The online editor of GadgetGuy is getting married, and while you can say congratulations, he wanted to take the time to show just how technologically involved he has made the wedding, from the e-invites to a 3D plan to keeping the kids busy, and you can, too.
“See, this is what happens when a tech journo plans a wedding,” said Dave Jensen, a former technology journalist and friend of mine, which he said the moment I pulled out just one of the tech savvy things I had created for my wedding.
There has been a lot of work done for this wedding, and a lot of it — most of it, actually — is something my partner can have attributed to her.
But not the tech angle. That’s me, and if you’ve seen how we embrace technology at GadgetGuy, you can imagine how much technology we can use when we’re planning a wedding, because everything — from the invites to the social media to the whole where things go side of things — has had a hand of technology.
This is my tech savvy wedding, and this is how you can make yours tech savvy, too.
Build a website
The first thing we wanted to do was build a website because frankly we wanted to share our special day with everyone, and provide directions and information to the event for people who were coming.
But building a website can often be labelled as hard, complicated, and expensive work, generally left for people who know how to do this thing.
Well yes, you can go down that route, and as a former web developer (this journalist is now mostly a fiddler, but does like to code for fun, as you do), he likes to find paths for everyone that can act as good starting points, but what exactly is a good starting point for a website out of nothing?
For those not aware of what WordPress is, think of it as a small program like Word that makes websites, only it runs on web hosts and stores your information in a database, creating webpages and putting all the images, text, audio, video, and anything else into the page when a web browser calls on it.
WordPress is one of many applications called a “Content Management System” or CMS, and hundreds of websites use it, as it gives them a way of entering information without issues and having the CMS spit the code out for viewing by people, saving time and being fairly easy to update.
WordPress is free and used by bloggers, publishers, businesses, creative-types, and plenty of others, and for this wedding, we figured we’d use it because it grants easy access for the creation of a webpage, especially when you can look for and purchase a pre-made theme that sets up the look of a page, with your part basically filling it in with information.
People that know what they’re doing who already have web space, possibly a domain name, and the skills to pay the bills will know how to make or find a theme quickly, but we’re going to assume most don’t, and so we need a quick and easy solution.
For that, WordPress has free accounts where by WordPress itself hosts a blog for you to fill in the information you need and even change the look quickly and easily. Some of these looks — called “themes” — may cost money, especially if they’re overly complicated and look like magazines, but the reason we’re suggesting WordPress comes from the easy URL the system can create for you, and the fact that you can do it all on the cheap, so much that cheap translates to “free”.
From here, you can create pages with an RSVP contact form, add special options such as a calendar or widget for saying how many days are left, and even leave a guestbook if you so choose.
And if you have your own web space and skills — or know someone who can do that for you — a few hours of work can net you a unique look and some custom things such as an audio playlist, lots of images in a gallery, maps with StreetView, and so much more.
You start the wedding with some planning, and in that planning, you have the best intentions.
You say “why don’t we do something semi-environmental and embrace the fact that everyone has a phone and/or computer and make the RSVP totally electronic.”
It sounds like a good idea, too. No more RSVPs lost to the inadequacies of the local or international postal systems, and no chance the neighbour will accidentally pick up your mail and just forget to tell you.
And everyone does have means to access the world wide web in some form. I mean, my grandmother does it, and aside for LEAVING CAPS LOCK ON ALL THE TIME, she’s doing a fantastic job of navigating the information superhighway for someone into her eighties.
So on our invites, we encouraged people to use the website to send RSVPs because that wasn’t just more convenient (we thought) and wasn’t just going to save a tree or two, but also meant there was no chance the RSVP would get lost in the mail. Consequently, using a website also meant we could compile the list automatically from its database, exporting it to Excel and viewing the amount of people in an easy to read list.
But things don’t always work out, and it’s not really to any fault of your own. Rather, it’s more one of those things that people won’t always get, and will resort to the tried and trusted method of calling you up.
Even though you can build a system for online RSVPs and invites, our test seemed to show that maybe 30 percent of people will use it, with the remainder calling or emailing you to RSVP, and even though we all use technology — and we tested our RSVP system so it was easy to use — people still won’t.
If you’re contemplating using an electronic RSVP system for a wedding, we’d probably make it an email-based one, with a phone number provided alongside, as this will more than likely get used, and won’t result in people being confused.
The social network
Social media is probably one of the easiest things a person can do when it comes to planning the digital side of a wedding, and that’s because many of us are using it regularly, it’s become transparent and a part of our lives.
It’s probably a safe assumption that a large number of adults attending a wedding — and some of the not-quite-adults — will have a smartphone, and will be taking photos and writing the odd status update to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
But knowing this is only useful if you have something that ties it together.
All major social networks now have a way of doing just that with hashtags.
You’ll probably have seen these used in your travels online, and it’s usually a word or phrase with a “#” preceding it. In use, you just write or post your update — images, text, whatever — and somewhere in the update, include the hashtag.
From the social network’s point of view, a hashtag is basically a conversation topic, and anything posted using this specific phrase will be linked up using the topic, so when your parents or friends post using the hashtag #techsavvywedding (which we’re not using, but you certainly could), it will all be linked when you search for that hashtag.
Find it on Twitter and you’ll see tweets, do it on Instagram and you’ll see the photos where the hashtag is used, and check it out on Facebook and any Facebook post made referencing that hashtag will be shown.
While it’s not necessary to have a hashtag, it will certainly make finding social posts from friends, family, and anyone else much more easy than searching through their profile line by line.
Registering a hashtag is easy: you simply conceive a name and start posting using it. You can look at the word or phrase by searching for it on various networks, seeing if it’s clear, or not worrying about it to begin with because anyone can use a hashtag if they so choose, even if they’re unfamiliar with why you’re using it.
That’s the unfortunate thing about a hashtag: while it can be useful for tying topics and posts together, if another person decided to use it for their own purposes, there’s not much you can do to stop them.
But if you make your hashtag so unusual that it’s not likely to be thought up by anyone else, you limit that chance of happening. You really do.
Thinking in three dimensions
When we were scouting the venue out, one of the people coordinating with us asked me if I wanted the DWG.
Surprised I was even offered, I eagerly accepted, because the moment I was asked, I realised what I could do.
So for those who have no idea, a DWG is a filetype for an architectural plan, with the three-letter initialise translating to AutoCAD drawing, an export format from a major architectural application.
Now you don’t need to be an AutoCAD expert to use this, so let’s get that out of the way to begin with. This writer is a journalist, and while he has some experience with architectural applications such as Revit, you don’t need to be a designer of buildings to know how to use this file.
Instead, if you use one of the many free DWG viewers to look at the file, you’ll see a top-down drawing of the venue, ready for you to print and work out where things go, generally by drawing them in yourself.
But we can do a little better than that these days. After all: technology (say it boldly, like it’s the greatest thing in the world).
So what we’ve done instead is make use of a program formerly owned and worked on by Google called “SketchUp”.
If you’ve never heard of the application before, SketchUp is essentially a 3D modelling program designed to make simple models that you can move around in, load objects, plan, create, and essentially build and design a world and the various elements that make it up.
And with an AutoCAD DWG at our ready, we can import the layout and start modelling on top of it in SketchUp, crafting a digital world to walk around in and plan elements.
Please note that this will take time, and it is not remotely an immediate experience. For our wedding, I spent roughly two to three hours building a layout, and then set another hour or so setting up animation points to show people the various angles where one might want to walk.
On the plus side, SketchUp does have a “3D Warehouse” where one can download models for use in your model and layout, meaning you can easily find some tables, chairs, possibly even a band, bride, and groom.
Once the model is done, you can fly around it, animate how movement down the aisles should work, and even export images for wedding planners and other decorators, so they fully understand what you’re going for.
A music buffet
Every wedding has to have music. That’s just a thing. An obvious thing, no less. You need to have something to dance to.
We have a band for our wedding, but the band can’t play all the time, so we obviously need some filler music, and for that, we’re going to take advantage of technology we’re already using in our life.
That technology is all you can eat music services.
For this journalist, it’s Google’s Play Music system, but if you currently subscribe to Spotify, use that, and if you currently use Rdio, use that. You can use Pandora too, if you like, but because it’s a radio service, you’ll never quite know what you’re about to hear, and generally people like to plan weddings.
We used Google Play Music and made several playlists for each of the breaks we knew the band would be taking, numbering them as one or two or three or four, and downloading the music so the phone wouldn’t need to connect to the web and could just play the music when it needed to, which was next.
As for playing the music through a loud speaker, if you have a band or a PA system, plug the phone in using a line-in jack using the phone’s headset port, which is the standard 3.5mm cable. Talk to your band or whoever has the personal announcement system and find out what you need.
Alternatively, if there is no band or PA system and you’ll be shouting most things, look at grabbing a decent dock or Bluetooth speaker. Obviously, these aren’t created equal so don’t spend thirty bucks and hope it’ll do.
Rather, buy yourself a nice present of a speaker that can do a good job, providing enough sound for the venue so people can actually hear the music and get dancing. Not only will you have a speaker that people can actually hear, but you’ll have one you can take home and use, too.
Making kids important in the digital age
Not everyone has kids at their wedding, and out of the few I’ve been to, it tends to go 50/50.
That said, we knew kids would be coming to ours, as there just would be so many family members with kids that it would be unavoidable.
But with little ones coming, we had to think of a way to keep them entertained, and thus we came up with a two-pronged solution: digital cameras and a tablet.
The first solution was a pro-active one, and we wanted the children to feel like they were just as important as the adults. We know that pretty much every adult coming to the wedding would have a camera with them, whether a real physical camera or one inside of a smartphone, but the kids wouldn’t, so we decided why not give the kids one.
Background: I’m a photographer, or was, anyway, and when I was younger, I was given a camera to take pictures of the world. This helped shape my path, and if you see me places, you know I have a camera with me, as it’s always something that keeps me comfortable.
But finding a camera for kids actually proved more difficult than we expected. The obvious solution is disposable film cameras, but these far more troublesome these days, because while you can find them for cheap, getting that film developed is more costly than you’d expect, coming in at around $20 per roll these days. Ouch.
So we tackled the digital angle: would it be so costly to find digital cameras for the ten kids coming, and on a journo’s salary (the myth journalists make a lot of money is just a myth)?
What we came up with was a lot of research, with websites like AliBaba and DealExtreme playing host to the concept, as well as some local retailers.
In the end, we acquired budget Polaroid digital cameras an some cheap SanDisk memory cards. All up, the cost was around $20 per camera and $5 per card, which isn’t bad, and should provide the kids with a camera that can make themselves feel like adults, while also being something they can take home and maybe shape their paths, too.
The other issue would be an on-going attention issue, and that’s what happens when a child loses interest in cameras and weddings altogether?
For that, we turn to tablets, and now that slate computers are so cheap that practically anyone and everyone can afford them, you merely grab one, a case that also acts as a stand, and load up a few movies for the children as you normally would.
Most wedding venues will likely have a place where the bride can be dressed and made up for the occasion, and well after the bride and groom have said their vows and become husband and wife, this room is likely being unused, so leave the tablet up there ready to go just in case the little ones need a time out, with a few movies ready to go.
Streaming the day
The last and most important technology addition we had for the wedding started off as a joke.
“We could even stream the wedding to people overseas who can’t come,” I said half jokingly, before realising a split second later that HEY! WE COULD ACTUALLY DO THAT.
We’ve have some experience at live streaming of events, in fact.
During the Consumer Electronics Show of 2013, this journalist built a small system that made it possible for us to stream photos and updates in a constant rolling feed of the show, effectively turning it into a virtual tour of CES.
That experiment was made with an Android camera and some website know-how, as well as a few batteries and a mobile connection, but it worked, and we received some positive feedback on the whole concept. We haven’t revived it in some time, but one day, we’ll bring it back to life.
But my wedding would need something different.
After all, I’ll be standing up there, reciting my vows, doing the whole “husband-to-be” shtick, so I can’t operate the system, which back in 2013 was pretty much manual, requiring photos and text to work.
No, a streaming wedding would have to be done passively, and so for that, we turned to something used by plenty of other people: UStream.
UStream is a solution whereby you can broadcast events using one of the UStream apps, either on a web browser or from a mobile device. Apps for UStream are available on either Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android, and so you have a fairly decent choice, but basically, to stream, you just create an account at UStream, grab a phone or tablet, set it up, and stream.
From there, anyone can watch the stream on the page setup at UStream’s website and channel, or you can embed the stream on your own page, which in this case, is at the website we mentioned earlier that was created for this purpose.
For our wedding, we’ve used the Samsung Galaxy Zoom S4, an Android-based smartphone that also has the guts of a camera. Interestingly, while this cameras sports a 10x optical zoom length, we can’t actually use any of that, and we don’t want to. We want the widest length to show as much of the scene as possible.
You can use any smartphone you want, just as long as you can set it up somewhere stable with clear view of whatever you’re planning to stream. With a position ready, download the “UStream” app onto the device, create or login to a UStream account, and start streaming.
The video feed can be shared to friends and family by way of a UStream link, or if you feel like using some of the things you’ve read in this article, you can embed the stream in your webpage, which is what we’ve done.
What the app will do from here is send the stream straight to UStream on around a ten second delay, sharing the feed with viewers, while also recording and storing it for playback at a later time. When the video is over, you can cut the feed from the phone and save the video, leaving it to play on your website, which is what we’re planning on doing.
Is the video feed perfect or insanely high resolution?
No, but it can be done pretty much on the cheap, and if you have friends and family that just unfortunately cannot make it, this will at least ease the burden in a way few would think to do.