Even before the recent TikTok bans and mental-health concerns from the surgeon general, public attitudes toward social media have evolved. Many people are moving to online communities on less-populated networks like Nextdoor to get away from the overload of influencers, advertisers, data-mining and political divisiveness that often dominate the larger mainstream platforms.
Facebook and other sites do offer the ability to make private groups. But if you’re looking for a change, you can set up your own personal ad-free space with an exclusive membership elsewhere. Here’s what you can do.
Before you make the leap to your own micro-social network, think about what you want it to be. Does your group mostly post photos, or are you looking for a place to share status updates, pictures, videos and links? And how will people log in — iPhones, Android phones, tablets or desktop browsers?
Next, search your app store for “private photo sharing” or “private social media” to see your options.
Even if your group is comfortable just sticking with familiar methods like WhatsApp groups, message apps or Reply All emails, increased social activity can be costly for those with limited data or message plans. And if the focus is on photo sharing, be sure to consider an app or service that includes adequate file storage or the option to buy more space.
Paying Your Way
Private social media apps work much like the larger platforms with the sharing of status updates, comments, photos and videos (although they may lack tools like photo filters and video effects). In some cases, you pay a small fee — but you can share without advertisements and fewer personal-information concerns.
For example, Kin requires the host of the private space to buy a subscription — but everyone else can join the group free. A Kin “space” includes a Storyline feed for members to share photos and comments, a chat function and other familiar tools. Prices start at $4 a month for a plan with 50 gigabytes of storage and an unlimited number of members.
Photocircle is another option for a more visually oriented circle of friends and family. The app has an ad-supported version, but you can lose the ads and focus on everyone’s fabulous photos by upgrading to a PhotoCircle+ subscription for about $8 a year per person.
Phone-Free Photo Sharing
If your primary objective is to share photos with everyone in your family — including those who don’t have a smartphone or who aren’t particularly comfortable with technology — you still have options.
For example, both Google Photos and Apple’s Photos app support shared photo albums, in which multiple people can add, view and comment on pictures in that album from their phones, tablets and computer browsers. Use the Shared Album setting when creating a new album, then name it and add the email addresses of the people you want to see the photos. Once they accept your invitation, they can see the photos and get alerts when new images are added.
You can similarly share browser-based photo albums with selected people on Dropbox, Flickr, Shutterfly and scores of other online-storage services you may already use.
But what if you have a family member with an extremely limited technology tolerance — but who still wants to see every single baby or vacation photo? An internet-connected digital picture frame may be the solution.
Wirecutter, a product review site owned by The New York Times, tested several digital picture frames and recommends the $150 Aura Carver model for its sharp 10.1-inch screen and ease of setup; the $200 Aura Mason frame was also noted for its display of photos in the vertical portrait orientation. Once you connect the frame to the internet for your recipient, you and the rest of the family can upload thousands of photos to it from the Aura smartphone app.
Big Events for Small Groups
Keeping selected people up-to-date on your major life milestones is another reason to use a private social space. For example, you can use the nonprofit CaringBridge platform to create a free, secure, ad-free site to share serious health news with friends and family.
New parents are perhaps the biggest generators of photos with the need for privacy. And there are plenty of apps for that, including FamilyAlbum, (free or a $5 monthly premium version for features like longer videos), Honeycomb (free) and Sproutly (free; iPhone only).