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The Online Mom provides internet technology advice and information to help parents protect their kids, encourage responsible behavior and safely harness the power of technology in the new digital world. Social networking, photo sharing, video games, IM & texting, internet security, cyberbullying, educational resources, the latest on tech hardware, gadgets and software for kids 3-8, tweens and teens, and more.

Isn’t It Time You Joined a Social Network? Part III

Make It A Family Affair

Part 3 of a 3 part feature on social networks
By Barry Myers


In this last installment on social networks, we’ll take a closer look at a group of niche networks that revolve around the family. These networks are a great way to stay in touch with family members, share pictures and videos – and also share the challenges of raising a family with other parents.
:::
It’s all about the family

Family-based social networks generally emphasize two things: picture and video sharing; and calendar functions for keeping everyone up-to-date on important family events. Most sites will also allow you to create a blog to share your news and thoughts, and provide a way to chat directly with other family members.

However, the new trend with family networks is to combine this “stay-in-touch” model with technology that lets you build and maintain a comprehensive family tree.

Sites specializing in family genealogy like Genealogy.com and Ancestry.com have been around for years. The newer sites that combine the family history model with social networking include MyHeritage, Geni.com, TreeX, and Famillion.  (Some of these sites require you to download software and might charge you a fee or offer a basic (free) and a premium (pay) plan.)

MyHeritage offers a very cool facial recognition feature that will recognize a person in a photo if a previous photo of the person has already been uploaded. Geni.com, will even automatically connect related members based on previously entered and corroborated information.

If going back centuries to explore your family’s origins isn’t your cup of tea, there are a host of easy-to-use and attractive alternatives. Two of the best I’ve found are Cingo.com, which focuses on the immediate family and emphasizes organizational tools to make life easier, and MyFamily.com, which has a very attractive design and a neat site backup function.

Others to consider in this category include Famiva, Famster, Genoom, Kaboose, and KinCafe.

However, if it’s really all about media sharing for you (pics and video), check out Multiply.com.  It calls its service “secure, family-friendly media sharing” and the site has a wealth of ways to organize your media, create different groups for sharing with, and some reassuring options for privacy.

Finally, if you are OK with a more open environment you can create you own channel on YouTube. (Check out the Myers family on YouTube for a quick example!)

Just for Mom

A related (pun intended) category consists of mom-focused social networks. Many of these sites have been around for some time but, as more moms are going online to connect and share their stories, the category is experiencing major growth.

Mom networks emphasize community over media. You can post pictures and videos on most but they’re not really the place if that is your main purpose. But they are the place to leverage the collective intelligence of lots of moms.

Their communities tend to be very active, making them a terrific place to seek advice on anything parenting-related – from teething to online safety.  

The focus in these networks is on the formation of groups centered on specific topics and the ability to ask and answer questions from the community. However, there is a trend on the bigger mom-centric sites to move beyond just parenting topics and become a place for moms to share their opinions on a huge variety of topics.

The biggest player in this group, CafeMom, boasts over 40,000 different groups that cover such diverse topics as politics, dieting, autism, and favorite TV shows.

Other well-established sites include ClubMom, which has an interesting shopping tie-in and a neat scrap-booking function; Minti, which is less focused on gender and more focused on parenting in general; and MomJunction, which has a pretty neat “Trading Post” area for buying, selling or trading stuff.

If you’re looking for a heavier emphasis on professional content with a dash of social networking, take a look at Family.com (owned by Disney), ParentsConnect (owned by MTV/Nickelodeon) BabyCenter, which bought one of the oldest and most successful mom networks, MayasMom, last year and has just relaunched it under the BabyCenter brand.

Because the field is so crowded already, the trend for the many upstarts in this category is to promote themselves as being for a specific type of mom like expectant moms (ConnectingMoms, Braveo, Gurgle) or busy moms (MothersClick, YummyFriends).

If you are looking for more of an outlet for your voice on being a mom and related issues, check out BlogHer, The Mom Blog Network, and MotherBlogs.

With the exception of content-focused sites, none of the sites mentioned in this category should be confused with sites aimed at providing traditional parenting advice and tips without the social element. These include sites like Dr. Spock, Parents.com, and Parenting.com.

What about the dads?!

Fear not dads. Though our niche social network category is tiny by comparison, there is a pulse! One that’s still in beta, Odadeo, has the ambition to move the dad social networking category a big step closer to what’s available for mom.

Others that are up and running include Dadosphere, BrandNewDad, DadDaily, or DadLabs. These sites are very rudimentary – the last two are actually DIY networks built using Ning – but it’s a start.

One of my favorite bloggers on all things social media-related, Chris Brogan, has also recently started a great blog for dads called Dad-O-Matic.

Last but not least – Toddlers!

No, that’s not a misprint. Toddler social networks are all the rage right now.

At the end of the day, it’s debatable how much difference there is between the toddler networks and some of the other family/mom/dad networks. Thus, the newer toddler sites tend to be very up-to-date on all the latest tools like uploading photos to the site direct from your mobile phone and incorporating Facebook and Twitter communities.

One very hot toddler network which was launched in June with much fanfare is Totspot. Totspot also understands new parents’ desire for hard copies of everything and has promised to offer tools for members to easily print the pictures they upload, as well as create scrapbooks, and edit and burn DVDs.

(Note: On Totpsot and other toddler networks, there are usually very strong privacy controls so no-one can view your little one’s page without an invite. Totspot also has a unique “Your Kid, Your Content” policy that makes it clear that the parent posting the content retains complete ownership over the material.)

Competitors to Totspot that have also done a very nice job include Kidmondo – which offers a pay version if you are posting for more than three kids – Lil’Grams, and BabySpot.

And there’s more…lot’s more

Well, I wish I could say that you now know everything there is to know about niche social networks, but that would be a big fib. The truth is we’ve only scratched the surface.

Every now and then I’ll take a closer look at a niche social network in my regular column and, in the coming weeks, I’ll continue to take you on an extended tour of the “Social Web”, with articles on social shopping sites and social book-marking tools.

Today’s Web is bursting with terrific options for socializing with others, recording the milestones in your family’s life, and organizing your busy schedule. Best of all, thanks to better design and the host of amazing Web 2.0 tools, sites are becoming easier-to-use by the day.

Finally, if you feel like you’re spending too much time with your new social networks, check out Social Media Mom, a great blog with tips on balancing your physical and virtual lives!

Barry Myers has been helping consumer technology brands communicate with consumers for over 12 years. Most recently he was a co-founder of DigitalLife, the country’s biggest consumer-facing technology conference and exposition. He’s currently hard at a work on his own niche social network. Barry lives in Manhattan with his wife, two-year old son, and twin cats Al and G.

Barry_Myers@theonlinemom.com



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