China's firewall blocks out companies, like Facebook and Twitter, breaking off connections between Chinese families that are spread out across the world. Privileged Chinese famillies can access Facebook and stay connected via Virtual Private Networks, however, VPNs are not a feasible option for a large number of Chinese families. A start-up called FamilyLeaf allows families in China to get past the barrier by allowing them to view the Facebook photos of family members overseas. The startup was founded by Chinese American, Wesley Zhao who explained to Mashable how Chinese censorship affects his family. The government allows the service to work because it's restricted to families.
Connecting families past firewalls
The way the service works is that photos are stored and sent through a seperate Content Delivery Network (CDN), while Facebook still stays blocked off. The CDNs allow for Facebook users to share photos with their families in China without the need for reuploads. Photos can be shared from Facebook as well as services like Picasa, Flickr and Instagram. Zhao says that the Chinese government blocks off services like Facebook to avoid protests, but the reason a service like FamilyLeaf is allowed is because photos are unlikely to spark up a protest. Zhao says his family is able to go through his photos that he takes in the U.S and in fact quite enjoy seeing them. He says he's not active on the social networks that are allowed in China.
The primary objective of the start-up, however, wasn't to allow Chinese families to connect with each other. The primary purpose was to connect families in general that were seperated by distance. However, the founders (Zhao and Ajay Mehta) found that the system could be used specifically in the case of Chinese families seperated by distance and a firewall. Once they realized this function, Zhao's father quickly translated the service into Chinese to facilitate users in China. The service already has active users in India, Israel and Greece. The founders say that they do not plan to monetize the website as that was not the intention when they started the service. They also said they would look into adding more services that would help families connect, like tools to plan family reunions and sending cards. To sign up for FamilyLeaf, click here.