Reach out and touch someone

Staying connected to family abroad has never been easier - or cheaper.

YOUTUBE88 (photo credit:)
YOUTUBE88
(photo credit: )
Eight years ago, moving here and staying in touch with relatives back in England meant a weekly phone call and an occasional e-mail. Sharing pictures involved taking a roll of 35-mm. film into a camera store and waiting at least an hour for it to be developed. A quick trip to an Internet café followed by a short wait to use the only computer connected to a scanner and pictures were ready to be sent to family overseas. In February 2000, heavy snow fell in Jerusalem. Frozen downtown ATMs were swallowing bank cards and the only open camera store just couldn't manage to operate the processing machinery in such cold. Eight years, a wedding, two children, digital cameras, four webcams, three camcorders, two laptops, broadband Internet and a whole host of technological advancement later, sharing special moments is now an everyday occurrence. Here's how easy it is: 1. Facebook (http://www.facebook.com) This is a prime example of on-line social networking and Web 2.0 (although it was never too clear where Web 1.0 went). Facebook makes sharing videos, pictures, ideas, witty one-liners, finding and staying in touch with relatives and friends absolutely effortless. According to Facebook, more than 60 million photos are uploaded by users each week. In January a reported 1.7 billion photos had been uploaded. An average of 250,000 new users join every day. This truly is the place to find old friends and keep connected. Likes: When a user changes their status or uploads a new photo, an update is instantly reported to their whole network of Facebook friends. This is what makes Facebook such an excellent on-line social networking tool. Dislikes: It can be way too addictive and hours can easily be lost browsing the status updates, photos, videos and postings made by friends. 2. Skype (http://www.skype.com) The basic use of Skype allows users to download free software and have voice conversations with other Skype users. All you need to get going is an Internet connection and a computer with a microphone and speakers. In addition, Skype allows two users with webcams to perform a video conference. This service is completely free. There are additional premium services that allow users to call traditional telephone numbers and receive calls to their computers from regular phones. The technology behind Skype is VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) and refers to the actual transmission of voice rather than the protocol implementing it. Likes: The technology behind Skype is improving every day and the clarity of regular voice calls is just as good as most regular telephones. Dislikes: The service does not work so well when the Internet connection is slow. In addition, the video conferencing can be a little temperamental. Another site that uses similar technology offering free calls through the Internet, but connects two regular telephones together, is Jajah (http://www.jajah.com). 3. YouTube (http://www.youtube.com) A Web site primarily dedicated to uploading and sharing video clips. Similar to Facebook, opening a YouTube account is not difficult. Depending on Internet connection speeds, videos can be uploaded in minutes. Within a few moments of a video being uploaded, it can be viewed worldwide. YouTube has become so popular that even presidential candidates are using the service as an outlet to increase their campaign exposure. This is also considered another form of on-line social networking. Likes: Once a video is uploaded, a user is provided with a link that can be sent directly to friends or posted into Facebook. For those who are a little more tech savvy, there is an option to embed YouTube videos into personal Web sites. Dislikes: There is a limit on the size of the video file that can be uploaded. Examples of other sites that specialize in hosting and serving on-line videos include MetaCafe (http://www.metacafe.com) and Veoh (http://www.veoh.com). 4. Flickr (http://www.flickr.com) Flickr is specifically designed for uploading and sharing on-line photo albums. Users can upload individual photos using an on-line web interface. There is also a free tool that can be used for uploading many photographs at the same time. Flickr provides the upload tool to users free of charge. There is a premium service, but the free service allows users to upload photographs with a maximum size of five megabytes per photo. This is certainly a healthy size for a single photograph. On the Web site, photographs can be viewed individually or as part of a slide show. Likes: It makes sharing and viewing many photos very easy. Dislikes: A user must have a Yahoo account to register a flickr account. The drawback of this is the need to remember yet another e-mail account. Zoomr (http://www.zoomr.com) and Photo Bucket (http://www.photobucket.com) also offer alternative solutions for sharing photographs on-line. 5. Picasa (http://www.picasa.com) Unlike the sites mentioned so far, Picasa is free software that helps keep the digital photos on your computer in some kind of order. Once downloaded and used for the first time, Picasa can detect every photo in every nook and cranny of a person's computer. Once photographs are loaded into Picasa, there are some incredibly helpful tools that make handling digital photographs very easy. Photographs can be edited, put into albums, viewed as slide shows, saved with adjustments made to the size and exported as viewable Web pages. In addition, it takes seconds to choose pictures and save them as a screen saver using this versatile program. Picasa Web album (http://picasaweb.google.com) is the Google version of flickr and is compatible with the Picasa software. Users are given up to one gigabyte of free web space to share photographs on-line. Over one gigabyte, payment would be required. Likes: Anyone can use Picasa and become familiar with the functionality very quickly. There's no need for any technical knowledge to use Picasa. Dislikes: It's hard to find fault with Picasa. However, occasionally after transferring new photographs to a computer, Picasa may need to be guided to the file location to add the photographs to the software. 6. Blurb (http://www.blurb.com) Blurb is one of many Web sites offering to take a whole bunch of photographs and make them into a professionally presented book. However, be warned that once the free software has been downloaded, the responsibility for typesetting and page formatting is with the user. Being based in the US, a Blurb book is an ideal gift to create and send directly to relatives there. Once all the hard work of laying out pages and adding captions has been completed, ordering and delivery in the US is incredibly fast and simple. They do operate overseas delivery, but the cost of international shipping should be compared to local companies offering similar services. Likes: The finished product is spectacular and very professional. The cost is also very reasonable. Dislikes: It is very time intensive to lay out the pictures. For the Israeli version of this service try Pic A Book (http://www.picabook.co.il), and for the UK and European version take a look at Bob Books (http://www.bobbooks.co.uk). 7. Third-Generation Mobile Phone Technology If the heading of No. 7 scares you, please don't be put off. What this refers to is the current range of cellphones available from Cellcom, Orange and Pelephone. Eight years ago, a cellphone was used to either make a call or send a text message. Cellphone shopping in 2008 finds that the unique selling points have changed somewhat. It's certainly daunting being given all of those new options: music player, camera, video, modem, sudoku and vast amounts of storage space. However, one of the most practical uses of 3G (or dor shlishi as they say in Israel) is the ability to send MMS. MMS stands for Multimedia Messaging Service. It means you can capture special moments using either the built-in camera or video recorder and send it moments later to anyone else who has the ability to receive multimedia messages. Likes: Being able to see special moments as soon as they happen, even when not being able to attend. Dislikes: Beware how much the respective cellphone company is charging to send multimedia messages. Even when a recipient does not receive the message, a charge for sending is still incurred. 8. Blogger (http://www.blogger.com) and Word Press (http://wordpress.com) If you have something to say, the time to write it down and the inclination to share your views with the world, then blogging is for you. A blog is an abbreviation for Web log. There are many ways to blog on-line, but Blogger and Word Press are the two best ways to get started. In addition to words, photographs can be used on blogs. Picasa is compatible with both Blogger and Word Press. There is a very good choice offered for the layout of a basic blog. Sometimes this choice can be a little overwhelming. It would be recommended to look at the style and layout of other people's blogs before attempting it for the first time. Likes: It's a great way to get out there and be heard and it doesn't cost anything to get started. Dislikes: Although Word Press and Blogger are both user friendly, it can be a little daunting to set this up. In addition, it can also be time consuming to maintain. 9. Linkedin (http://www.linkedin.com) Linkedin, similar to Facebook, is classified as a social networking site. However, that's where the comparison ends. Linkedin is a business oriented, professional network. It's a great way to stay in touch with professional contacts and former work colleagues, and can also be used for personnel referencing. Employers often use Linkedin as an exclusive place to advertise vacancies. Once a person applies for a position it is very easy to see mutual connections, work experience and employment references. Likes: Seeing the degrees of separation between people and who they are connected to. This is solely a professional network. Dislikes: There is additional useful functionality not available within the scope of the free account. 10. MySpace (http://www.myspace.com) MySpace is a combination of all of the above-mentioned social networking sites. It includes blogs, photographs, videos, music, instant messaging and e-mail. Setting up a MySpace account is relatively easy. Making it look good is not. Used more for meeting new people and self-promotion than the Facebook style of staying in touch. Talented bands and singers have been discovered after appearing on MySpace. This is an example of buzz marketing. Likes: If used well, it can be a great marketing tool and a cheap means of self-promotion. Dislikes: MySpace pages do tend to look a little untidy and disorganized. If all else fails and the list is just too overwhelming, there's nothing wrong in picking up a pen and a piece of paper and writing a letter.