Family guy

Who says technology can be antisocial? My family website means we can log on and catch up whenever we like.




It was during a discussion with my daughter that I realised I didn’t really have the right words to explain the difference between “my new family” and “my old family”. My new family is the one in which I am the husband and father; the old one in which I was the child. Describing the people that I live with as my “new family” just seemed wrong/weird.


The technology I use to improve my work/life balance for my “new family” mostly consists of a mobile phone and an online calendar. But when I thought about technology supporting the work/life balance with my “old family” it was just an occasional email. Really a bit p-ss weak when I think about it.


So I set myself a little challenge: why not build an online community for my “old family” that was actually useful.


Step 1: Set up the domain name (costs me nothing as I already own the domain ).


Step 2: Setup an open source, content management system called Joomla at the domain name. This cost me nothing as my hosting provider allows me to have lots of websites on my account. Open source is software that I am allowed to use for free. A content management system is a type of website that allows authorised users to easily update the content of the website, without having any knowledge of HTML. Joomla is a popular open source content management system that is reasonably easy to use and very extendable.


Step 3: Create accounts on the website for every member of my “old family”. Because this is a private website, I have switched off the ability for visitors to register. Ten minutes work, no charge. I did download a free component for Joomla called Community Builder, which allows me to create a much more flexible environment for the users.


Step 4: Add a gallery component, which allows every member of the website to upload and view each other’s digital photos. Joomla can be extended free by adding the Zoom Gallery component which is another piece of open source software.


Step 5: Add a blogging capability so that the family can write little snippets of what they are up to. This is especially useful for my younger brother, who is a commercial pilot in the far north of Western Australia. Joomla can be extended with a blogging capability for free by adding the Mamblog component which again is another free piece of open source software.


Step 5: Add a forum so that the family can keep a record of every position, commitment and argument in regards to what we are going to do for Christmas.


Joomla can be extended with a forum for free by adding the Fireboard Forum component, which is another piece of open source software. There’s thousands of other free bits available.


Step 6: Let everyone know what I have done and sit back and wait for the applause.


OK, there was silence. However, I did notice that my siblings are cautiously starting to use the website, uploading interesting photos of what they have been up to. No one has requested any new functionality as yet though.


It’s an experiment. I don’t know where this small defined community will go, but my risk is minimal as its cost me no dollars and about eight hours of fiddling. It is reasonably secure, but not perfect – is any system?


It will never be Facebook, but communities don’t have to be huge and growing to be an effective online community, the members just have to get value.


If it works I will definitely be setting another one up to build a sense of community within my businesses.



Brendan Lewis is the founder of two IT service firms, Edion and Verve IT, and executive director of the Churchill Club.


To read more Brendan Lewis blogs, click here.



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