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Family Groupware

Update, Octo­ber 2016: Wow, this group of arti­cles is out­dat­ed! I’m leav­ing them as writ­ing sam­ples, but they aren’t use­ful as data any­more. While my kids are grown and out of the house, I did want to note that I’ve recent­ly become aware of Cozi, which in its pre­mi­um ver­sion does near­ly every­thing I was search­ing for in fam­i­ly group­ware and is extreme­ly afford­able. If you’re look­ing for this kind of prod­uct, do give them a try! 

A woman's hand and a grid of sticky notes

Yes, I do know that this may seem exces­sive­ly geeky to some, but for the past few years, Sam and I have been work­ing towards hav­ing group­ware that is suit­able for use by our fam­i­ly. By group­ware, I mean soft­ware that is designed to share infor­ma­tion among mul­ti­ple users on a net­work. That sounds like it would be easy to find, but it isn’t. And I real­ly don’t think we’re the only ones look­ing, either—it’s not uncom­mon to have LANs in homes now. Fam­i­lies have always shared infor­ma­tion, whether it be on a bul­letin board, notes on the fridge, or a cal­en­dar in the kitchen. I’ve got­ten spoiled by the infor­ma­tion-shar­ing capa­bil­i­ties of group­ware in work set­tings, and now I want the same thing tai­lored for the home. 

My opin­ions have changed on some things since I orig­i­nal­ly wrote this sec­tion of my site. We all have PDAs now. We’ve found that any solu­tion that can­not be accessed from mul­ti­ple loca­tions isn’t worth our time. We’ve imple­ment­ed a Lin­ux serv­er in our home and exper­i­ment­ed with sev­er­al dif­fer­ent appli­ca­tions. I’ve become much more aware of the open source com­mu­ni­ty as exem­pli­fied by the projects at Source­Forge. In fact, PHP­Group­ware came very close to exact­ly what we’re look­ing for.

At the moment, we’re using Airset syn­chro­nized with Palm Desk­top on our PCs and PDAs, with reminders sent to us via email and SMS. That’s work­ing quite well. We still don’t have all the items on my wish list met by any means, but we can see each oth­ers’ cal­en­dars, and the fam­i­ly address book is avail­able from any­where. If my fam­i­ly of ori­gin ever decides to use it, we can even plan extend­ed fam­i­ly events using a shared calendar.

We also have wikis and blogs for var­i­ous pur­pos­es. They’re great for keep­ing track of home­school­ing and role­play­ing game information.

If I were a pro­gram­mer I sup­pose I could write some­thing myself. If I want­ed to learn to code, this would be a per­fect­ly good—if ambitious—project to use in learn­ing. I am not, how­ev­er, a devel­op­er, and I don’t real­ly have any ambi­tions in that direc­tion. And while I have designed some fair­ly sophis­ti­cat­ed data­bas­es in the past, and fig­ure that I could prob­a­bly find a way to set up an MS Access data­base that would do most of what I’m look­ing for, I’m not excit­ed about it and I know I would­n’t do it as well as some­one who is a soft­ware engi­neer. There are more peo­ple out there who want this kind of prod­uct. If it were avail­able, I’m sure that peo­ple who haven’t real­ly thought about it would find it use­ful and start using it. So why isn’t any­one mak­ing it yet? 

Last updat­ed Octo­ber 2016.
Pho­to by Kel­ly Sikke­ma on Unsplash


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