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The browser for old people: BigScreenLive

A walled garden that simplifies the Web and e-mail.

It's family day for me at Webware. After posting about the Gmail-as-baby-book tip, I got a pitch about BigScreenLive, a new online environment for older adults who are frustrated by the Web and e-mail.

My default position on products targeted at the elder demographic is not charitable. I've seen too many services that are patronizing or exploitive (see "Presto puts digital photos in the hands of your grandma"). Old doesn't mean dumb. And simply pumping up the type size of e-mail doesn't make an app worth subscribing to or buying.

BigScreenLive's installable app gives a user simple access to photo sharing (shown, an RSS reader, e-mail, shopping, and the Web. BigScreenLive

BigScreenLive has its faults, but it's nonetheless a nice walled garden (with very low walls, thankfully) for people who don't want to deal with the frenetic and inconsistent interfaces on various Web sites, sharing services, and e-mail apps.

The core of the service is a downloadable app that supersimplifies everything for the elderly user. It's an e-mail client, a Web browser, a photo viewer, and so on. As a bonus, the app will run directly off a USB drive, so people can take their BSL network with them to wherever they can plug into a PC with an Internet connection.

The app comes preconfigured to read and display newsfeeds from several U.S. newspapers, and it also has its own simple front end to Amazon (CEO Cayce Roy was VP there). Users can get onto the Web directly from the app if they want; it has a portable version of Firefox built in to it.

People already accustomed to using another Web-based e-mail service can reconfigure the app to use it instead of the built-in e-mail. However, it can't integrate with client-side e-mail products like Outlook or Eudora.

The service is preconfigured with popular feeds, but users can add more. BigScreenLive

What makes the BSL app work is its focus on single tasking. Instead of giving the user a mishmash of options, like most Web sites and apps, BSL keeps things simple, with big buttons and clear choices. It's just another portal, sure, but if you're trying to get your grandparents more involved in your family's online life, it's a good option for them.

On the other hand, the BSL Web app for family members is a little too simple. It mostly duplicates the big-button BSL app for seniors, but adds a few more capabilities for marking sites as family favorites and for uploading photos.

The photo-sharing feature, of course, is a key driver of this family-focused service. The viewer isn't bad. It's a bit flat in presentation, but functional. Unfortunately, the photo uploader is old school. You have to pick images one by one. There's neither a bulk uploader nor a quick way to import images from a photo-sharing Web site. This will be fixed in future versions, Roy told me.

The service costs $9.95 a month, which is high when you consider that it doesn't do much that you can't do for free elsewhere. And the company also makes money from Amazon affiliate fees when users purchase goods. However, the audience BigScreenLive is trying to appeal to, older adults and their grown children and caretakers, is easily reachable via associations like the AARP and womens' service magazines. So, there may yet be a good business here.

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