The Good Side of the Internet

If it were 1978 and your family were grown and stretched across the continent, you might get a phone call on Mother's Day and a visit on Christmas, if it were in the budget.

Today families are grown and scattered, but are still able to be a part of each other's lives. You can see kids learning to walk on a videoblog, share the latest vacation pictures on the family website, and read about your son's college experience on his blog.

The Internet is also the medium by which we can support the Church's effort to clearly explain our religion. In a speech given at Brigham Young University-Hawaii's graduation ceremony on December 15, 2007, Elder M. Russell Ballard gave a call to action specifically regarding the Internet: "Now, to you who are graduating today and all other faithful members of the Church . . . may I ask that you join the conversation by participating on the Internet, particularly the New Media, to share the gospel and to explain in simple, clear terms the message of the Restoration. Most of you already know that if you have access to the Internet you can start a blog in minutes and begin sharing what you know to be true. You can download videos from Church and other appropriate sites, including Newsroom at www.lds.org, and send them to your friends. You can write to media sites on the Internet that report on the Church, and voice your views as to the accuracy of the reports."

This speech was given when media attention on the Church was highest due to the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney, but the principles are still the same. Our capacity to do some good via the Internet is immense. Blogging
If you haven't seen one yet, a blog is an online journal where you can post commentary, musings--pretty much whatever you like. Once friends and family have the address, they can go online and read and comment about your adventures. At LDS Living, we recommend www.blogspot.com or www.wordpress.com to get started.

A family blog, where everyone has the password and can post his or her own stories, can be the start of a family website. Conversations carry on as families communicate across the continent or even across oceans. The distances don't seem as great, and everyone gets in on the little things that make life interesting.

Online Journals
Part of the struggle with what we can now call "old-fashioned journaling," is that we're not used to writing anymore. We're on the computer and, let's face it, we can just write faster by typing than by using pen and paper. Online journals and blogs are basically the same idea, but your journal is secured and no one sees it but you. Our suggestion is www.ldsjournal.com. We have two favorite perks: it's free, and if you're not by a computer you can send texts to your journal to record whatever you're thinking about, whenever you want. You can also add pictures or audio and video recordings, and at the end of the year publish it to a book or DVD so you always have a hard copy.

Another nice thing about online journaling is that you can go back and add comments and thoughts to old entries. How many times do we learn something that references us back to an experience three months ago, but don't have a ready link between the two? LDSjournal calls them "Afterthoughts," and they're great for helping us recognize solutions to problems, progression, and even answers to prayers.

Photobooks
What if you've never been able to get into that whole scrapbooking thing? With www.shutterfly.com you can design your own photo book. Add commentary, photos, and click and drop onto ready-made pages. You can also order prints, posters, design calendars, cards, invitations, and gifts.

Comments and Letters to the Editor
Comments online and letters to the editor reach a lot of people. If something is being said that is simply not true, write in. Keep your comments nonbelligerent; simple facts are the most effective. If you want to really stand out, make sure you give the positive feedback and reinforcement that is so needed. As a general rule, the population only writes in when they see an error or disagree, but much less often to confirm that something was well-reported and accurate. Ratings
There are a handful of sites you can use to review entertainment, but www.commonsensemedia.org is our top pick. Search ratings and reviews for new movies, DVDs, TV, games, music, websites, and books and offer up your own reactions. Get the kids involved, too, with a section just for them. Once you've approved something and they've watched or listened to it, invite them to put up their own reviews. The site also hosts a family entertainment headlines section. To make it really easy, sign up for the emailed newsletter. In addition to the latest reviews, the newsletter offers timely media articles and tips to help you keep family entertainment top notch.

City Guides
SEOmoz Web 2.0 Awards ranked yelp.com number one in online city guides and reviews in 2007. Search reviews on Yelp for hotels, spas, restaurants, shopping, entertainment, medical, and even fi nancial services in any city. The reviews are put up by people just like you, not critics. When you find something great--local or on vacation--go in and review it for others.

Family Indexing
If you're eager to move genealogy forward but don't know where to go next in your own family tree, spend some time indexing. The site www.familysearchindexing.org provides a variety of projects volunteers can pull from to help build the searchable databases that we all need to find our ancestors. Register at the site to be a volunteer, download the software, and jump right in. Questions and Answers
Run a search for LDS topics at answers.yahoo.com and you'll find people all over the world asking questions about our beliefs. You can help someone out a lot by taking a minute to answer some of them. Defining
Wikipedia is an online collaborative encyclopedia. Sign up for a free account www.wikipedia.com and help edit or create articles. You can even edit Wikipedia content in other languages.

Remember the force for good that we can have through the Internet and use it. And if you come across terrific family websites, let us know! Email editor@ldsliving.com with your family's favorite choices.

Comments and feedback can be sent to feedback@ldsliving.com