We now have more ways to stay connected online than we ever imagined when email first entered our lives. With the right tools and know-how, you can stay tuned in to your friends, family, and colleagues—no matter how different your time zones, schedules, and pace of life.
1. Instant message and chat online
Instant messaging (IM) is essentially a private chat on the internet, which makes it the perfect medium for check-ins with friends, coworkers, and family, or if you need a question answered quickly. Video chat takes IM’ing one step further, so that you can actually converse face-to-face, albeit over computers connected to the internet.
Windows Live Messenger is the perfect program to use for both IM and video chat (as well as for playing games, making voice calls over the web, and sharing photos online). It is available for free as a part of Windows Live Essentials, which is free. If you don’t yet have it installed, go for it! To get tips on installation and basic how-to instructions for both IM and video chat, read our article Use instant messaging and video chat to stay in touch.
Friend not online? Leave a Video Message
A new feature that allows you to leave a 30-second video message for your friend even if they aren’t currently online. This feature is available in the current Instant Messenger. Here’s how to leave a video message.
2. Publish your calendar
One of the best ways to stay in touch is to publish your calendar on the Internet (using a secure Microsoft site like Office Online) and then invite individuals to view and use it. That way, the important people in your life can know what you’re doing and when, and they can schedule themselves into your life without playing phone tag, waiting for email replies, or searching the house or office for the “master” calendar. A bonus: Because the calendar is electronic, you only have to enter your annual appointments and events once—never miss a birthday or anniversary again!
Below we describe how to share your Outlook calendar online. Another option, and one that allows you to merge multiple calendars into one, is to use Windows Live Calendar. Read this article to learn how to keep your family in sync using Windows Live Calendar.
Publish a shared calendar online
3. Share your photos online
Still emailing photos? There are much more effective and interesting ways of sharing photos to keep in touch—ways that don’t limit the photo file size or require you to write a new message every time you want to share your photos—and that give you more tools to be creative with your photos, too.
Windows Live Photo Gallery is a free application and part of Windows Live Essentials. If you haven’t yet downloaded Windows Live Essentials, now’s the time! You can upload photos, albums, or slide shows for anyone to view or for just those people you want to share them with. You can post photos for others to comment on, tag photos, edit and organize your photos, and even create group albums or slide shows that you can publish to the Internet. Our article Create an online photo album is a great place to get tips and how-to instructions on setting up an online album.
Windows Live Mesh is another excellent way to share photos between computer and mobile devices—even across thousands of miles. Watch this short informative video and read our instructions to find out how to use it.
Photosynth. Sharing personalized albums and slides shows online is a wonderful way to keep in touch. But wouldn’t it be great if you could turn a set of photos into an interactive three-dimensional (3-D) experience with the cinematic quality of a movie and the control of a video game—and then share that experience on the web?
Photosynth helps you do just that. You upload overlapping images, and Photosynth stitches them into a dynamic 3-D image that viewers can “tour” or explore on their own. When you create a synth, you can specify whether you want it to be public or unlisted (available for viewing only by those addresses you specify). You can also geotag your synth, which links it to a map showing viewers the exact location where the photos were taken. It’s a great way to give family and friends a sense of the house or neighborhood where you live, your favorite activity, an art project you’ve finished, or anything special you want to share.
Photosynth of a tree-filled park and bridge
Photosynth of toys on a table
Turn family or vacation photos or photos of your favorite places and spaces into a unique interactive collage with Photosynth.
4. Create a family or event website
A website is a great way to communicate broadly with others and to share information with family and friends. A family website is particularly useful for chronicling life-changing events, such as marriages, births, and family or class reunions, and for posting pictures of your home and neighborhood to faraway relatives to give them a window into your family’s day-to-day life. You can update pictures and content regularly.
There are lots of online services you can use to create a site without having to have any technology background. For example, you can use WordPress.com to start a blog where you can post pictures and share your thoughts. You can have your site up and running—with pictures—in less than 10 minutes. If you’re more advanced, you can create a site using Microsoft Expression Web 4.
5. Blog your heart out
These days, almost everyone has a blog, and it’s easy to see why. The hosts of these online journals made up of links and postings presented in reverse chronological order (the most recent post appears first) often allow readers to add comments and discuss the posts, which makes blogs a great way to share day-to-day information, communicate ideas, and encourage discussions between the blogger and the readers or even between the readers themselves.
One easy way to craft blog posts is with the help of Windows Live Writer, which enables you to share pictures and posts on almost any blog service. Windows Live recommends using WordPress.com to set up your own free blog. It’s simple to set up and easy to use.
6. Use online groups and collaborative workspaces
Online groups are a great way to keep in touch with people that share your passions, hobbies, or interests. They’re also a good way for people in similar situations (for example, single parents, people with the same medical condition, or people whose children attend the same school) to get and provide support for one another. Many schools and other organizations have online groups you can join.
Visit Windows Live Groups to organize your own team, club, or family group, and invite people to participate. It’s far simpler and faster than you imagine. Your online group can create its own webpage where everyone can view the group’s activities and can take advantage of a shared calendar and a space for sharing photos and engaging in discussions. It works with Windows Live Messenger, so you can use instant messaging with your whole group and chat together in real time, from your desktop, laptop, or mobile device.
Collaborative workspaces let you save, access, and share documents and files. Some workspaces are downloaded directly to your desktop, like Microsoft SharePoint Workspace in Office Professional Plus. Others, such as Microsoft Office Live Workspace, are located online so you can access them from anywhere. They’re not as complicated to use as you might think—the whole program sets up in minutes. And these spaces aren’t just for office work. Extended families, for example, often like using the discussion, calendar, and chat options. Quite a few other options are available, such as the ability to display pictures, use drawing tools, report and manage issues, and more.
Shared workspaces located online. If you use Microsoft Office, you’ll want to try Office Live Workspace or Office 2010 Web Apps. These programs are like having an addition to Microsoft Office that lets you store, access, and edit documents from a single online location, regardless of your physical location. Both work with programs that you already use (such as Word, Outlook, or PowerPoint, among others) and are designed for anyone who needs a place to save and share documents. Office 2010 Web Apps give you even more saving, editing, and sharing options. With Office Web Apps, you can save your documents directly to the web, in your Windows Live SkyDrive folder, and open them and edit them simultaneously with others. Documents stored on Windows Live can be viewed and edited with either the Office Web Apps or with the Office client applications on your desktop. And you can also work together on a single document online with anyone through a web browser—even in real time when using Excel. Learn about using Office Web Apps in Windows Live.
Office 2010 makes sharing documents with online groups and individuals even easier with Backstage view, a convenient all-access pass to almost everything you want to do. On the Ribbon, on the File tab, click Share, and then click one of the many options. Click Send e-mail to attach the document to an email message, send an email message with a link to the document, or send it as a PDF, XPS document, or fax. You can also send documents directly to Windows Live SkyDrive so others can immediately see and work on them, or to a blog.
Backstage View in Office 2010 with the Share option selected
Backstage view in Office 2010 can simplify and accelerate sharing files with others.
Keeping in touch with the people in your life, whether you communicate with them daily or only occasionally, is one of the keys to a successful and fulfilling life. By using the information presented in this article, you can take advantage of communications technology to establish, maintain, and develop relationships that are long-lasting and rewarding.