Keeping in touch with family is priceless. Given the ever-rapid increase in technology, it’s become more and more digitized…and free. We’re lucky to be part of this generation. Just a decade ago, if you moved away from your family, there weren’t many options other than the phone—which could have easily cost more than $20 per month, depending where you moved and how often you spoke. So, take advantage of everything that our current era has to offer!
Before our mom was good at using email, she once mailed us an envelope—via snail mail—with the email addresses of her friends so that we could input them into her online address book for her. (True story.) Now that we’ve converted her to this thing called the internet, both of our lives are much easier. She can view our digital photos without making us print and mail them; we can send her messages when it’s too late to call; she can approve of the new person we’re seriously dating by viewing his Facebook profile even though she lives in another state; we can talk and video chat for free, even when we’re working in another country.
All the same, there are a lot of social sharing tools to keep track of. Here’s a rundown of the various free ways to keep in touch with loved ones that you should take advantage of.
2 of 13Skype.com
Type: Phone, messaging, video chat
Features: Free international calls: computer-to-computer; cheap calls: computer-to-phone; video chats.
3 of 13Blackberry.com
Features: Send messages right from your Blackberry, acts like a text but doesn’t use up your text quota.
4 of 13google.com/talk
Features: Instant messages within Google’s Gmail, all conversations auto-saved in email inbox, best for secret messaging during work hours.
5 of 13RealSimple.com
Type: Social Networking
Features: Easy to share links and images, our favorite site for low-key event invitations (we like it better than Evite.com), social photo albums and tagging features.
6 of 13RealSimple.com
Type: Social Networking, status updates
Features: Status updates in under 140 characters, quick updates on loved ones’ lives and thoughts, easy way to share quick links (without babbling), follow famous people like President Obama…or Stephen Colbert.
7 of 13meebo.com
Features: Universal chat client (use your favorite service), good on computer without access to AIM or Gchat.
8 of 13google.com/reader
Type: Article Sharing
Features: See what your family is reading, share articles that you find interesting.
9 of 13google.com/latitude
Type: GPS Tracking
Features: Privately share whereabouts with loved ones via your cell phone GPS, your location is not public unless you choose, great for constant travelers, appease overzealous parents and relatives who call too often to make sure you’re okay.
10 of 13picasa.google.com
Type: Photo editing, photo sharing
Features: Integrated tool from Google, albums can be private or publically searchable, easy upload/interface.
11 of 13Animoto.com
Type: Photo sharing, slide shows
Features: Create free, animated slide show; sync photos to music and use as e-cards or simply as more fun ways to showcase your images.
12 of 13ustream.tv
Type: Video sharing, live blogging
Features: Use it online or via iPhone app, broadcast live video to a specific URL, great for video blogging, live and to-the-minute on your own “channel.”
13 of 13wordswithfriends.com
Words With Friends
Type: Social gaming
Features: Scrabble for the iPhone; play with friends and family, even when separated by distance; if you lack an iPhone, try the Scrabulous app on Facebook.