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30 April 2008

Small Tweaks Make a Large Difference

Weekend Experience pageChanges to often occur in one of four ways: 1) Complete site redesign 2) Scoped projects completed by our web development team ( 3) Small upgrades to basic functionality ( and 4) Small tweaks to pages made by our team (staff/volunteers).

At any given time we may be working in each of these four areas. But these two are both in-house tweaks rolled out to take specific pages or functionality to the next level.

The first is the weekend experience page (and midweek experience page). Both pages had some issues that we put up with for a while (old looking icons, cluttered with graphics and hidden links to podcast subscription page).

Boil things down to the lowest common denominator, create some new icons with on and off states and make the link to podcast obvious at the top. Whole new experience...

Update My Information PageThe second is a way to update contact information online. We had a general contact form with 'update contact information' as a choice in a drop menu. But this was hidden and difficult for people to use.

This new page is a direct link off the My Account page. The entire form is structured for one purpose - to allow people to update their information - everything from address, to phone number, to email address to changes in their household (death, marriage, divorce, etc.).

We currently use FellowshipOne as our church management system, but this form does NOT tie into that database. Due to the importance of the address when it comes to contributions and statements - these forms are manually processed by someone on staff so previous addresses can be kept on file as well as the new one being entered.

Two fairly small projects, but both help fix a problem or make the user experience better - that's large in my book.

27 April 2008

What's Your Internet Communication Language (ICL)?

If you hang out with other Christians, there's a good chance you'll be asked the question, "What's your love language?"

This from the best selling book by Dr. Gary Chapman on the ways we accept love and show love to others.

It's popular and it isn't going away - probably because there is a high level of validity to his claims. So it got me thinking this week.

Could similar claims be made about the way people communicate on the Internet?
For the sake of argument, I'll say there is. I'll offer up a few examples to get people talking. We'll call them the 7 Internet Communication Languages (ICL's) to completely copy Dr. Chapman. But please don't get too hung up on the fact that I thought of 7 (the minute I hit 'publish' someone will comment that I missed a very important one...). So here we go:

The 7 Internet Communication Languages:
  • The Electromailer: This person would still be using the US Postal Service for all its worth of email wasn't around. They realized the power of electronic mail and made the switch. This person chooses to send an email before communicating any other way. They would also be comfortable joining online message boards or forums that require you post questions and then wait for a response.
  • The Realtimer: This person doesn't have the patience to wait on the dreaded send/receive cycle of an email. They are looking for an immediate contact or immediate answers to their questions. This person probably uses the phone a lot so they find similar speed when they use IM clients like AIM, Yahoo Messenger or Live Messenger. They may also take advantage of video conferencing solutions, IM with video cams or live chat on websites so they are interacting in real time.
  • The Statusupdater: This person just wants to let everyone in the world know what they are doing at any given time. Tweets, Powncers and the like throw out little bits of information that others can either absorb or react to in limited ways. These people are often hard core texters. In fact many of these people actually update their status from their cellular phones and receive updates from others right on their phones as text messages.
  • The Blogger: Bloggers, Typers, Spacers and Pressers live to write. They are most likely writers at heart, plan on writing books someday or just love to journal. They've found the perfect solution to take their passion to the next level and share it with the world. Communication is one way until people comment or connect with you via the contact information you provide.
  • The J-Pegger: This person loves photography. Because of this they communicate by showing others the pictures they take (most often in JPEG format). Communication occurs when people comment on the picture or request to have or use them. J-Peggers like to Flickr, act Smug and kick the Bucket when it comes to uploading great images to the web.
  • The Flasher: Something akin to the J-Pegger, but this person feels more comfortable with a camcorder. They take video footage or create media experiences and then share them with others (often in flash video format). These Tubers, Googlers, Vimeots and vSocialites make us laugh, cry, fight and yes blush... Communication happens in the form of text comments, video commenting and embedding.
  • The Socializer: This person loves to network. It isn't enough to go out, meet people and add them to your Blackberry. No, you need to be connected online so you have complete access to the person. Facers, Spacers and qLifers do it all. They are quite possibly the masters of the black art of Internet communication. These social networkers may blog, update statuses, upload pictures/video, engage in live chat or IM and email all from within their application of choice.
I know it's just a start. But think about it. What is your Internet Communication Language? What Language do your friends speak?


The Green is Back

Look familiar? I posted about NBC going green back in November. Now here it is (less than one year later) and they've gone green again.

Being a very pragmatic person, my suggestion would be:

Why not change the entire color scheme to green and leave it that way? Then you could say you are the green network all year long!

20 April 2008

Spring Cleaning

Spring is officially here - at least at our house. I know because:

  1. I was outside
  2. I raked around the house to get the left over leaves cleaned up
  3. I picked up all the fallen twigs and branches from this winter
  4. I mowed the lawn for the first time this year
  5. I took the cover off the air conditioner (even though Tammy won't allow it to be turned on until July - just joking)
  6. We played soccer and baseball on the front lawn
  7. The kids wanted me to set up the sprinkler so they could run through it (didn't happen...)
  8. Every window in our house was open
  9. When the pizza stone in the oven set off our smoke alarms we simply opened every door in the house too
  10. I started to sweat if I moved too fast...

All in all it was a great day. It is good to see the sun again and be able to do some work around the yard.

Bringing It Back to the Web
A few days ago Jeanna (Web Services Coordinator and HUGE asset to the team) must have been in the same frame of mind. She has been doing 'spring cleaning' on our website.

Based on some of these things, here is my short list of recommended projects if you're in the mood to do some cleaning this spring:

  1. Admin Console: If you have an administration panel or console, now is a good time to look through and clean up your data (we refer to our data as 'stories' or 'media elements' depending where we're at in the console). If you use an html editor like Dreamweaver to manage your site it might be a good time to look through your files and folders. Weed out the old stuff and decrease the clutter. Remember to do this on your local machine AND the remote server.
  2. Local Folders: If you store files, graphics, pictures, flash elements, etc. on your local machine or on a server, now is a good time to look through this stuff. Can it be deleted? If not, is there a way to organize it so it's easy to archive? Clump like data into folders (maybe based on a message series, or perhaps by date) and begin archiving these to DVD. I like external hard drives, but they can crash. A DVD or putting it on a server that is backed up are your best bets.
  3. The Website: I'm not going to tell you to make major design decision for your site just because it's spring. However, now might be a good time to look through your site and see what can be freshened up. Even adding some new stock photography, or redoing some graphics goes a long way.
  4. Large Media: This is VERY important. Every once and a while you need to look through large media files (typically audio, video or flash files) to make sure they aren't just sitting there taking up space. On your website, you may be getting close to your total storage capacity. If you use a streaming service for your video, these files may keep you from uploading new stuff or cause your monthly cost to jump if you're over the storage offered in your plan.
  5. Your Space: I'm not joking. Clean your office, cubical or whatever you call home. Move your stapler to the other side of your phone. Switch the location of your Sharpies. Or get crazy and move your computer from one side of the desk to the other.

Gotta love spring!

19 April 2008

Still Sprinting

SprintThere are so many cellphone companies to choose from these days. But as time goes on I get more comfortable with being a Sprint customer. I had Nextel for quite a while, but their lack of interest in exploring new and innovative phones led me to switch to their new partner (with no charge for early termination).

My first phone with Sprint was the Moto Q. Definitely a new and innovative phone, but with it's share of problems. In fact, I've determined that almost all the frustration I may have expressed toward Sprint was really misdirected. I should have been upset with Motorola. My Q had charging problems, restart problems, DST problems, USB connection problems, etc.

Customer Service
Each time I brought in my Q they did what they could to fix the problem - everything from replacing the battery, to upgrading firmware to doing hard resets with special codes provided by Motorola. But after three or four visits it was obvious that things weren't going to change. So they finally upgraded me to the Moto Q9c at no extra cost.

The Phone
It scares me a bit to talk highly about this phone until I've had it for a while. But I can say it is charging correctly and hasn't shown any sign of major problems yet. It has Windows Mobile 6 which upgrades the functionality quite a bit. It also has a Windows Update feature that will hopefully allow for regular software tweaks to take care of problems if they do arise.

The New Plans
The other thing I'm stoked about are the new Simply Everything Plans offered by Sprint. When you start using a smart phone, plans can get a little out of control when you start trying to take advantage of features like text, data and GPS. But with the Simply Everything plan I was able to pay $69.99 and get 450 minutes, unlimited text, unlimited data, GPS (Sprint Navigation) and even stuff I won't use like Sprint TV. Now that's innovative considering these phones were built to do it all.

I may have had doubts in the past, but I'm still Sprinting...

13 April 2008

The Battle Always Is

This week the church website was 'hacked' and believe it or not it wasn't the first time. Not by the same people, but both of the attacks came from within China.

Of course there isn't anything wrong with China. I'm sure there are hackers in every major country. But it was just interesting that both attacks came from China...

The Effects
The site was down for more than 24 hours, an important backup was infected, pages disappeared and important database information was lost.

After clicking through the whole site we were able to get a snapshot of the damage done and an idea what it would take to put it back together again. Needless to say some things were fixed simply while others had to be recreated from the ground up.

People handle setbacks like these in different ways. Some get mad and want revenge while others put the Pollyanna smile on and just move forward. But I tend to take the spiritual warfare approach.

I believe that there is good and evil in the world. Yes, on the level of God and Satan. But also on a personal level. Each has the ability to do good or evil each day. And this is a perfect example:

  • Good: Our developers put in many hours of work to create our website. It is meant to help take the good news of the gospel to our attendees and to the world. They take the typical steps to ensure the site is hacker proof, but they don't waste time making it nuclear bomb proof. This because we assume people are intrinsically good. We hope for the best, and believe that the good in the world will outweigh the evil and things like this won't happen.
  • Evil: Apparently 'evil' people with 'evil' motives sit around looking for ways to exploit cracks in the armor of the 'good' people with 'good' motives. And when they find them, they damage and destroy the 'good' things the 'good' people have created.
Now I don't know if these hackers were specifically after us, or just infiltrating the hosting provider we use. But either way, the behavior is the same. It's using your skills to destroy rather than create - to do evil rather than good in the world.

The Conclusion

The Battle Always Is

90% There

My previous post about The Franchise cap by Twins Enterprise focused on the level of excellence they display. But unfortunately I can't say the same for their website.

I assume this happens to many companies. You start small, work on your product and at some point you hit the big time. Your company takes off but all your energy is focused on the product and your sales figures. The website is an afterthought - something you need to have just so people can find you online.

The Problem
If I hadn't already purchased one of your hats, I probably wouldn't purchase one based on your website. The truth is people view your website the way they would a print piece, an ad in a magazine, a television commercial, a store display or even the tag that comes on the cap.

If you have a great product, you need a great website
It's worth the cost in the long run. You can look at it this way: Since you have a killer product already - you're 90% there!

12 April 2008

Adjustable or Fitted?

I can't speak for everyone. But for me, the only good hat is a fitted hat. Sure I have adjustable hats, but they rarely get worn. Especially since I found 'The Franchise' cap made by Twins Enterprise.

Attention to detail. Perfect fit. No adjusting.

Application: When it comes to our websites, are we designing and developing adjustable sites that ebb and flow as needed to be all things to all people? Or do we fine tune them so that they are fitted to the audience we're trying to reach?

I love the fact that the church I work for did their homework. They researched their audience so that all efforts could be focused on that audience. Here are a few examples of web decisions made because of our identified audience:

  • Simple: Our audience is young, tech savvy, upwardly mobile and very busy. They don't have time to wade through all the information the church has to offer. Give me small chunks of information and let me decide which of them are important to me.
  • Easy: They also want to find the information they need as fast as possible. A quick trip to set up online giving. A jump online to register for an event. Show me how to get where I need to go and make it in less than two or three clicks.
  • Advanced (technology): This audience is largely gadget-driven with broadband Internet access. Because of this the site offers RSS features, a podcast, online giving, online registration, a media player and on-demand services that stream at a rate only a good DSL/broadband connection can handle.

Some have said this focus is too narrow, that it keeps people from experiencing the truth. And if we were the only church in Michiana I might agree. But we are one of many great churches in the area.

I think I like the way Tony Morgan put it:

We are a broadband church...

10 April 2008

While the Girls are Away...

My wife is spending the week in Cabo with a couple of her friends. I picked this picture since it seemed to come up on every keyword search for Cabo. Must be one of the main attractions there...

So I'm home with the three munchkins for spring break. This means I've 'almost' unplugged for the week...alright...not really. But I've been a lot less accessible. I try to keep up with the Inbox so it isn't a mile high when I get back, but this time it's been hard to even keep up with that. There's just something exhausting about three kids and a big house.

I can hear my wife laughing as I write this. Pretty sure she'd agree seeing how that's one of the main reason's she is in Cabo - to 'get away' from the chaos.

Aside from the basics of feeding, clothing and bathing kids, laundry, cleaning, re-organizing and a small home improvement project, we did the following:

  • Two days at Splash Universe in Shipshewana, IN: Small park, no 'real' swimming pool and lifeguards that took their jobs way too seriously...
  • Boys Night Out: Last night Jami came over to watch seven kids so the boys could go out. We ate at Outback and then since there was absolutely no movies worth seeing, returned to the house to get killed playing Halo 3 for a few hours (mainly because I play so poorly).
Summary: Fun week with the kids, but I'm very, very tired.

03 April 2008

Best Buy Conspiracy Theory

Story: I'm not a big conspiracy theorist, but yesterday I completely gave in to my paranoia.

I had ordered a new camcorder that was set to arrive on Wednesday. I had my trusty receipt and entered the store eager to get my hands on the new gadget.

40 minutes later I left the store with no gadget...

The explanation: We don't know what happened. It simply isn't here. But there is one at another store in the area that we can have transferred here for you.

I told them that was very nice, but it would just be easier for me to drive to the other store. To which they replied: Sorry, it's already in transit so it wouldn't be there when you arrived.

Conspiracy Theory: Since this is a fairly new camcorder that is flying off the shelves, I'm assuming a Best Buy employee saw my camera (already paid for by the way) and took it for themselves, a friend or a family member. And the thing that helped me draw this conclusion was the fact that someone had already re-routed one before I came in and asked for it!

Lesson learned:

  1. Get a job at Best Buy. Apparently you can steal things from others and not get in trouble.
  2. Purchase products from rather than a physical location (if you still trust them at all).

I may post about the camcorder if and when I actually get to take it home from the store :)