Almost everyone I know is sharing photos online with family, and some more web savvy families have full groups set up online to correspond with other family members across the world. Over the last few weeks, I have come across several social networks aimed at helping families to communicate with one another. The solutions range from slick interfaces to creating your family tree (Geni.com) to sites focused on bringing out the life stories of family members and sharing them with others (OurStory.com). There are fairly good services for creating your family website (MyFamily.com*, TheFamilyPost.com or PongYang.com) as well as newer social media sites like Vox.com designed to help you create a family or personal blog. Along with these are long running genealogy sites like Ancestry.com, Genealogy.com or OneGreatFamily.com – all of which let you add your family members and find out more about your ancestry.
All of these sites have their own niche of great features, but the problem is there is no single destination that puts all of this together. It’s not easy to do, when you consider that a family social network (unlike any other kind of social network) is not held together by people with the same interest, or people of the same generation. Familes are complex groups of people that in some cases share nothing more than a last name. It therefore needs to translate well across generations, genders, interests, and even countries. I have been seeking the ideal site to create my own network for my family – and have come up short so far. This weekend I started thinking about what my ideal family social network would look like, and came up with some core features:
- Visual Family Tree – This is the most readily available already, but it’s an important and fun tool to see how everyone is related. Features would be very easy to use with drag and drop simplicity, perfect for letting a member of my family from any generation participate. Integrated into this would be the smarts of family history and ancestry look ups, as well as the types of identity look ups used by ZoomInfo to map profiles of individuals to existing content online under the same name.
- Tiered Relationships – I don’t know all of my family equally. There is my immediate family of my wife, parents and brother. Then there is a outward circle of family, such as cousins, that I am very close to. And then there is the wider circle of family that I either have only met once, or am related to by name but don’t know. The ideal family social network would let me tier my relationships with family into one of three categories depending on the closeness of my relationship. Every feature across the site would then be available for me to share with my 1st, 2nd, or 3rd tier relationships, as well as with everyone in my network. VisiblePath has a good model for this tiered system and Linkedin has the original "degrees of separation" model.
- Family Email Database – Probably one of the most frequently used and needed applications of a family social network would be a way to email all family or subsets of family. It would have all the grouping and webmail features you would expect, but also integrate to popular online email programs and allow you to segment family into the tiers to determine who gets particular emails. Finally, the ability to import email lists and synch between programs would be vital. Yahoo Groups has one of the most popular interfaces today for people to manage these activities.
- Group Calendaring – This is probably the most useful function of an online network, namely to store everyone’s birthdays and anniversaries. Beyond this, however, there are many times when I have been on the road in San Francisco, for example, and wondering if a cousin of mine might also be travelling there. Of course, we could email each other – but it would be so much more useful to see their whereabouts on a calendar. Privacy would be in place to control what family level sees what information, and tools would be available to synch to Outlook or other calendar programs. Examples of cool calendaring applications include 30Boxes or Calgoo.
- Integrated Other Social Networks – Realizing that family spread across the world probably have profiles on one or more other social networks, a key tool of the ideal family social network would be the ability for all of these profiles to be linked to and included as part of people’s profiles. For the most common social networks, such as Flickr or MySpace or YouTube, the site would allow you to create a "family channel" that aggregates RSS content from all the sites into a single location and lets people subscribe based on their tiered relationships (ie – only subscribe to content from 1st tier family in your "family channel" page.
- Recommendation Engine – People have always recommended products to one another and family members can be powerful voices to influence purchasing decisions. Added to that, everyone has an Uncle that is good with cars, or a cousin who is a professional photographer. Harnessing these expertises, the family social network would have a feature where people could create pages or recommendations about products or areas that they are passionate about. This could also create the revenue model for the site, as people recommending products in an authentic environment like this is exactly the type of impression advertisers are dying to pay for. Squidoo.com has a good model for sharing this type of expert content within an online community, and the now seemingly abandoned eFamily.com probably had a similar idea.
Most of these features exist in other sites, but no one has yet put all the pieces together. The family social network could be the next big thing – after all, everyone has a family. Now you have a list of the features and even a revenue model. If you do find or build a site like this, let me know so I can be first in line to be a beta tester …
* MyFamily has a "2.0" version that has recently launched which is worth checking out and seems to have many (but not all) of the features I mention above.