Here come the 'Family 2.0' sites

A new generation of sites for parents and older people take their cues from well-known social networking sites.

Rachel Cook recently had a baby and wanted a place to get advice and connect with other parents on the Web, but she didn't find a lot of good options.

So she did something about it, and co-founded Minti.com, which launched in March. Privately funded and run out of Perth, Australia, Minti is designed to be a Wikipedia of sorts for parenting advice. Its content is user-generated from a community of parents offering tips on everything from potty training to immunization.

Cook is one of a growing number of parent-entrepreneurs who are putting their time and money behind their familial interests and starting a new generation of Web sites for parents and older people--sites that borrow many of the social networking concepts, such as photo-sharing and the wiki, that are found on well-known destinations like MySpace.com and the aforementioned Wikipedia.

Call them "Family 2.0" sites--places for people who may feel a little strange hanging out with the teenybopper set on MySpace. While big family-friendly sites have been around for a long time, few of them have taken advantage of newer Web technologies, even things as widespread as RSS feeds and mapping links.

"It's an underserved market," said Joe Kraus, founder of the Net software company JotSpot, which in May introduced Family Site, family networking software. "It's as if, in the world of cars, all the marketers have been talking about horsepower and engine size, but the whole market was really interested in safety and convenience. (On the Web), we're finally (saying) what people want to hear, like how I use this tool to keep my family in touch."

Since January, nearly a dozen family-networking portals have launched in test version, including Ourstory.com, Zamily.com, Amiglia.com, Families.com, Famoodle.com, Jotspot Family Site, Cingo.com, FamilyRoutes.com and Famundo.com. Even Martha Stewart plans to introduce a similar social network for women to swap recipes and advice.

So what's special about these sites, given that parents have long used online discussion forums or gotten parenting tips from iVillage.com? The answer is that many draw on advanced social-computing technologies like RSS, wikis and mapping to help families do the simplest of things: stay in touch, share photos and calendars, plot the family tree, plan vacations and even vote for next Christmas' main dish.

As is characteristic of other sites that take advantage of social applications, they're also run with user-generated content and few in-house resources.

"There's a greater concept at work here that brings together technology--cheaper storage, better processing power and high-speed connections--with social forces. There's an aging population looking to connect and express themselves," said Peter Kim, senior analyst at research firm Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass.

That so many familial sites have blessed the Web simultaneously could mean there's a frothy bubble forming around social networking and Web 2.0 technologies. Or it could be that the Web has matured enough to finally draw late-adopters who don't want to geek-out with technology.

The astounding growth of MySpace also has others wanting to carve out a niche of their own in the social networking scene.

"Kids are very savvy about technology and parents need to keep up. This enables parents to be more connected with what's happening with the world," said Cook.

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