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23 September 2008

Zune Finally Finding Its (Market)Place

I began my journey with Zune the first week it became available. I understood the problems this might cause and simply crossed my fingers that it would catch on and that upgrades to software and firmware would gradually bring new and exciting things.

Baby Steps
My first clue that things were going to work out well came when I was able to upgrade the firmware on my original 30GB Zune. In a matter of 5 minutes my OS looked exactly like that of the next gen Zunes. There were also upgrades to the Zune Marketplace which added podcasts and podcast management. Also, you can now download videos - including some awesome NBC shows.

Giant Leap For Mankind
Then the unimaginable happened. Last week I upgraded both the firmware on my original Zune and Marketplace software to versions 3.0 and to my surprise they have added some incredible features - taking the Zune from iPod wannabe to a definite competitor.

New Stuff (see full listing here)
Here are just some of the things I've experienced personally:

  1. I can connect to the Marketplace by wireless connection and mark songs for download.
  2. I can listen to the radio and the Zune will tell me what the song is and I can mark it for download the next time I sync.
  3. The Marketplace software has some amazing new stuff (see image above). As you are listening to an album you can see a slide show of hi-res images of the artist. As these images fade in and out words appear on the screen. Things like: artist name, album title, song title, description of artist, number of times you have played the song, number of times the song has been played by everyone, etc.
  4. Another cool feature of the Marketplace is something called the Mixview (see below). When listening to an album you can see other albums by that artist, singles, related artists, users that listen to that album the most (from the Social), and even artists that this artist was influenced by.

In Summary
All I can say is, I stand amazed. First because I'm still using my first gen Zune and getting to do everything a next gen Zune user gets to do. And second, because in a matter of a few years Zune has undergone an incredible transformation and in my opinion stands as one of the leading players in the game.

Up Next?
I know there will be more to come, but here is my request for the next big thing:
Add television shows and movies to the subscription service!
As it stands I pay $14/month for unlimited downloads of music. If I want a television show on my Zune I still have to pay extra for that. And I don't think movies are even available yet. But hopefully this all happens in the near future. I'd probably pay up to $30/month for a subscription service like this - especially if the quality of the video was good enough to watch on my 1680x1050 computer monitor or a 1080p HDTV before sending to my Zune in a smaller format.

Things are looking up for Microsoft. Can't wait to see what happens next.

20 September 2008

thirty:one Press Goes Live

Since being employed by the church I've done a wide variety of things like web maintenance, project management for our eCommerce and church management solutions, flash development, started the podcast, helped get streaming video going, etc.

But this year I have been able to focus a lot more time on the stuff I get passionate about - flat out designing websites...

Here are three sites I've been able to collaborate on this year:

The latest project: thirty:one Press just went live this past week. It's a publishing imprint created out of a partnership between Power Publishing and to bring cutting edge, innovative and thought provoking books to up-and-coming church leaders.

It is a simple design but was fun to work on.

Up next: the website for a book coming out early next year. Can you guess which one that is?

Casual Q&A Information

Just a quick post for those who attended my Casual Q&A sessions during Innovate08. I promised you some information so here it is:

Web Streaming

  • Video encoding software (see list of tools below)
  • Vendors for streaming video (see list of tools below)
  • Our current Streaming Video Settings: 640x360 | Deinterlace on | 750kbps max stream | 15 frames per second | 80kbps stereo (audio)
RSS / Podcasting
  • Blog software (see list of tools below)
  • Blog readers (RSS aggregators): Bloglines, Google Reader, Modern browsers like IE7 and Firefox3, Outlook 2007
Good Info for Both Groups
I'm sure this isn't a complete list so hit me up for more information if you need it.

Innovate08 Recap

"Tis' the day after Innovate and all through the house, not a creature is stirring, especially my mouse.

All work and all websites are put out of mind. Now rest and relax and try to unwind.

Yes take a deep breath and make sure you're fine. For on Monday we start planning for Innovate09."

Okay, it's not that bad - just thought it was funny.

What I really wanted to do is just post to say Innovate08 was awesome. It felt like one of the best yet in terms of the amazing arts, the quality drama and media presentations and the way all speakers presented individual messages that seemed to have a common thread of truth and consistency woven through them.

There was no big draw this year like Guy Kawasaki of Innovate07. But I don't think we skipped a beat. Shawn Wood, the team and Steven Furtick each hit home runs. Not to mention the incredible messages put forth by the Granger team. Mark Beeson began and ended the conference with "Stop Talking..." and "...Start Doing." Tim Stevens popped the church and Rob Wegner went mission critical.

I love just sitting back and taking it all in - even though as an attendee of Granger Community Church I've seen much of what's presented during the conference. There is just something about the energy during the conference. The music is louder, the medias more meaningful. Not sure how else to describe it.

I can't wait until we do it all over again.


14 September 2008

The Bare Essentials

A few months ago we set out to make some changes to the information architecture on Not because we had to, but because it was the perfect time to. First, the site has been growing over the years - slowly putting on extra pounds that needed to be worked off. And second, because in October we will open our first external campus and the site needs to reflect the new One Church Where You Are initiative.

Information Architecture
Take one look at the home page and you'll immediately see a few differences: The old site had numerous menu picks - some which were hidden as subordinate page links. The new structure removes all sub menus so all menu picks are visible all the time. We also removed the small icon driven menu at the bottom of the sidebar. Most of these links were absorbed into the main menu and the search element was moved to the top right of the page. Two larger graphic links (media player and streaming messages) now exist in their place. These are two of the most used parts of our website - thus the prominence given to them.

The other thing that you'll notice is how the traditional menu structure changed from a list of available pages to a list of action terms or Things To Do. Kem Meyer was the driving force behind these changes and talks more about the process here.

Campus Map
The other big change was in the multi-site functionality. With a new campus opening, the site had to reflect this and be able to direct people to appropriate information based on which site they frequent.

When you choose Where We Are from the menu or Campus on the flash element a map appears to give a quick look at the available campuses. Pick one and you are taken to pages just for that campus.

Other Additions
You may stumble across new pages like "Read blogs" and "Subscribe."

And then there are the things you might never notice like the fact that numerous pages have been boiled down into a few pages and the footer has been updated.

All in all it was a massive project for those involved. But a great team can do great things.

I love the new look and can't wait to hear the feedback. I'm hoping the changes create an amazing user experience and that people will find it even easier to get what they need from the site.

Thanks to Keith & Team from Aspire!One, Kem, Lisa and Jeanna for the hours of dedication to this change.

06 September 2008

Browser Wars

A few years ago I checked the browser stats and thought to myself, "I really only need to design for IE, If it looks a little strange in Firefox I'll try to fix the problem but if I can't figure it out I won't worry about it."

Now here it is September of 2008 and I'm facing a different reality. The graph above doesn't appear to be significant. But if you look closer you can see a consistent decline in IE users and a consistent rise in the number of Firefox and Safari users (for example).

I found the numbers interesting, but soon forgot about them. That is until I got into Google Analytics the other day and saw this:

Keep in mind, the typical person that frequents WebDrivenChurch is probably a bit more tech savvy than the average person and more likely to test new apps/browsers. But I was still surprised that the numbers were so much different than they had been even a year ago.

IE is now under 30%
Firefox is now close to 60%

I just installed Google Chrome which probably won't cause a stir for a while. But I can't wait to see how fast it climbs the browser ladder.

So what's your favorite browser?

02 September 2008

What Were They Thinking #2: Target Checkout

First off let me say I have nothing against Target. In fact I love the store and spend more time there than I do in Walmart, Meijer and Kmart combined. They have gone the second mile to create nice shopping environments and offer products that are well made and offer a touch of class to your home.

Service: That said, I run into this problem a lot when I'm there. I couldn't find a picture so I'll have to describe it. Pretend you are standing just inside the big sliding doors where all the carts are kept. You turn to look down the long line of checkouts stretching the width of the store. How many are open? My guess is 4 (unless it's December 20th).

Lack of Excellence: 4 open registers out of 40! Talk about overkill in the construction phase. Think of all the extra floor space they would have if they had have settled on 10 registers instead of the 40! Not to mention the fact that you often wind up in a line behind 6 other people and spend 15 minutes waiting around for your turn.

Website Application: What if we did the same thing when designing our websites? It would be like locking certain important pages down so only a limited number of people could access it at one time. If you went there maybe you'd see the following: "This page is currently being viewed by 100 people so you will have to wait until they are done."

Or better yet - lets talk apples to apples: "You are currently in 8th position in the online checkout process. Please wait your turn and then be prepared to enter your credit card information promptly."

It simply doesn't make sense in the online world. You expect your shopping experience to be between you and the remote secured server. I checkout when I want to and it should only take me as long as it takes to type in my info. Anything longer than that and we start getting antsy.

In Summary: Now I don't want to be too hard on Target when I ask What Were They Thinking. I don't have the responsibility they have in designing store layouts and being prepared for a large influx of customers. Nor do I have to manage the number of employees in the building at any given time and how many of them should be on checkout. But at times it just doesn't seem to make sense.