How to Save Your Family Memories With Cloud Computing
When I had dinner with some friends recently, I told them about a trip I will be taking next year to attend a cousin's wedding. One friend made this observation: "Wow," she said, "everyone in your family is getting married." It was an exaggeration (not everyone is getting married), but her point was valid: many in my generation are coming into the family-making phase of our lives. We're getting married. We're having kids. You know what that means?
Pictures. And Videos. Lots of them.
I always liked the idea of scrapbooking to organize pictures, and making home videos to watch together when the extended family gathers for big events. But that limits the sharing to certain times of the year only, and only to the folks who can actually make it. Unfortunately, family who live across the country — or in different countries — will inevitably miss out on the memories. Sure, you can send physical copies, but that can get expensive, fast.
Oh, who am I kidding? In this day and age, most family photos and videos are distributed online. And with the help of cloud computing, your family can even create a scrapbook or newsletter together, so everyone can keep everyone else up to date on family goings-on.
You may ask, what is cloud computing, anyway? It's simply a fancy term for Internet-based computing, where applications, files, and resources are stored in distant servers away from your computer. You can access these resources on demand, from any computer. Any time you're using Flickr, Yahoo Mail, Google Docs, Office Live, or MobileMe, you are "on the cloud."
Here's the kicker: You can grant other people access to the applications, files, and resources that you use on the cloud, making collaboration on a family scrapbook or newsletter easy as pie. Usually, all it takes is signing up for whatever service you decide to use — and there are many to choose from. Here are just a few.
With almost 300 templates to choose from, LetterPop makes it easy to create newsletters perfect for any occasion, season, or theme. While you can't share your work on LetterPop with other users, you can make it a family project with your kids. Give the older ones a section to write their own blurbs and let the younger ones help you choose your favorite photos to share. You can upload image files from your computer, or drag-and-drop directly from Flickr. Since everything you need is stored on your LetterPop account, you can work on your newsletter anywhere, anytime.
Most of my family (the computer-using ones, at least) are on Facebook — but not all of them. So when someone shares wedding photos or baby videos, those who didn't want to deal with Facebook's ever-changing privacy issues also don't get to Oooh and Awww with the rest of us. Chattertree is a solution to this problem. In a way, Chattertree very much like Facebook: You can message people, set birthday alerts, share photos and videos. But unlike Facebook, you get to do video chats with up to six people (or families), and it's a private family network — so anyone concerned about embarrassing photos of you wearing a Snuggie on Christmas morning can rest easy knowing that none of my friends will accidentally stumble on it. Um, I mean 'none of your friends.' Hypothetically, of course.
Google Docs and Microsoft Office
LetterPop and Chattertree are helpful services to sign up for, and they're super easy to use, but you do have some resources that you and other members of your family are probably already familiar with: Google Docs and Microsoft Office.
When you sign up for Gmail — or any other Google service — you gain access to their entire suite of applications. With Google Documents, you can create a scrapbook using one of their templates — simply type in 'scrapbook' in the search field of Google's templates page, and choose one that you like. While the selection is somewhat limited right now, it's fairly easy to upload your own backgrounds and graphics for a personal touch. As with most of Google's other applications, you can share your work-in-progress with other people and let them edit the scrapbook to add their own memories and highlights.
On the newsletter front, Microsoft Office has your back. Just choose a newsletter template when you open a new document, and fill in text boxes and insert photos like you would with any Office template. Rearranging body text, photos, captions, and titles is easy — anyone who has worked with Office probably already knows how to do it. And with Windows Live SkyDrive, you can upload and save your newsletter in the cloud and work on it later. When you're done, simply email it out to the family, either directly in the message or as an attachment.
Thanks to Windows 7 and Windows Live for sponsoring this post about how technology makes parenting so much easier. Visit Windows to learn more about the power of the Cloud and what it can do for you.