be an unwieldy task between emails and phone calls. Setting up a calendar that everyone can access can make planning a breeze. Many web builders include a calendar function, or you can also integrate programs such as Google Calendar or Calendly into your website.
While social networking sites like Facebook allow you to post messages in a private group or use the instant messenger, having a chat room all your own that family members can pop in and out of at any time can be a much more robust option. Some web builder sites have a chat room feature built in, or if you decide to use WordPress, you can install third party chat room plugins such as Slack.
A forum is another feature you can find through many web builders which allows members to post messages and receive notice of posts via email without the "real time" feature of an instant chat room. Both forums and instant chat software such as Slack allow you to create separate threads or discussion groups so you can keep organize family topics such as planning a reunion, setting up carpools, or a place for younger members to talk about what interests them.
Tips for Involving the Whole Family
Keep in mind when creating your site that your family will probably have members with a wide range of comfort levels with technology.
Make sure that the interface such as the login area and dashboard are user friendly. If you're not sure, recruit some family members who are not very tech savvy to give the options a "test run" and provide feedback. If you use a dedicated family website builder, research their technical support options so you know what will be available if a family member needs help and can't reach you.
- Be able to be read by a screen reader
- Doesn't use a color scheme without proper contrast
- Doesn't use a color scheme difficult for someone who is color-blind
- Use captioning or transcripts for deaf family members
You may find that family members who are less comfortable using the internet simply need some hand holding to see how enjoyable and easy it is. If they live close by, you can schedule a family training session and demonstrate how to use the site. With relatives who live farther away, you can use software such as Skype or Zoom to show them how to use it by sharing your screen.
Safety and Privacy Issues
Privacy on the internet for any kind of data should always be a concern. If you are posting sensitive data about your family such as contact information, daily schedules, or even photos of young children, it's definitely a good idea to make sure that you are using a password-protected site. Family members should also be instructed to use strong passwords without any relevant information that can be easily hacked, such as using a name of a pet.
Bring Your Family Together
A family website is a way to use the technology of the Internet to bring everyone together. Particularly when you have relatives who live apart and can't see each other on a regular basis, using a family website can make everyone feel engaged and create a unique space to share your family's history, both past and present, and develop rich cross-generation relationships and family bonds. It's also an excellent tool for practical tasks such as planning family events, updating contact information and storing precious family information.