Google Docs is a great way to quickly create a good looking online family newsletter as you are wrapping up the year.

There are other ways, and I will endeavor to cover them in the upcoming days and weeks. But if your online family newsletter meets the following criteria, then Google Docs is, in my opinion, the fastest and easiest way to accomplish the task.

Online Family Newsletter Criteria:

  • Newsletter is a stand-alone, once a year project and not part of a larger ‘family history’ project where it becomes part of a searchable archive,…
  • Newsletter contains simple content (text and photos) and simple layout
  • Newsletter will look good on mobile without having to take time to tweak the layout

Here is a quick discussion on these criteria:

Newsletter is Stand-Alone

Google Docs and the underlying Google Drive approach reminds me of a recent trip to IKEA. I hope you’ve been there and know what I’m talking about. You walk through the store and can admire all the fun stuff. If you find something you like, you write down the item number or mark it on a slip of paper you pick up near the display. Once you’ve walked through the IKEA jungle and before you get to the check out, you eventually reach the ‘warehouse’. (I’m sure they call it something different, I can’t remember. By the time we got to that point I was exhausted.) In the warehouse you use the item numbers you’ve collected to find your item on large storage shelves.

Google Docs and the underlying Google Drive are like the ‘warehouse’ part of the IKEA experience. Google Drive is a great way to store all your family stories (= Google Docs), and if you know exactly what you want you can easily retrieve it. But if you are looking for a central hub for all your family stories, you’ll also need the showroom. You’ll need a place where a visitor has fun browsing the content, like flipping through a scrap book, or strolling through IKEA’s display area.

Can you picture your family gathering around to ‘browse the family Google Drive folder’. That would be like starting an IKEA trip at the ‘warehouse’. My family would politely yet quickly remember that some ‘homework assignment was due the next day’ and required their attention. (Do you have teenagers, too?)

Simple Content (text & photos) and Simple Layout

The Google Doc can nicely handle text and photos.

To my knowledge you can’t actually show a video in a google doc or play an audio clip.¬† You can embed hyperlinks, either associated with text or an image, and when clicked those links will open a new browser tab where your video or audio are then played.

Super Easy for Mobile

Your computer screen (desktop or laptop) is a lot larger than the screen on your mobile phone. (I know that is an earth-shattering revelation.)

Google Docs does a nice job adjusting the text (font size and line wrapping) depending on what screen I’m looking at. It struggles a little more with photos. I had to keep the photos to 3.5″ width to make sure they showed up completely on the phone (without having to pan to the right to see what ‘fell off the screen’).

On a mobile phone, my Google Docs newsletter doesn’t show page breaks. That’s what makes it really easy to just throw text and photos into the newsletter and not worry about layout. But when viewed on a computer screen, you may get something like this:

That kind of ‘ugly’ layout doesn’t do justice to the beautiful people the newsletter is about.

A couple pointers

I am assuming you have a basic understanding of how to create a Google Doc, so I will just share a few insights.

  • There are (at least) two ways to insert a photo.
    • Select Image from INSERT menu. This adds the image inline with the text. You can resize the image and justify it (left, right, center).
    • Select Drawing from INSERT menu. Then add your image to the drawing . You can resize it and crop it. You can also add a text box as a caption. The text will wrap inside the text box, which makes for a nicer look. (Although I didn’t actually use that for my newsletter. I went for ‘fast’.)
  • Keep the images to a width of 3.5″. Use the ruler at the top of the screen.
    To resize drag one of the blue corner squares. This keeps width and height in sync and you don’t end up with abnormally thin or thick people.
  • The captions I added underneath the photos are just text. To pretty things up a bit, I changed the font color to a gray tone. As mentioned earlier, if my photos were inserted as Drawings, the text could wrap underneath each picture, which would probably look a little nicer still for longer captions.
  • ¬†There is a convenient Horizontal Line option in the INSERT menu. I used to create a simple header effect after my newsletter title. (see screen shot earlier)

Sharing your Family Newsletter

There are two ways to share your Google Doc on the web.

  1. One is to click on the Share button (top right hand corner) and then work through the options outlined below.
  2. The other, and I think preferred, is to select FilePublish to the Web. This creates a copy of your document and you can then control access to that copy (same options as if you were sharing the original file). I think the big difference, is that when you use this second approach, your published copy does not have to remain in sync with the original. I’m not sure that really makes much of a difference in our case, so choose whatever option you feel more comfortable with.

Below are some screen shots for Sharing (rather than Publishing to the Web), but the settings are very comparable.

Make sure to select that Anyone with the link can view.

If you click on Advanced and then Change you can view that in more detail.

I recommend that you make sure that On- Anyone with the link is selected – unless you want your family newspaper to be indexed and ‘findable’ by everyone on the Internet.

Linking to your Christmas card using MoreAboutMe.org

The final step is to connect your Christmas card to the mobile-friendly online family newsletter. And for that we used MoreAboutMe.org.

Sign up for a free account. Your first sticker (actually, it’s your first ‘code’, you can create as many labels/stickers as you want) is free and that is all you need for your Christmas card.

After logging in, click on My Codes then click on the green links to add a description and target destination and to create your electronic sticker.

After you’ve downloaded the label/sticker of your choice, simply add it to your Christmas card in place of a photo.

The recipient of your Christmas card either scans the QR code or goes to MoreAboutMe.org and enters the short code to view your family newsletter.