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31 December 2007

Life with Xbox 360

For those of you who care to know the outcome: I went with the Xbox 360 over the PS3. I read a lot of reviews, talked with friends and then flipped a coin...

It took a while to acquire it since there was a Xbox drought in our area for a good week over Christmas. But after numerous phone calls and a short drive south of town - I finally found one.

Current Games: Forza2/Marvel: Ultimate Alliance (came with the system), Halo3 and Star Wars: The Complete Saga.

Next in line: Call of Duty 4 (for sure), NHL08, Tiger Woods PGA 08 and hopefully a cool RPG someday, like Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (currently only for PS3).

Love so far: The media server functionality is nice. I have the Zune software on my desktop and it acts as the interface for getting pictures, music and video to the Xbox. Streams fast with minimal lag time.

Worries me a bit: Connecting my gamertag to my Windows Live ID has proven a bit stressing. It says my current Live ID is already connected to an Xbox. Had to create a new one - which just isn't the best way to do it. Probably a quick fix - just can't find the answer.

Not much to say other than that. Looking forward to learning to play better and having fun watching my 5 year old daughter show me how to operate the Jedi in the Star Wars game...



27 December 2007

Tis' the Season for Family

I was looking through the hundreds of pictures we took this Christmas - looking for ones that were "blogworthy" - when I came across these two. They aren't funny. They aren't exciting in and of themselves, but they are perfect summaries of what took place.

This picture gives you a good shot of the chaos that ensued Christmas morning. This was after one good cleaning - preparing for Papa and Uncle Ryan to come over for round two. The floor was covered in paper and presents for the majority of the morning. Little kids love lots of presents, and I keep telling myself to enjoy it. After all, when the get older they'll each open two or three presents - each costing an arm or a leg :)

The other thing that "happened to us" this Christmas involved music. It started with Allison wanting a Hannah Montana guitar, and ended with Rachel asking for drums at the last minute. Throw in a tambourine for Tyler and our house has been filled with beautiful music.

Here is Rachel on the drums, Allison on the guitar and Tyler (off camera) with the tambourine...

Gotta love it.



20 December 2007

Desktop Wallpaper

WDC Wallpaper: Click this picture to get full size image. Then right click on large version to see options for saving or making it your desktop wallpaper.I like a dark background for my desktops so I created this the other day. It's 1680x1050 to handle the typical widescreen monitor. But it's also pretty easy to crop if you need 4:3.



I'm Game (Finally)

The last real video game I played was The Legend of Zelda for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). It was a two dimensional RPG that led you through a virtual world full of people, strange creatures and one evil villain. You had a sword, a couple bombs and a bow to fight with. There were puzzles to complete and riddles to figure out along the way. It was fun - seriously...

Since then I have done other things like grad school, psychotherapy, writing, web design, middle management, chess and stuff like that.

During my little break, video games have come out of the dark ages. Gone is the two dimensional look. Now you feel like you're actually in the game. Controllers respond to gravity and position and can offer feedback through vibration - all adding to the experience. But I still had no desire to get back into the game - until I realized that my other passion (all things HD) was on a collision course with the gaming consoles.

I've had my eye on Blu-ray disc players for a while now. They typically run $400 to $500 dollars. But then I realized you get a Blu-ray player inside the PS3 - for $399!

To me this is a no-brainer. I can get a Blu-ray player and a gaming system for the same price as a stand alone Blu-ray player.

Enter the dilemma: Everyone I know has the XBox 360 - which doesn't come with a Blu-ray player. One other piece of information: I'm not really interested in playing the multi-player games online (which is what all my friends do with Halo 3).

So what is the right choice?

  • PS3 ($399.00) Gets me my Blu-ray player, great gaming system, bigger hard drive.
  • XBox 360 ($349.00 or you can add an HD DVD player for $180.00) Gets me the ability to play Halo 3 (and probably a few other games) online with my friends. I have a Zune so it would be compatible with the XBox 360.

Any ideas?

Let the games begin!



16 December 2007

Openings @ SCBC in Texas

I don't typically do this, but the team at Sugar Creek contacted us the other day and asked if we had any leads on good applicants for the following positions. If interested give them a call.



14 December 2007

Are You as Passionate as Romeo and Juliet?

I was watching a documentary on the production of the Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano the other day and I couldn't help but be awed by the level of precision and attention to detail that goes into the car.

For starters, it takes over two months to build one of these cars. A large team of craftsman working together to build thousands of parts, each created with a level of precision that boggles the mind.

Most everything is done by hand except for things that are more efficiently done by robot. For example, I watched the robot install all 12 valve guides into a cylinder head and then cold soak it – all in a matter of what seemed like a couple of minutes. Robot picks up guide, dips it in liquid nitrogen, head is heated to expand slightly. Guide is precisely inserted by robot, repeat 12 times – drop entire head into cold water to seat everything... [more]
The quote above describes what I saw in the documentary. Ferrari has developed a set of robots (called Romeo and Juliet) that work in tandem to "marry" two parts that play an integral role in the overall performance of the car. One part is dipped in liquid nitrogen while the other is heated. This changes the size of the parts so that when they are joined and dropped in water, they actually fuse themselves together. This ensures the parts can endure the extreme heat and friction created in the powerful engine.

All that to ask this: Are we as passionate about what we create as Ferrari is about their automobiles?

In other words, do we fall for the lie?:
It's for the church so the expenditures must be low and the quality shouldn't matter.
Or are we the Ferrari of the church world? Do we create Romeo and Juliet applications that turn our ministry from ordinary to extraordinary? Do we value our product (message) enough to tirelessly choose innovation over tradition?

I'm inspired by what we could do in the church today if we took Ferrari's approach to precision in the smallest of things.

What couldn't we do?



10 December 2007

In a Pinch with Attendance on a Snowy Day

Problem: It's a Saturday. The forecast calls for severe winter weather during the night. And you want as many people as possible to be able to attend the three services scheduled for Sunday morning.

What would you do? Business as usual? Pray for better weather? Just accept that what happens, happens?

Or would you be willing to try something outside the box?

Opportunity: This is exactly what happened last weekend. And we decided to step out of the box. Instead of waiting until Monday morning to put up the streaming version of the message, we transcoded the 7:30 service Saturday night and had it uploaded by 3 a.m.

Next, a short email was sent to our enews mailing list letting people know if they were unable to make it to church, they could watch it online (on Sunday).

Kudos: Since this wasn't my decision, I can say (without being arrogant) that I thought it was very insightful. Those making the decision took the time to think outside the box, allow technology to solve a problem and in doing so endorse an element of our ministry that has been growing in popularity since it was introduced in January of this year.

The Stats: So this is how it all shook out with the streaming version of the message:

  • Total page views on Sunday: 881 (compared to 237 the previous Sunday and 528 the previous Monday which is typically the first day the new message is available)
  • Total page views from Sunday and Monday: 1672 (942 on Monday and Tuesday of the previous week)



07 December 2007

Do You Have an Anal Retentive Chef?

Watch SNL Video Clip on JibJabBack in the glory days of SNL there was a skit called the Anal Retentive Chef. Idea being, the chef was so obsessive compulsive that he couldn't get the recipe completed. And while we laughed and poked fun at this guy, some of us (me included) also resonated with his attention to detail.

Now don't get me wrong, too much attention to detail is detrimental and typically ends in a failure to deliver.
But if there is no one on your team that's a little OCD (perfectionistic, pays attention to detail, rigid, anal retentive, etc.) there is no way you'll deliver with excellence.
Our department is "teaming" with such individuals. But we recently hired someone whose attention to detail has taken us to the next level. I'm not going to tell you her name (it rhymes with Sheena Diller) otherwise you might try to steal her.

From the moment she came on staff our quality control process has been revamped and our sites are running smoother and cleaner than ever before. Its fun to see her question the current reality, test the processes and suggest that things be changed for the good of the end user.

Do you have someone on your team like this? If not, start looking.

Thanks for all you do Jeanna...



06 December 2007

Take a Better Look Around

Traditional "religious" upbringings can do crazy things to your world view. And I was no exception. I saw people through the good/bad filter for years - and still struggle with it at times. You know, where you write people off as not being Christians because you see them sin, or because they cuss a lot, or in some way live out their spiritual life differently than you?

Well, over the years I have matured a bit and realized just how different people really are. Sure there is a big difference between Christians and those choosing to go the opposite direction. But there is also a huge difference between people inside the church. You have the drinkers and the non-drinkers, the naive and not so naive, those that hold their tongues and those that let it rip, the happy and the depressed, the humorous and the up tight. And the list goes on and on.

But this is exactly what Jesus dealt with on earth. Take the disciples for example. One had severe anger problems. One let anxiety and doubt get the best of him. And two were so into themselves that they fought over which one would sit next to Jesus when He became king. And these were the cream of the crop!

Amazing! And herein lies the key for me. The disciples in all their glory experienced each others inadequacies, and yet at any given moment could look each other in the eye and take heart in knowing they were walking the same direction. They had the same goal. They were following the King and were part of the greatest revolution this earth has ever known.

So this is my new filter. Understanding that we're all different (including me) but at any given time the cool thing is two Christians that look and act totally different can lock eyes and know they are walking toward the same God. That's liberating...



02 December 2007

Analyze Your Blog for Shelf Life

A while back I posted on what a rating scale might look like for "blogworthiness." The BlogWorthiness Rating Scale (BWRS) as I called it was a way to categorize blog posts on things like the following:

  • Significance: If the post appears significant or insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
  • Relevance: If the post is relevant or irrelevant to the reader.
  • Impact: If the post has the power to inspire/uplift the reader or if it is damaging/harmful to the reader.
  • Validity: If the post is fact, opinion or completely inaccurate.

But there's another thing we can look at when it comes to blogging. For lack of a more imaginative term let's just call it "Shelf Life." In other words, how many people read it? How often do they read it? How long will they read it? Would they recommend someone else read it? Is the content rich enough to keep people coming back?

Maybe it looks something like this:

5 Read Religiously: Your blog has just the right combination of functionality, fact and fun. It hits the mark with your intended audience, is well written and has just enough of the real you in it to keep them wanting more.

4 A Literary Masterpiece: Your blog serves as your literary playground. You put pen to paper (or pixel to html page in this case) and people can't help but read, because it flows, inspires and should really be in a dusty old book too.

3 A Fun Distraction: Your blog definitely doesn't solve world hunger, but it's so funny that people keep coming back just to escape reality.

2 Too Little Too Late: Your blog may have started strong, but its either missing important elements or after a period of consistent blogging you backed off to the point where people stopped checking in.

1 A Flash in the Pan: Your blog may have started strong and then fizzled, it may have been missing so many important elements that people unsubscribed, there may have been too many posts for people to keep up with or maybe it just wasn't relevant to the average person.

Nothing scientific, I know, but it's just the way my brain works. Think big picture and the rest falls into place...



Our Battle is Screen Time

Lest we forget. Being part of a communications team at a church is NOT your typical 9 to 5. We don't just oversee communication strategy, keep the website running, create eye catching print pieces, etc.

We're knee deep in the battle. You know, the one between good and evil? This struggle that has been raging between God and Satan since our world began?

Our role in this battle is to promote a "product" if you will, developed by the "good" side. And its so much more than a Nike employee trying to communicate to the world that their product is better than a competitors product. I mean a shoe is a shoe. But when people's lives are at stake...

So when I run across websites like divorce360 I recognize our opponents handiwork work for what it is - an intentional battle strategy - meant to lure people to the side of "evil." And I again dig in for the battle. A renewed passion. A renewed vision.

In our line of work (specifically web development at a church) its all about Screen Time. With all the negative stuff out there we need to do everything in our power to offer the "good" alternative. To let people know there is hope. And to help people find the Truth amidst so many lies online.

Like I said, "Not your typical 9 to 5."



30 November 2007

My Wife Gets Me

How can you tell when your spouse gets you? Well in my case it's stuff like this:

For my birthday, she got me this shirt.

Now at first glance it just looks like another Old Navy shirt with an obscure image or saying to make you look eccentric or brand you as that woodsy outdoors man. But it goes a bit beyond that.

I grew up in Wyoming. From second grade until eighth grade I lived in Powell, Wyoming. Which makes it a pretty cool shirt since you can't get the other 49 states on the same type shirt.

Then to make it even more interesting it came with the number "7" on it. If you did the math in your head, you already knew that I lived in Wyoming for a total of seven years.

Like I said. She gets me...



29 November 2007

Zune Comes Full Circle

I was one of the geeks that ran out and purchased the Zune in November of 2006 (the week it came out). I posted about it here and here and here just to give people my perspective on it. But now Zune has come full circle.

I knew from the start I wasn't really an early adopter with the Zune. That's a title I would reserve for those purchasing products that have a half life - they can't be upgraded so when the next version comes out you have to scrap the old model and move forward. But the Zune was upgradable from the start. That's probably why I risked it.

In one of my posts I talked about the negative things I had experienced with the Zune. But earlier this month Microsoft rolled out a brand new version of the Zune Marketplace (that's iTunes for the Zune if you're still in that box) and a firmware upgrade for the Zune itself.

I plugged the puppy in and within 5 minutes it felt like I had the latest Zune off store shelves - complete with new wireless functionality, podcasts, etc. Most of the complaints I had at the beginning are now resolved. And I didn't have to buy the new Zune!

The Marketplace is different and will take some getting used to, but it has also improved. Still can't download music successfully to my wife's laptop but we're working on that. Of course I don't expect stuff like this to work perfectly every time. Does any electronic device offer that luxury? I don't think so. In fact, I was at Best Buy the other day and there were at least three iPod Nano owners in line returning their defective products. So it can't just be the Zune :)

Zune + Zune Pass (monthly subscription service with unlimited downloads) = Happy boy.



28 November 2007

How Are You Found?

I was looking through the stats for WDC the other day on Google Analytics to make sure I installed it correctly.

I checked out things like total hits, unique hits, time on site, computer type, monitor resolution, etc. But the thing that really caught my eye was in the keyword section.

I just assumed that people would find WDC with words like "church web" or "church blog" or things like that. But this one jumped out at me:

How will my future benefit the greater good...
I must say, it made me stop and think. First, it affirmed that there are people out there desperate to know their lives matter - that they have some purpose beyond just circulating oxygen. And second, I realized that these people may happen upon WDC in their search for purpose.

So what are they finding? Am I pointing them in the right direction? Am I just confusing them?

Or by stopping by did they sense the ultimate truth that I do what I do because of Him - because I was bought with a price and I try to put 110% toward helping others have the same opportunity?

sobering...



27 November 2007

Cast Your Pod

Podcasting has become a cheap and easy way to communicate your message - whatever that message is. In fact it's so easy there is no reason a church (for example) wouldn't jump at the chance of adding it to their list of ways to reach people with the ultimate message.

But it can be daunting to those without development experience. So here is a quick and dirty online tutorial:

  1. Get yourself an MP3: Many churches today are recording their services. If you have it on CD that's fine, but it won't work online. You need to put the CD in a computer and import the content into a free program like iTunes. Once inside iTunes you can convert it to MP3 - the format that works well on the web. Here is a tutorial on converting files in iTunes.
  2. Make them available: The next step is to get the MP3 files on the Internet. Many churches already have their MP3 files online so people can listen to them or download them. But in order to offer them as a podcast you will need to create an RSS Feed - which is nothing more than an XML file (example here) that lists each MP3's location with other information like the title, the length, the author and stuff like that. The good thing is that there is an easy way and a hard way to do this. The hard way is to write the XML yourself and then update this file every time you want to add or delete an MP3 from the podcast. The easy way is to create a blog (using Blogger, SquareSpace or TypePad) to create the podcast XML file for you. This is a great option because you can blog about each episode (or message) and just link to the MP3 file in that post. Then podcast aggregators like iTunes and Zune Marketplace will automatically be able to subscribe to the podcast, download the files into their respective libraries and be able to transfer them to an iPod or Zune automatically. How cool is that?
  3. Get jiggy wit it: If you really want to take it to the next level, you can add your podcast to the iTunes Store and get a special URL to use on your website so that when a user clicks the link/graphic (that typically says, "Subscribe with iTunes") your computer automatically opens iTunes, takes you to the iTunes Store and opens the page set up for your podcast. Click the button that says "Subscribe" and you're in.
For more detailed information on podcasting:
There are also many online services that will do all the work for you (for a small fee):
Happy podcasting!



20 November 2007

Sickness Stinks

Sick kids.

It doesn't happen very often, but when it does, I'm never prepared for it.

Today I was psyched to get to work and check some important things off my list. But then it became painfully clear that my son wasn't going to school. He was coughing, crying, drooling, snotting, hacking, eye-goobering and otherwise "sicking" all over the place. I mean he was a mess.

So I stayed home and took the class Patience 101 all over again. I just don't do well sitting around all day. I tried to work but it's hard with a steaming, sweating writhing little boy laying on you.

I guess I can just be glad it doesn't happen very often.



19 November 2007

WebDrivenChurch.com | Version 3.0

I have to admit, I couldn't remember WebDrivenChurch.com 1.0 looked like until I went to archive.org, typed in the URL and popped up the archived page. Call it the "light blue" template or the "flash" template. Either way it was pretty plain and yet it was a good start...

This version lasted from February 5, 2006 until August 23, 2006 - one week before I began my full time position at the church.

I found creative inspiration in my love for Macromedia Flash. I took screen shots of the timeline and a single layer in the timeline of from Flash 8 Pro and added header information to them. . Not sure where the light blue came from though. Ugh...

WebDrivenChurch.com 2.0 could be labeled the "green" template or the "wilderness" template. It took me from August 23, 2006 until November 18, 2007.

Not sure where my creative inspiration came from other than me looking through numerous designs on cssZenGarden.com and trying my hand at laying out columns using css for positioning. In this case I used the WDC logo as a static background image (doesn't move when the page scrolls). The main image is actually two separate images used as background images inside each column with large margins pushing the content down past the images.

I learned a lot on this round. Instead of modifying an existing template (like I did with version 1.0) I built this one from scratch using css and adding the classic blogger tags (example: <$blogger>) where they needed to go.

My only inspiration using the green and the wilderness scenes is that I grew up in Wyoming and this felt like "home."

WebDrivenChurch.com 3.0 is a step in the right direction for at least two reasons:

  1. It simplified things: The layout is clean. It's Web 2.0 in look/feel. It's brighter than the previous version. It's wider layout allows for less overall scrolling.
  2. It taught me new stuff: Blogger has since ditched the classic tags in favor of a new system (a much more complicated one) that I had to learn in order to create the layout. However, newer is better. I can now take advantage of new features like the archving tree and the ability to add "widgets" at will.
Creative inspiration: I downloaded a free template for blogger first called Green Marinee. This gave me the basic three column layout I was looking for. From there I used look/feel inspiration from a variety of other sites as I reworked the css to personalize it.

Other tweaks and changes:
  1. New WDC logo.
  2. New archive functionality based on the new blogger options.
  3. Added a Label Cloud: The bigger the label the more posts are in that category.
  4. Added a favicon.
  5. Added Google Analytics versus StatCounter.
  6. Added my picture (so you could put a face with the name...)
Hopefully this template will last me a few years...



11 November 2007

How Exactly Are You Innovative?

I grew up in a very traditional church - the type where more time was spent fixing those in the church than was spent sharing the message with those not in the church.

Don't get me wrong, I am thankful for the foundational Bible knowledge and the Christian upbringing. But the pieces of the puzzle didn't come together until I came to the church I currently attend. It was here that foundational teaching met innovation.

In my past life the "innovative" church was synonymous with the "rebellious" or "misled" church. It was the church that played rock music, had swapped Biblical teaching for long worship sets or had given up on traditional teachings for more "worldly" ideals.

Looking back I'm almost positive there were churches that lived up to those assumptions. But there were also churches that stepped out in faith and weathered the criticism in order to push the envelope and lead in the area of innovation in a typically stale and stagnant landscape.

Because of this I thought I'd break the myth that innovation=rock music in church. Here are just a few things you can do to be a more innovative church:

  • Be seeker-sensitive: As time goes on the gap between traditional church and the non-believer grows ever greater. Something as simple as having your pastor take off the ominous robe and allowing your members to lose the three piece suits and bonnets will go far in helping a new person feel comfortable. And yes, playing music that people know doesn't hurt - even if it is rock music. Just make sure to pull the spiritual meaning out for those that don't get it.
  • Be culturally relevant: Tell the story of Joseph. You can even read it directly from the Bible! But for crying out loud, don't fail to recognize that there are people in the crowd struggling with every theme in the story from family trouble to prison time to adultery. The Bible is meant to transcend time - not get lost in in.
  • Be technologically advancing: Notice I didn't say technologically "advanced." You never get to the place where you have it all figured out. Technology changes so fast you can't look at it as something to attain. More appropriate is to view it as a train to catch or a journey to be on. This includes everything from IT inside the building to the way you do print/graphics to your web strategy. Think big and make sure a big portion of it is outside the box.
  • Be socially conscious: Jesus was all about taking care of those that had less. Less financially. Less physically. Less mentally. Less spiritually. So who are we to hoard the blessings we've been given? Get out there and make a difference in your community.
  • Be about growth: Jesus made the statement that He would "grow" or "build" his church. The church in Acts grew daily as people were added to the community of faith. So what makes us think that we should build a small box, fill it and be done? Instead - constantly look for new ways to reach people where you live. And if that means you need a building strategy for future growth - so be it.
  • Help people take steps in their spiritual journey: Just as a sports team needs players at every position, so the church succeeds when each person uses his or her talents for the greater good. Give tasks away. There is a good chance someone can do it better than you anyway. And it might be the very thing that seals the deal (spiritually) for that person.
  • Think small as you grow big: As the church grows, people feel less connected to the church at large. The danger is that people will come to a large service, talk to nobody and go home - feeling less relational connected than when they walked in. So champion the small group concept at your church. Keep people connected to each other so in turn they will feel connected to the larger church.
  • Set up wide and go long: First, as your church grows and people hear about you, they will want to come - even if they live an hour away. At some point this makes it necessary to branch out "wide." Provide what they are after where they are at. Don't be afraid of multi-site. Do your research and make it happen. Second, if you provide streaming versions of your service, you will eventually develop an online following. Most churches call this their "Internet Campus." Believe it or not it can be and do everything that your physical church can be and do. Go "long" and realize that there are those three states away that can benefit from what you do.
  • Share your DNA: If you are doing great stuff and it's effective in bringing people out of the darkness - share the love! Don't hold onto it as if it were yours to hold onto. Let others take what you've created and make an impact in their community. You can sell it or give it away - doesn't matter - just make it available.
  • Keep looking: Don't stop here - keep looking for ways to take it to the next level.



Happy Birthday Flash

Flash Anniversary ExperienceMacromedia Flash (now Adobe Flash) turned 10 years old recently. And going back through the years on the anniversary site brought back some good memories.

I jumped in with Flash 4 and quickly upgraded to Flash 5. I purchased Macromedia Flash 5 in a package with Freehand 8 (even before I used Dreamweaver) and started to play. I learned quickly by doing the tutorials that came with the software, reading the manual and surfing the web for tutorials on anything else I didn't understand.

I started out designing entire sites in Flash and modeled my creative direction after people like Joen Asmussen (turtleshell.com) who led the way with his 1998 site and then his follow up 2000 site. I even attempted to recreate his 2000 site from scratch to force myself to think bigger and learn some of the more advanced Flash techniques like page transition, variable animation and the use of sound.

Next, I went through a phase where I designed more traditional html/css sites with flash elements used to enhance the more static layout. Navigation and simple movement in headers or page elements were the perfect place for Flash to shine.

More recently I've been exploiting the amazing technology behind streaming flash video. This technology has allowed traditional 320x240 low quality video to become 640x360 high quality video at any length - accessible to the DSL/Broadband user anytime and anywhere. Add the ability to make this size video full screen and it actually looks good on on a LCD/Plasma HDTV.

If you have ever used Flash - take the time to walk down memory lane. You'll laugh, you'll cry (okay-maybe not...). But it's just fun to see how far we've come since 1996.



09 November 2007

Traffic Pattern Analysis

Our house sits in a neighborhood between two major thoroughfares. And as long as both are fully functional we're good. But the other day they decided to shut one down to repair a railroad crossing. Big problems...

Sure it's great now - smooth sailing - you can take the tracks at 60mph! But during that week our lives were seriously disrupted. On the remaining through way you could expect traffic problems. Lines of cars backed up behind red lights that are too close together and not synced well for the increased traffic. You know the type - where at least three cars enter the intersection only to get stuck there and keep the other direction of traffic stopped during their green light. Good times...

But at least it gave me the idea and a list of questions for this post:

  • Do we think about the traffic patterns on our sites?
  • Are we routing people well?
  • Do we have a reason for the way we set up our navigation?
  • Do we have "rules" about how deep our sites go in terms of page clicks?
  • If so, do we document it well and promote it ongoing?

At Granger, there was a turning point a few years back (2004-2005) where we went from "not so worried about it" to "this needs to become our main filter" for all future development. Kem Meyer, Communications Director at Granger explains it this way: Less Clutter. Less Noise. In this 2005 post you can feel the storm coming :)

So during our big development year (2005) we asked the hard questions and made the difficult decisions that stripped the site down to the essentials and in turn created simple and effective traffic flow.

This is an incomplete example of the way you could document the traffic (navigational) structure of your site. From the graphic you can see that there are four big things we focus on: The weekly venues, events, volunteering and groups. There are other menu picks but they are made less visible and are just there so you can get anywhere on the site quickly.

I broke out the Events link to show you what you will find if you go there. The Events Page is a "component" or sub-section of the site with it's own navigation. This does two things. First, it gives you that good feeling that you are only a click away from the home page. And second, it gives you more content than one page can while you are there.

The Volunteer Page works the same way - one click to get there, but eight options inside the "component" to get you the info you need.

Simply put:
  • Drive them to the home page - not individual pages
  • The less clicks the better - anything more than two or three clicks starts to get frustrating
  • The website doesn't need to tell them everything
  • Move the "big stuff" to the home page (there is a link to watch our weekend message directly off the home page - because it is the second most visited page on the site)
  • Use the "you are here" concept or breadcrumbs - people feel more comfortable when they know where they are
  • Yes there are more - but I'll stop here...



04 November 2007

I Was Green First

Green is UniversalJust for the record: I was green first. In fact I've been green since August 2006 :)

On a serious note - My choice of green was obviously not for the same reason. I just thought it looked good. But NBC has gone all out for this. They call it the Green is Universal campaign - empowering people around the globe to live "greener" lives.

Of course as a web guy it's the site that caught my attention. The entire thing is now green! Not just the peacock like on TV but everything from fonts to background colors to background graphics and flash treatments (love the flash animation they added to the NBC logo by the way...).

Makes me wonder how many man hours went into the change. Most sites nowadays have an external style sheet (siteStyles.css for example) that can literally transform the entire website in an instant. Just go check out csszengarden if you don't believe me. But on top of this change there had to be graphic and flash design along with full site quality control efforts to make sure the full color change worked well and didn't leave some obscure page looking strange or broken.

Kudos to NBC on both the green site and the effort to keep our planet healthy.



02 November 2007

The "REAL Factor"

Team PlayersAm I REAL? Are you REAL?

I've spent some time thinking about the whole "team" concept lately. Specifically: What makes me successful as a team member and how does it ultimately help the team be successful?

After some thought I was able to pin down at least four things that made sense to me. I'll call it the REAL Factor for lack of better terminology:

RESPONSIBILITY: Are we responsible? Can the team trust us to do what we say we're going to do? Can we take our little piece of the puzzle and follow it to its logical conclusion without being reminded over and over again? Do we take notes in meetings? Do we have an organizational strategy? Are we on time? Do we own our mistakes and willingly acknowledge them in order to make things better for the team?

EXCELLENCE: Do we strive to be excellent? When we do something is it to just check it off the list or do we do it to the best of our ability? Do we view small tasks and projects as steps to accomplishing the "greater" vision? Do we ask the hard questions of other team members in order to raise the bar and live up to our standard of excellence? Do we cheer for our team members when they show excellence in their role?

ATTITUDE: How is my attitude? Do I look forward to being with the team? Do I support them (even when things are difficult)? Do I trust that those in authority over me want what's best for me? Do I actively engage with others on my team? Do I look for the best in others and in situations? Do I actively attempt to steer clear of negative conversations and gossip? Do I look for the light at the end of the tunnel and pointing the team toward it?

LEADERSHIP: Am I leading well? Could another person watch me and excel? Do I have the ability to interact with the team on a variety of levels? Do I practice what I preach? Am I available to my team? Do they feel valued and appreciated because of the way I treat them? Am I on the leading edge? Am I an early adopter? Do I look for the next best process or solution to take my team to the next level? Do I smile when someone says, "That can't be done." Am I able to change with the times in order to change the lives of those on my team and the lives of those we serve?

I see this clearly when I watch the all time greats in team sports like hockey, soccer and football. These players (Gretzky, Elway, Jordan, etc.) are REAL players because they take responsibility for their shortcomings, their training, their general health and their skill set. They strive for excellence at their position even when at the top of their game. They have the never-say-die attitude - even when faced with overwhelming odds. They lead their teams well because they understand that that without the other team members they would lose every time. And they are always on the leading edge when it comes to finding innovative ways to harness their abilities.

A high calling? Of course. But not impossible by any stretch of the imagination.



30 October 2007

Out of Circulation

Every once and a while you take a break from work in order to rest and relax - or paint your sons bedroom...

4 days off. 3 days painting. Job done.

But something strange happened while I was doing this project. I was locked in a small room for hours on end - to the point where I lost touch with what time it was, who was around, what was on TV and what the weather was like outside. I went inside myself (if that makes sense) and spent hours there with music in the background, thinking in depth about a variety of subjects, working through html/css problems in my head and feeling this overwhelming sense that I was trapped in a tunnel with no light at the end.

You could call it being in the "zone." And it does help you focus and finish stuff. But I'm not sure I like the feeling...

Finally, my brief how to:

  1. Paint your entire room with the main color in the pattern.
  2. Use a tape measure or pattern to go around the entire room and mark off the different lines. Make the mark about 6 inches off the floor.
  3. Use something like the Black&Decker Auto Leveling Laser to display your lines on the wall. Place the laser on the floor so it points at the ceiling and is directly in line with the mark you made at the 6 inch line. You will have to tweak the angle of the laser a bit to make sure the line displays all the way up the wall to the ceiling.
  4. Use 3M (Scotch) Delicate Surface Blue Painters Tape along the laser line from ceiling to floor on the outside of the color band you intend to paint. Do this for the left and right sides of each color band around the room. Make sure to push the tape down tight with a thumb, finger or plastic tool so the paint won't seep under it.
  5. Paint each color band with the second color (will probably require two coats). I used a smaller roller (3-5") to do the color bands.
  6. Remove the tape as soon as you are done with the second coat - starting with the first band painted. It will be dry to the touch by then and the tape should peel well.
  7. Repeat steps 3-6 for each additional color band desired.
  8. To fix paint that bled under the tape: Place a razor blade on the line between colors and use a small paint brush to fix the bleed mark.
  9. It's up to you how to keep from getting paint on trim and on the ceiling :)
  10. Tip: To keep corners from getting to you simply tape off one centimeter away from the corer on whatever side looks best and allow the color to wrap around the corner and to your tape. You will have a very straight line and no one will care that it isn't actually in the corner...

Don't worry - I'll get back to posting about WEB stuff real soon. Just trying to clear my head of all the paint fumes...



15 October 2007

Online Media Player: Follow Up

Online Media PlayerI typically don't have time to respond to comments posted on my blog. I read them and often take suggestions from them, but can't get into the back and forth dialogue many of them require. However, there are times when a post generates a lot of comments/questions so I try to answer them all at one time in a follow up post.

In this case there were quite a few questions about the online media player and the subscription service that accompanies it. So here is are some extra details:

The Online Media Player:

  • Rivals cutting edge players like those used by VH1 and ABC in terms of player layout and features offered (including channels, categories, playlists and send to a friend feature.
  • Is totally dynamic and created completely in Flash with over 700 hours of development time invested.
  • Is fully supported with excellent customer service.
  • Has a simple Administration Panel allowing the user to add Channels, Categories and media items.
  • Comes with free upgrades: All ongoing upgrades and tweaks are offered free to subscribers.
  • Is designed to accept streaming video feeds directly from LightCastMedia (streaming packages sold separately) which allows larger and longer video clips to be used in the player. Adding a LCM streaming video is as simple as putting a video ID# from LCM into the Online Media Player Administration Panel.
  • Has a monthly subscription cost so you don't pay for upfront development, ongoing development, hosting or storage.
  • Allows you to present your created media in a cutting edge player in less than 24hrs.
  • Allows you to stream full length messages, services, trainings, etc. in a player capable of displaying content in full screen mode (additional streaming service required).

Hopefully this helped answer some of the questions I saw in the comments. If you have other questions feel free to email me (see link in footer of this page) and I'll try to reply or post again if there seems to be groups of similar questions.



11 October 2007

Serving Up Simplicity

Volunteer @ Granger Community ChurchWe're currently in a weekend message series where the focus is serving. And the church makes no apologies in this area - encouraging everyone to find their niche and plug in.

It should be no surprise that the website has always had a volunteer page - there to help people find that niche and get involved. However this page hasn't always worked well and wasn't always user-friendly. It has been worked and reworked over the years. But it wasn't until this series that we really took it to the next level.

Opportunity: Completely rework the volunteer structure from the back end (Fellowship One database) to the front end (website and print materials) in time for the weekend message series on serving.

Solution:

  • Weekend Message Series: Serving focus
  • Information Architecture: all serving opportunities grouped into eight simple "buckets" named so they make sense to the person looking for the opportunity rather than the department providing the opportunity
  • Database Structure: Volunteer opportunities entered in Fellowship One to match the Information Architecture
  • Print piece: one handout created displaying the eight serving areas - capable of being used long term and also being printed during the serving series with a stub for submitting volunteer interest areas
  • Web: Volunteer page redesigned to match all of the above with new interface for quick viewing of the eight areas with two levels of information - bullet points upon rollover and more detailed information with "I'll Try It!" button after one click

This turned out to be one of my favorite projects. Not because it's flashy or cutting edge, but because it streamlined a process that means a lot to the church. It reduces barriers to serving and fixes a clunky part of the website. Good job team.



01 October 2007

Online Media Player Now Available!

Online Media Player Now Available!When your job requires you to develop or work with developers you will undoubtedly experience the "burden of knowledge." You will create things or know that things are being created, but must keep your mouth shut until they are fully completed.

And so it is for me much of the time. A bit frustrating, but with this comes the excitement of being able to reveal the new stuff and watch the process happen from beginning to end.

All this to say there is something very cool I get to reveal. After months of development and testing the Online Media Player went live last week during the Innovate 07 conference.

We have received numerous calls requesting the technology behind our media player. Unfortunately when people learn that the player was created from scratch by our web developers (Aspire!One) they sigh and thank us for our time.

But now I can point people to the Online Media Player which solves this problem and allows anyone to get a media player up and running quickly. Here are just a few of the benefits:

  • Professional look/feel and interface that can be popped up from any website.
  • Allows online video capability for those of all budgets.
  • Streaming capable/ready (separate streaming service required - but no additional setup fee).
  • More here...



26 September 2007

Web Tool Archive

For those of you that attended the WEB Workshop the day before Innovate 2007, here is the list of resources we talked about along with some vendors:

Our Vendors:

Tools:

Blogs / RSS Feeds:

Hope this simple list is helpful.



WEB (Innovate07: Pre-Conference Workshop)

Today we held the second WEB workshop as a pre-conference workshop before Innovate07. Kem Meyer (Communications Director at Granger) again pulled together a captivating experience dedicated to excellent web strategy and taking a proactive approach to building your website.

"You need a paper site before you create your online site."

In other words, you need to be solid in the area of your communication/web strategy for your church or organization long before you begin working with the HTML. Get a handle on your information architecture and have a strategy for content management and the website will be the natural flow out of that. In essence it will take care of itself as long as the foundation is built correctly.

Last time I spoke during the final session on how I went from volunteer to paid staff and the various changes the website underwent along that journey. But this time we changed things up a bit. During the final session we broke it out - allowing people to choose more web strategy or a chance to get more technical. I took the techies and went to a different room for some "geek speak." We had a great time. I had no agenda other than this simple diagram but we probably could have gone on for another half hour at least. Next time I think I'll arrange the chairs in a circle rather than in rows with me at the front...



23 September 2007

HDTV Arrives | Part 2

The Samsung (specifics here) is officially hanging on the wall now with all cables routed through the wall. It has been there for a few weeks now so I thought I'd take a stab at a preliminary review for those who care:

  • Awesome - Once you've experienced HDTV there is no going back
  • 720p - I'm sure some day I'll want 1080p but for now there isn't a reason. I don't typically do the gaming thing and with how good an upconverted DVD looks I'm assuming a Blu-ray or HD DVD would blow me away even at 720p
  • Inputs - More than enough. HDMI x3 and a PC input that allows for second monitor functionality from my laptop
  • Look/design - I think the piano black finish looks great in our living room and the little blue power light is pretty sweet too. Presents well with low profile wall mount
  • Remote - Some lag in response after hitting buttons - though typically not used. You'll end up using the remote that comes with your DVR anyway
  • Picture settings - Nice and easy options for dynamic, standard and movie presentation modes along with 16:9, 4:3, wide x2 and "just scan" aspect ratio settings
  • Screen refresh rate - Standard 60Hz refresh rate which is great 75% of the time. But what I wouldn't give for the 120Hz for the other 25%. If there is a lot of movement on the screen (some sports and some transitions on regular HD channels) you get pixelation

Overall I'd give it a 9.5 out of 10.



Statistically Speaking

If you're like me the word "stats" is enough to make you sweat. It's like fingernails on a chalkboard, high humidity or having to eat something served on Fear Factor. I never liked the class and probably didn't do very well either.

There are people hardwired to crunch numbers (we have a couple on our team that I'm sure God sent us...), but I have never been one of them. I had the class in college and even had advanced stats classes in grad school so you'd think I'd have warmed up to it sooner than this.

Nope. Not until recently that is...

I know stats are important. In the mental health field if you couldn't show you were making a difference, people stopped paying you. And I'm sure it works that way in many occupations. So it shouldn't have been a surprise that those in leadership at the church want to know how the websites are doing.

Here's a tip: "It's going great!" is not the answer they are looking for...

They want to know if the money they budgeted for the site(s) was worth the investment. They want to know if people are actually using the site. The want to know if certain parts of the site are adding value or were just fun to put into place.

So how do you give them the answers? Well, you keep stats of course...

At Granger we use the following:

Google Analytics: Google Analytics is the main application we use to get stats on web traffic and a host of other things related to our sites. It's free, easy to set up and powerful. You can use it out of the box or get in and tweak away to get specific reports run and even emailed to you. We have one account with multiple URL's that are being watched.

StatCounter: Also a free stats package. Easy to set up and good for a variety of reasons. Google Analytics probably makes it unnecessary to continue using something like StatCounter but it was one we used prior to Google Analytics and it's still watching MyLameSexLife.com for us.

Various: Statistics pulled from other applications like our online streaming service (LightCastMedia), eNewsletter service (Constant Contact) and our Media Player (stats pulled from our CMS behind the scenes).

I'm currently working with our database guru on a solution for consolidating these stats into one usable report that can be shared with those needing to see it. The obvious choice is dumping the stats into an Excel spreadsheet but I'm still looking just to make sure there isn't something better out there.

I can't say I've become a statistician, but I actually find myself enjoying the process. You can't beat the feeling when you are able to show consistent web traffic to a page that you recently added, or when you can remove pages on the site after the stats show that one person has been there in the last three months...

I don't think I'm ready to say "stats are my friend" but it may not be long...



The Crazy Train

It's that time of the year again. Innovate is next week! And things are firing on all cylinders. There are more meetings, more deadlines and more deliverables - all on top of the normal stuff.

But you gotta love it!

I can't wait to see how things turn out. For me there isn't a lot of speaking. I help out with the Web Workshop on Wednesday and a Blogging Breakout during the conference. But for the most part I get to sit back and soak it all in.

I'm looking forward to Guy Kawasaki (of course) and I can't wait to hear Scott Hodge tell his story. And don't forget to attend the Granger Film Festival after New Community on Thursday night for some innovative stuff on the big screen...

I hope to see you all there.



Brain Food (Caution: addictive)

Before I sat down to get some work done this evening I pulled some ice cream out of the freezer for a quick energy boost and quickly realized the product I was indulging in failed to advertise an important product fact: The probability that one will become addicted to the product after trying it for the first time...

I have always loved Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream (typically the chocolate type with mint) but I forgot just how good it really is.

I ate a centimeter off the top and put it away...before losing control and eating the entire thing.

Now I'm ready to work...



15 September 2007

MinistryCOM | Day 2

Yesterday we finished up at MinistryCOM and said our goodbyes to those we met and were able to hang out with during the conference. Here is the simple wrap up from Day 2:

Shawn Wood (main session): Awesome. I've been able to rub shoulders with Shawn from time to time at conferences but never knew he had the gift of communication until today. He is world class. A few simple take aways:

Three W's to focus on: Weekend, Web and Word of Mouth

Characteristics of an experience: Distinctiveness, Relevance, Memorable and Effective

Ashley Schuermann (breakout session): Ashley spoke on trends in graphic design, handling the stress that comes with design work in a multi-site environment with tons of "stuff" on her plate and tips for designing based on your environment/culture.

Kem Meyer (main session): Awesome as well. Kem rounded out the conference with a talk on why it seems other departments "hate" us. She used well placed media elements to keep people on the edge of their seats and offered the following tips:

  1. Get an image consultant who can advocate for you and hold you accountable.
  2. Check your ego to make sure you are doing things for the right reasons.
  3. Find common ground by taking the time to meet and hang out with those you serve.
Dinner: Guido's New York Pizzas (sorry about the website...)



13 September 2007

MinistryCOM | Day 1

Yesterday we left Indiana and headed for MinistryCOM in Nashville, TN. The five of us "grangerites" get to spend some quality time team building and learning more about the doing communications for a higher purpose. The conference was hosted at The Peoples Church and here is a simple wrap up from Day 1:

Terry Storch (main session): Good as always. Discussed the history of communication from printing press through radio through TV and finally to the Internet. He spoke about our "responsibility" to reach others with the technological tools we have and that with the exponential growth in population there is no better time to take the gospel to the entire world.

Curt Cavnar (breakout: video boot camp): Great summary of techniques, tools and basic composition layout for digital photographers and videographers. I can't wait to get home and try some of the stuff out on our Nikon D40x...

Karen Smith (breakout: project management): Great summary on the use of project management skills in a communications department. Very practical. Good delivery with humorous yet pointed information. She definitely knows her stuff.

Brad Abare (main session): Good way to wrap up the day. Brad questioned what we would do if technology were to disappear. He challenged us to be salty, be transparent, be local and to live with less. Always good to hear.

Dinner: Genghis Grill (when are they coming to the Michiana area?)

Can't wait for tomorrow. Shawn and Kem are up on the main stage and there are three more breakouts. I'll let you know how it turns out...



06 September 2007

HDTV Arrives

Well, it finally happened. Last week we made the jump to an HDTV after our 36" CRT had an untimely meltdown. We had planned on keeping it until 2009 when analog goes bye bye, and HD content is more readily available, but the crisis pushed us into the HD market early.

However, my wife will tell you I wasn't heartbroken over the prospect of being able to watch LOST in HD.

Here is what I'm looking forward to:

  • Standard (widescreen) DVDs played through an upconvert DVD player: I'll tell you right now 300 and the Lord of the Rings series look incredible
  • Local stations in HD: Yes that means LOST, 24 and possibly the Bionic Woman this year...
  • Sports: I want to see a football and a puck in HD!
  • DiscoveryHD: I would watch the mating habits of the African Tree Frog on DiscoveryHD...
  • Last Week's Service: The TV has a PC input so I will be able to connect the laptop and watch last weeks message on the big screen

It feels a little like the "bleeding edge of technology" when you watch the standard definition channels on an HDTV but I just have to tell myself that more good stuff is on the way...

Now I just need an HD video camera so I can capture and watch the kids doing kid stuff in HD. Anyone want to donate one?



15 August 2007

Unfortunate Reliance

This week I faced the unfortunate reality that I am hopelessly chained to (reliant on) technology at my current job. Literally everything I do is either done on the computer or done so that others can use their computers to do something. Even the meetings I attend are to discuss how to make things happen on our websites via computers.

So when the computer stops working - you stop working.

This week I ran into two serious glitches that held up productivity while I (and IT personnel) attempted to correct the problem.

  1. Windows Vista decided it didn't like an installed printer so it began shutting down the print spooler automatically. Now I can't delete the printer in question and the spooler keeps restarting and shutting down every few minutes. Very annoying and as of yet - no solution...
  2. My computer decided it didn't like the latest version of iTunes + QuickTime so it hangs every time I try to update it and now my library is blank. Solution: I had to uninstall QuickTime and reinstall a stand alone version. Things seem to be working now.

Countless hours of searching for solutions and trying things that don't work can really get in the way of a typical weekly task list.

I think I've settled on this disturbing fact: I hate the technology I love.



10 August 2007

Out of Office Replies

Do you use the "Out of Office Reply" feature in Outlook (or other email clients)? My wife always does but I am not totally sold - possibly because I get so many of them in my Inbox and have to heat up my delete key to get rid of them...

I guess my current stance is this:

  • If I'm gone for less than a week and will be checking email then no...
  • If I'm gone for a family vacation where I won't be checking email then yes...

But that isn't really the point of this post. What I really wanted you to see is this:

Have fun!



09 August 2007

Time Away to Refuel

We all need to get away and rest. It can be date night with your spouse, a long weekend away or the traditional family vacation. But it needs to happen on a regular basis to keep the engine charged.

For the past two years we have also joined with friends for a group vacation to the Wisconsin Dells. Last year it was the Kalahari Resort and this year it was the Wilderness Resort.

Four days of waterpark fun. The kids (ages 5 months to 7 years) had every size slide/pool to play in/on and the adults were even challenged to do some slides that push the envelope of sanity.

It was a great time to strengthen relationships, watch kids laugh and push themselves and prepare for the next run of ministry.

When we get back to work we'll attend the 2007 Leadership Summit and then get back to the task lists on Monday.

Life is good...



30 July 2007

We All Love the Video...

In the past few years granger has really begun to excel in the area of media creation. These videos are shown during weekend and midweek services and usually wind up in the Media Player on GCCwired.com.

The cool news is that many of these are being made available on WiredChurches.com as DVD Resources.

When you order one of these DVDs (with the exception of some of the older ones) you get two things:

  • The DVD itself can be played in your typical DVD player.
  • The data file: typically an H.264 compressed QuickTime Movie (.mov). Simply put the DVD into your computer and on the "My Computer" screen right-click on the DVD link and select "explore." This allows you to look at the files on the DVD. There will be two folders that make up the DVD itself (one for audio and one for video) and then should be a folder for the original data file.

I love the fact that these are now available because, "We all love the video..."

These are my favorites so far: