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27 June 2008

The Importance of Simplification

In this technological day and age there is so much going on. So much to know, keep track of and learn in order to stay 'up-to-date.'

Self Induced Problem
The problem is we create the problem. We don't have to own the digital camera, the Tivo, the HD camcorder, the plasma TV, the car with NavLink or rear DVD system, the iPod/Zune, the portable DVD player, the iPhone/Windows Mobile equivalent, or even the fancy pop up toaster for that matter.

Truth is we love gadgets. We love the fact that there is something new out there that can take a little piece of our daily existence and either make it smaller, faster or more powerful than the previous solution. But in doing so we actually clutter up our lives. When we have 25 devices to do 25 things with 250 page user manuals for each one you can't tell me we are simplifying our lives!

Fact: We probably aren't giving up our gadgets.

So I love it when a company like Apple works their @!*# off to simplify it for us (even though I don't own Apple products at this time).

I knew they had a wide range of solutions in their arsenal but my friend Adam Callender recently introduced me to a new one. He and his wife both own MacBook Pro's and will probably end up with iPhones in the near future. But the cool tool I'm talking about is the Time Capsule.

In essence this one piece of equipment would replace my D-Link router, my external hard drive (that's 1TB worth of external hard drive) and any sort of backup software I purchased to make life easier.

Here are a few of the things it does for you:

  • Server grade storage (500GB or 1TB)
  • Wireless network (5x the performance and 2x the range due to 802.11n)
  • Wireless drive sharing
  • Wireless print services
  • Built in security
  • Works with iPhone, Apple TV and more...
Amazing! Especially in recent days for me. I now the following products that make backup a nightmare:
  • Nikon D40x (10MP stills that produce close to 5MB files per picture in JPEG format)
  • Sony HDR-SR11 (AVCHD camcorder with 10MP still capability)
At this point I have been dumping it all on the desktop, manually transferring it to an external hard drive and then uploading all images to SmugMug as added backup. If I had the Time Capsule, I would simply download the files to the computer and Time Capsule would pull them over to the external drive in the background. I seriously doubt it would upload them to SmugMug for you but you can't have everything.

In the PC world I'm sure you can put together a solution like this if you know what you are doing. But how cool is it that Apple puts it together for you - allowing you to keep working on that whole simplification thing...

Mac & PC Sitting in a Tree...

So I was thinking the other day...what would it look like if Mac and PC stopped focusing on their differences and found common ground? If they dated for a while, got married and had a child? What might that look like?

Obviously I assumed it would be a positive thing...

But seriously. I have one foot in both camps. I've used PC's my entire life and yet after using the MacBook Pro a few times I totally see the value in going this route for my music, pictures and AVCHD video.

Unfortunately, that's where my Mac love ends. Try to do my typical daily routine and my blood pressure rises. Replace Outlook with Entourage? Are you kidding? Carry a power cord everywhere I go? Don't think so.

Back to my illustration: If only there were a "Cindy Crawford Solution" to this problem. How cool would it be if I could purchase Mac tools like iMovie, iPhoto and PhotoBooth for my PC? Or Outlook for the Mac? What if all open source and online programs worked as well on the Mac?

I know. I know. Capitalism. Each one needs have a unique niche in order to compete for market share.

Whatever! The browser wars are almost over now that IE is becoming standards compliant. Sure they will continue striving to be number one. But hopefully in feature sets and not obscure functionality.

So couldn't this be a next step? Bill? Steve? Can't we just be friends?

23 June 2008

Twitter Revolution

Yes, Twitter is taking over the world - at least the world I live in.

When I first learned about it and saw how people were using it I simply dismissed it as one more thing to check and stay up on. In my world this would mean blogging, reading blogs, managing the Inbox, managing Facebook and now Tweeting? So I wasn't very interested at first.

Then I learned that Twitter would automatically update my Facebook status. So prior to my SXSW trip this year I signed up so I could do Facebook status updates from my MotoQ9c on the fly. This worked well, but was just the beginning. After using it for the week I quickly learned the "power of the tweet."

I'm still a newbie but here are a few of the perceived benefits:

  1. Status Updates: Basically what Twitter is, but also able to update your Facebook status remotely from your cellphone.
  2. @replies: Simply add "@friendsTwitterUsername" in your tweet and it will show up on that person's page - similar to replying to an email.
  3. Instant, Generic Communication: Instead of having to text or email a group of people, you can simply send a tweet and anyone following your Twitter will receive the communication.
  4. Share Your Crazy Captures: Couple Twitter with a simple application like TwitPic and you are able to snap a picture on your phone then easily include it in a tweet as a link. One of the fastest ways to communicate a real-time personal experience.
Call it mini-blogging, texting on steroids or just the next version of mass communication. Either way it rocks and has definitely found it's place on my list of tools.

18 June 2008

Uniquely Positioned

I've been thinking a lot lately about the Great Commission and how that plays out for the Christ follower. I grew up in a traditional church where the highest expectation was church attendance and following the rules. We left "helping people" up to the super Christians we called "missionaries."

Needless to say this created a level of anxiety within me. It was hard enough just trying to be good all the time, much less the thought of becoming a missionary.

To this day I still wrestle with feelings of inadequacy since I'm not directly feeding poor people or traveling to India. I struggle with questions like, "Does my work count?" "Is what I doing fulfilling the Great Commission?"

Luckily I attend a church uniquely positioned to answer this question. You see aside from the traditional, mainstream, middle-America attendee, there are at least three unique populations that we engage both on the weekend and Outside These Walls:

  • The Down & Outers (local, regional and international): Granger has developed a local strategy at the Community Center in South Bend. Regional efforts are made in low-income housing projects in Chicago. And partnerships are strong in India where church planters are being resourced multiple times per year.
  • The Up & Outers: Wealthy members of our community are in a slightly different boat. They are resourced to the max which typically leads to a sense of entitlement and self importance that makes it difficult for them to see their need for a Saviour. Granger's level of excellence and seeker-sensitive focus create the perfect environment for people in this category.
  • The Connected: Social networking and connectedness via the Internet is growing daily. Unfortunately the forms of media, topics and other connecting factors can be less than ideal - the Devil's playground so to speak. Which is exactly why we need to be out there too. We have the ability to bring His light into the dark and depraved places on the web. There is an entire community out there who never leave the house. Their broadband connections just might be the only gateway through which His love can reach them.
Knowing this, what are we to do?

Must I dedicate 33.3% of my time to each area or do I pick one or two of the three and focus all my energy there?

I'm going to frustrate you by saying, "I don't know."

It's easy to rationalize and say, "There are people going to India so I don't need to." But is that the right attitude? Even though I spend countless hours helping The Connected and the The Up & Outers is there more I should be doing?

I mean what if we took 1000 people to India on the next trip? What could we accomplish?

These are the sort of things that run through my head...

13 June 2008

Recent Time Off

Recently got to spend an entire week in South Carolina. North Myrtle Beach is a great place to hang out with friends and family. We stayed in a condo with a couple other families and spent most of our time either poolside or at the beach.

Pool at the condo

Condos in North Myrtle Beach

The Broadway Boardwalk

The coast at North Myrtle Beach

Medieval Times (good stuff)

12 June 2008

Meta Tags: The "Rules" We Follow

There are some things that you CAN do but SHOULDN'T do because the intent is questionable.

I found yet another example in the web field the other day. I was creating a website for a local company and the owner asked how he could make the site more visible to search engines like Google, Yahoo, Answers, etc.

I began to explain what meta tags were and how he could come up with a list of words for the search engines so they would return the site in searches for those words.

He seemed to understand and then asked how it could be that every time he searched for his store, the competitor came up in the list before him.

A quick "view source" showed us that the competitor had entered my clients company name (word for word) as one of his meta tags.

My Two Choices
Given this turn of events I had the following options:

  1. Tell him 'turnabout is fair play' and simply put the competitors name in our meta tag.
  2. Use the opportunity to model ethical business practice for my client.
Luckily it was fairly easy to choose option 2. My client agreed that it was low business practice and he wanted nothing to do with it. I can only pray that I would have been so ethical if he had have pushed me to do the opposite.

In Summary
In this upside down world it makes sense to do anything to get one up on the competition. And while you may lose market share due to ethical decision-making I believe God will bless you. If not here and now, in the near future or at the end of it all.

Either way I'd much rather be on this side of the fence...

By the way, there is a slight chance you could be taken to court for this behavior. But this isn't the judge I'd be worried about. Even if you get away with your meta tag mayhem in this life, you will stand before The Judge someday.

11 June 2008

You Can't Please All the People...

We've all heard:

You can't please all the people all the time. But you can please some of the people some of the time.
I was thinking about this in terms of our websites and future changes we choose to make. And it occurred to me that the following is also true:
You can't listen to everyones opinion all the time. But you better listen to someones opinion some of the time.
The truth is: People are always willing to give you their opinions. I hear stuff like this all the time:
  • I love what you guys do
  • I hate what you guys do
  • You really need to do this instead
  • If only you had have thought about this more
  • I would have done it this way
Because of this, filtering becomes a VERY important skill. You can't just write off what people say. You must sort through the opinions and find the stuff that matters - stuff that has value and can help you grow.

What to Look For (Opinions that Matter)
  1. What to do more of: Look for common themes in the stuff people like. If there are a lot of positive statements about the same thing it might help you justify keeping that component or offering on the website. You may also choose to put more time and money into it in the future.
  2. Constructive criticism/complaints: Criticism/complaints are often a waste of time. But keep a look out for the following: 1) Numerous complaints about the same thing. This might indicate that something really is broken. 2) Complaints from professionals in the field. But only when they offer solutions to the problem they have identified. Some professionals complain just because they think their way is better.
  3. New solutions: Once and a while you'll get recommendations for newer, more effective solutions than what you are using on your website. Look into these. Often new solutions cut down on maintenance, cost less and offer the user a better experience. Just make sure you aren't betting the farm on a solution that is still in Beta testing. You may wind up with all sorts of headaches as the product matures.
The larger the scope of your ministry, the more correspondence you'll wade through. But with these filters in place you'll actually find much of it useful as you make future web strategy decisions.

09 June 2008

Allow Me To Download

The team recently added downloadable video to the product offerings on

It seems like this would be a no-brainer with today's technology but there were definitely some glitches that kept us from doing this long ago. With files from 500MB all the way up to 2GB it isn't like you are making an MP3 available for download. And you also need an eCommerce solution that plays nice with large downloads.

But this aside we're finally able to make them available.

Due in part to an incredible team of dedicated web guru's that worked at it until it became a reality. Here's the rundown:

  • Matt: Hosting and ftp solution along with some slick behind the scenes work to make file management and uploading a breeze.
  • Jeanna/Lisa/Lindsay: Video acquisition, uploading, product creation, promotion, etc.
I love the fact that I get to brainstorm with these guys and then watch them knock it out of the park. We're in for a good ride in the Communications Department. The team is strong and ready for the next big challenge.