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How Family Groupware Would Differ From Business Groupware

As I under­stand it, when you’re design­ing soft­ware, you start by fig­ur­ing out what you want to get out of the pro­gram. Cov­ey’s max­im “Begin with the end in mind” is a good rule of thumb for most any kind of project. Group­ware designed for busi­ness is designed to serve dif­fer­ent pur­pos­es and goals than fam­i­ly group­ware would be. There are obvi­ous­ly some com­mon­al­i­ties. Fam­i­lies and busi­ness­es need to share some of the same kinds of infor­ma­tion. Pre­sum­ably, fam­i­ly mem­bers have com­mon goals, just as the employ­ees of a com­pa­ny would have com­mon goals. 

There are basic dif­fer­ences in the infor­ma­tion need­ed by cowork­ers and fam­i­ly mem­bers, though. I’ve nev­er need­ed to know what size pants a co-work­er wears, and I need that infor­ma­tion for my fam­i­ly mem­bers on a fair­ly reg­u­lar basis. I did­n’t plan meals on a reg­u­lar basis for any employ­er or do major gro­cery shop­ping for the office. I did­n’t real­ly need to see my cowork­ers’ sched­ules when doing meal plan­ning, either. The fact that the guy in the next office is out of town next Tues­day does­n’t affect my shop­ping. The fact that Sam is going to be at a meet­ing next Tues­day night does affect din­ner that night. 

Magnifying glass on a blue background

The dif­fer­ences that have occurred to me so far are: 

  • Con­tact Information
    I keep dif­fer­ent kinds of infor­ma­tion for peo­ple in the fam­i­ly address book than I did for busi­ness con­tacts. I care about birth­dates, anniver­saries, kids’ names and ages, hob­bies, gift pref­er­ences, etc. when I’m track­ing infor­ma­tion about fam­i­ly and friends. I don’t need to know a per­son­’s job title as much as I need to remem­ber that he’s aller­gic to nuts so that when he’s com­ing to din­ner I make sure the food is nut-free. Obvi­ous­ly, I want high­ly cus­tomiz­able fields in the con­tact man­age­ment mod­ule of my fam­i­ly group­ware. I want to remem­ber that we gave a par­tic­u­lar child a cer­tain present for her birth­day last year so we don’t give her the same thing next year. Also, I want to have sep­a­rate records for peo­ple but be able to link them into fam­i­ly groups, sim­i­lar to the way geneal­o­gy soft­ware is set up. (Actu­al­ly, I’d pre­fer to be able to link more flex­i­bly than geneal­o­gy soft­ware allows, to account for polyamorous house­holds and peo­ple with nan­nies and so on.) Out­look will let you enter the name of a con­tac­t’s spouse, but there’s no way to enter their chil­dren’s names or auto­mat­i­cal­ly set reminders for every­one’s birth­days unless you do it man­u­al­ly. I want that. 
  • Med­ical Records
    I need to keep up with the med­ical records of each fam­i­ly mem­ber as well as the vet­eri­nary records of our pets. I don’t want to crawl through the paper files to see which antibi­ot­ic it was that Geni’s last ENT pre­scribed that stank so much I would­n’t have swal­lowed the stuff myself. I cer­tain­ly don’t want to have any delay in find­ing Katie’s drug aller­gies. When I have to fill out a per­mis­sion slip for a Girl Scout camp­ing trip, I want all the infor­ma­tion for it at my fin­ger­tips, not in three dif­fer­ent pro­grams. If I enter the fact that Rowan’s last tetanus boost­er was on a cer­tain date, it would be very handy to have a reminder gen­er­at­ed on the cal­en­dar for the next boost­er shot. 
  • Oth­er Information
    No, I don’t auto­mat­i­cal­ly remem­ber Sam’s shirt size or Geni’s cur­rent shoe size. I have to write those things down or I can’t find them when it’s time to go shop­ping. The fact that I absolute­ly detest orange would be impor­tant in my own record in order to keep Sam from mak­ing a mis­take when shop­ping for me. Remem­ber­ing which Game­boy car­tridges each kid has is def­i­nite­ly beyond my ken, but boy, can I keep notes! 
  • Edu­ca­tion Records
    Hey, I’m a home­school­er, so what I want isn’t just “school records” okay? Any­way, home­school­ers end up keep­ing vary­ing kinds of records depend­ing on their fam­i­ly style and the legal cli­mate in which they live. Even peo­ple with kids in pub­lic school have to track some school records. Every once in awhile I do need to know the name of some­body’s teacher two years ago or remem­ber what Geni made on the ver­bal sec­tion of the ITBS last year, and I’m not going to depend on my very full mem­o­ry for that. 
  • Basic Legal Forms
    Med­ical and child care autho­riza­tions and so on should be print­able for each child in an instant. Yes, I do want to give those to any per­son who is babysit­ting for my kids, just in case. The time you don’t give the sit­ter one is, to my pes­simistic mind, the time that one of the kids will decide to try climb­ing a taller tree and break an arm. I don’t want an injured child wait­ing in pain with no relief while Sam or I race to get to the hos­pi­tal. Mem­o­ries of my own expe­ri­ence when I was injured on a fam­i­ly vaca­tion at about age 10 are still too vivid. Two hours is a LOOOOONNNGGGG time when you’re in severe pain from hav­ing the end of your fin­ger cut off and legal­i­ties are pre­vent­ing the doc­tor from giv­ing you any­thing more than an ice pack. 
  • House­hold Tasks and Chores
    Okay, I’m not a nat­u­ral­ly orga­nized per­son. I have to use the Side­tracked Home Exec­u­tives card­file method to keep up with house­hold tasks or they get out of con­trol. Being able to enter those into my group­ware pro­gram would be so much bet­ter than deal­ing with an actu­al phys­i­cal card file! We’ve tried using recur­ring appoint­ments or tasks set up in Out­look or Time & Chaos to keep up with which fam­i­ly mem­ber does what when. For instance, the kids have “dog days” on a rotat­ing basis so that nobody (like me) ends up always being the pri­ma­ry care­tak­er for the dog. They’ve said that they’d have a much eas­i­er time keep­ing up with their oth­er tasks with reminders, as well. We have things like the day the trash is picked up on the print­ed fam­i­ly cal­en­dar, but the per­son who is doing the trash is real­ly the only one who needs to see that on his or her task list. We strip the beds and wash the linens week­ly, but not all on one day. If, when Rowan checks his email Wednes­day morn­ing he saw the reminder that it was his turn to toss his sheets into the ham­per in the morn­ing, he’d be far more like­ly to do it than if he has to remem­ber to check the cal­en­dar in the kitchen. I know of share­ware pro­grams that track chores for kids—but again, they don’t work in tan­dem with oth­er pro­grams and they aren’t mul­ti-user. I want some­thing more like project man­age­ment soft­ware so that some users can assign tasks to oth­ers and mon­i­tor the sta­tus of those tasks. 
  • Meal Plan­ning
    I do need to see every­body’s sched­ules when doing meal plan­ning. I’ll buy gro­ceries much dif­fer­ent­ly for a week when we’re going to be all over the place doing a dozen dif­fer­ent things than I will for a week when we’ll be home and eat­ing meals here most of the time. If we’re host­ing a game group over the week­end, I need to get plas­tic cups, paper plates, and lots of nap­kins and paper tow­els in addi­tion to the sodas and junk food that are de rigeur for RPGs. If I’m going to a singing cir­cle Fri­day night, we’ll prob­a­bly plan for Sam to make faji­tas for him and the kids that night since I don’t like them, but every­one else does. Fam­i­ly­Time was real­ly strong on this fea­ture. It had an inte­grat­ed recipe data­base, meal plan­ning mod­ule, and cus­tomiz­able list of sta­ples (things you always keep on hand). If you dis­cov­ered that you need­ed teabags and sug­ar, you not­ed that. Then you planned your meals for the next how­ev­er many days using the recipe data­base and the pro­gram print­ed up a nice shop­ping list. You could even orga­nize by what’s on which aisle in your favorite gro­cery store. The fact that the pro­gram went out and got coupon offers from var­i­ous web­sites was pret­ty nice too, but that’s just gravy.
  • Wish Lists
    This sug­ges­tion came from Katie. If each user kept a wish list (like the ones some shop­ping web­sites will keep for users now — Ama­zon, CDNow, etc.) of things they want, oth­er fam­i­ly mem­bers could look at the list eas­i­ly as occa­sions like birth­days come up, and the list’s own­er could remove the CD she just bought for her­self from the list.
  • Diary/Journal
    This was anoth­er one from Katie. She wants a diary built into this thing. I’m think­ing it could be sim­i­lar to the jour­nal­ing fea­ture in MS Out­look, so that you could keep notes as need­ed and it could be used as a diary. Her main con­cern was that the oth­er kids could­n’t read it. I point­ed out that I could read it, but no, the oth­er kids could­n’t read it unless they knew her password.
  • Cus­tom Look/Sounds
    I can tell you with­out even ask­ing that the kids will be far more like­ly to use this thing if they can cus­tomize it–use skins and dif­fer­ent audio files to reflect their per­son­al tastes. Of course, if your users don’t use the soft­ware, it’s a waste of resources, so mak­ing it attrac­tive to kids (and adults) seems per­fect­ly rea­son­able to me.

Every­thing I’ve list­ed here is some­thing that some piece of soft­ware is already doing. They just aren’t doing it togeth­er! I’d be fine with hav­ing mod­u­lar soft­ware that shared com­mon data and accom­plished the same things, but in my expe­ri­ence, the legal soft­ware does­n’t speak to the address book that does­n’t speak to Cal­en­dar Cre­ator that does­n’t speak to Mas­ter­Cook and so on. 

Obvi­ous­ly, dif­fer­ent fam­i­lies have dif­fer­ent needs. So mak­ing this thing mod­u­lar would be mar­velous. Some peo­ple won’t care to use the meal plan­ning capa­bil­i­ties, oth­ers will. Some may not care to keep edu­ca­tion­al records, some just want very basic ones, and home­school­ers will prob­a­bly want exten­sive ones. 

What would you add? What would your kids add? 

Back to Fam­i­ly Group­ware.

Last updat­ed Jan­u­ary 31, 2001
Pho­to by Markus Win­kler on Unsplash


  1. Ronney Dore

    Very inter­est­ing, I would love to have some­thing that can help me deal with the large amount of infor­ma­tion trans­fer that occurs between me, my wife, and our three teenagers. I feel like that is one of the biggest issues. When we need chores done, errands or any­thing else. Most of the time we have to call or text each oth­er, and then tell the oth­er fam­i­ly members.

    • Cynthia Armistead

      I can relate. While my chil­dren are grown and gone, my part­ner and I deal with sim­i­lar issues now by using shared Google cal­en­dars and shared lists on Wun­derlist (you have to be a Pro sub­scriber for that feature).

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