October 24, 2005

Gutenburg Goes to Church

In a new post called "Gutenburg goes to church," Internet evangelist Scott Reese imagines the early resistance Gutenburg might have encountered when he wanted to use his new printing press to print Bibles. Those of us who develop, refine, and deploy new technology are faced every day with the kinds of issues Gutenburg must have faced as well.

October 23, 2005

Church Management System comparison

In this month's issue, Christian Computing Magazine compares 40 Church Management Systems in a familiar product evaluation matrix format. Full contact info on all 40 vendors is provided at the end of the article. If you're looking to buy a CMS or to replace your existing CMS, having a list of 40 vendors with contact info all in one place will speed your search significantly.

October 22, 2005

Resurrection Podcast is Live

Resurrection's Weekly Sermon podcast is now live. Here's the link to our feed: http://www.cor.org/index.php?id=2485

Read on to learn how we built the podcast and publicized it to the world.

We decided to base our podcast feed on the RSS 2.0 capability that is built in to the ttnews plugin in TYPO3. First, we had to get ttnews working properly and generating the RSS feed. Then we had to modify ttnews to make it add enclosure tags to the feed for the MP3 files. While we were at it, we decided to add the iTunes-specific tags as well.

Next, we had to think about the user experience. We know that podcasting is a new technology that is only understood well by techies and other early adopters. When we release this capability to the 7,000+ weekly visitors to our website, how will the non-techies react to it? Will they be confused? Intimidated?

Podcasting technology is relatively immature and lacks a large installed base of podcatchers. iTunes is the only major media player that can act as a podcatcher. Also, Apple is the leader in integrating the website, music store, client software, and portable player device. Accordingly, we wanted to take advantage of Apple's market leadership, but without endorsing iTunes or implying that other podcatchers wouldn't work just as well.

So we did register the podcast with the iTunes Music Store. This is really a pain in the rear. First, you can't do this on the iTunes website. You have to go to the Music Store inside the iTunes application. Within the iTunes application click "Podcasts" and then "Submit a podcast." Then, you need an Apple ID. Then you need to sign up for the music store, which requires full contact information and a credit card as though you are going to download songs, even if you never intend to do that. (This whole time we're thinking, "we just want to register our podcast with your stupid directory!")

We're a bit confused about the podcast metadata you supply when you register with iTunes. Once registered, there doesn't seem to be any way to edit your registration. Yet, Apple does seem to pick up changes to the channel information in our feed. So perhaps it doesn't really matter what information (such as genre, author, etc.) you give when you sign up? Perhaps the only thing that really matters is the channel information? Also, be aware that Apple is caching the channel information. We don't know how frequently they poll the RSS feed for new information, but there doesn't seem to be a way to ping it to let it know your feed has changed (Feedburner is great about this).

Finally, we had to figure out how we were going to explain this whole podcasting thing to non-techie site visitors. We've done a bunch of work on this and posted some pages on the site. We don't know yet whether it is going to be adequate or whether further changes will be necessary. You can see our subscription page here and our FAQ page here. We borrowed the "Subscribe with iTunes" button from Brian Bailey. Thanks Brian! We hope you don't mind.

Update
The final test was asking my wife to subscribe. Watching her try and fail at this was a humbling experience for me. I had to tweak all the text on the subscription page before I got something that made sense to her. Once I wrote some text that she could understand, she downloaded iTunes. Then she had trouble installing it. When she finally got it installed, clicking the "Subscribe with iTunes" button didn't work. So I suggested a reboot (thinking there might be something not registered correctly from the installation). Still no luck. She finally gave up on that and tried subscribing manually. This was a disaster too. This whole time I'm thinking, "I sure hope this podcasting thing doesn't generate an avalanche of support calls! Ugh!"

Bottom line: it seems that podcasting is great for early adopters, but has a ways to go before it will work well for the masses. Feel free to comment if you think differently.

October 21, 2005

Evangelist for two churches at the same time?

Brian Bailey of Fellowship Church explains why they require their staff people to be members of the church. I totally understand the rationale behind this, but of course, I have my own unique perspective on it, which I shared in a comment to Brian's post.

Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard

Kathy Sierra of Creating Passionate Users has a great new post where she illustrates how great product design makes it easy for the user to do the right thing and difficult for them to do the wrong thing.

Simple principle, but difficult to always practice. For example, we know we have some usability issues on the Resurrection web site. We need to make some improvements to make it really great for users, but we can't do it all immediately. Is the first step admitting you have a problem?

October 17, 2005

Yahoo! RSS Research

Quoting Richard McManus:

"During the Web 2.0 Conference Yahoo! released a research report on the takeup of RSS. The resulting white paper was entitled RSS - Crossing into the Mainstream, which is a good indication of both the findings of the research and what Yahoo! is attempting to achieve in their use of RSS. The main points in the research were:

* Only 12% of the Internet population has heard the term RSS
* Only 4% of the population knowingly uses RSS
* 27% of the internet population uses RSS but doesn’t know that it's called RSS."

So we have a ways to go before RSS is truly mainstream. No real surprise there, but it's good to know where we are in the adoption curve.

More good local press

In his October 13 editorial, Steve Rose, the publisher of a local newspaper, gives Resurrection's Senior Pastor, Adam Hamilton, a very positive review.

Quoting from the piece: "Having seen Hamilton live and after hearing samples of his prior services, I can only say he is one of the most dynamic and inspiring speakers I have ever heard. His words are captivating, and his messages are very powerful."

That's awesome. Thanks Steve!

In an e-mail to the congregation, Adam had this to say in response: "First, I am grateful for the kind words of Steve Rose. He and his family are community leaders who have helped shape Johnson County in many wonderful ways. I was humbled and honored by his comments. I did want to offer two corrections to the column. The first has to do with the title; I am grateful to be the founding pastor of this congregation, and I thank God every day for the privilege of being your Senior Pastor, however I do not believe this is my church; this church belongs to God. If I had not been assigned to start this church, I am confident God would have called someone else; and if something were to happen to me, I am confident God would have someone in mind to take my place.

The second correction I would make would be to this paragraph, "The idea is to be inclusive and inoffensive. There's usually no talk about controversial subjects such as abortion and homosexuality." I think I know what Steve meant; I think he was contrasting us with some churches who seem to preach on these issues, particularly homosexuality, incessantly. As you know, we do talk about difficult issues, including abortion, homosexuality, stem cells, the war, racism, and other critical issues of our time. Though these are not our primary focus -- our primary focus is on helping people become deeply committed Christians -- our faith does touch on all of these issues. On some we take a clear stand; on other issues my aim is to help you to hear and understand those Christians on either side of the issue, and then to encourage you to think about these issues from a Biblical, pastoral and theological perspective. After attempting to model how we might listen to the claims of those with whom we disagree, I tell you how I see the issue. My book, Confronting the Controversies, is an example of how we've done this at Church of the Resurrection. I believe the Gospel will give offense at times -- it will be a stumbling block. I used a quote in Tom Leathers' funeral that captures one dimension of preaching -- "to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable." I think that describes how I see part of the task of preaching at the Church of the Resurrection.

I am grateful to Steve Rose for his positive words about our church and for his leadership in our community."

October 16, 2005

Why blogging scares a lot of bosses

In a recent post, Microsoft's Robert Scoble helps us understand not only the benefits of blogging but also why this brave new world scares a lot of bosses.

Quoting from the post (referring to the this post, this post, and this post by various Microsoft bloggers) :

"This conversation is probably scaring so many people at other companies away from blogging. Is your company ready for this kind of conversation between an anonymous blogger and executives (and guys seven levels down like me?)

Most aren't.

Me? This is cool, but it's not where the big corporate payoff in blogging is (and there is a payoff for having a Mini-Microsoft -- he's getting read and causing conversations both internally and externally that are very healthy).

No, the big payoff is because now we can have a conversation with customers without having any intermediaries (and, thanks to Google you can find us!). I see evidence internally every day about just how big a deal this is."


I'm confident these lessons from Microsoft's bloging in the business world should apply to us in the church world too. Authenticity is absolutely critical for us to be effective, particularly with the post-moderns. Every day Microsoft is more and more transparent. As Scoble points out, it probably scares many people, but customers love it. Microsoft is showing us how transparency is worth the risks; and they play by some rules that help manage those risks. Can we in the church adopt a few basic rules and open up too?

High School seniors talk about how they use the web

Jeffrey McManus posts a summary here of a session at the Web 2.0 conference a couple of weeks ago led by a research analyst who put a half dozen 17- and 18-year-olds on stage to answer questions about how they use the web. Interesting information even though this is a very small sample of teenagers. These people were in 3rd grade when the web started to become widely available. They have grown up with the web and use it in very sophisticated ways.

Even though I'm the father of two teenagers, I need some help to figure out a smart strategy for the student ministry web site. Who out there is involved in or knows of a youth ministry that is truly using the web in a way that recognizes this and rewards teens with a web experience that matches their level of sophistication?

October 14, 2005

Resurrection West

The Kansas City Star published an article today (subscription required) covering Church of the Resurrection's announcement that we'll be adding a second location in western Johnson County next spring. We're now at the early stages of figuring out how we'll link the locations with data, systems, phone/voicemail, mail, etc. Stay tuned, it's going to be exciting!

October 13, 2005

The world changed while I wasn't looking

Some data points:

1. The macro economy is booming again as evidenced by the fact that the Fed is increasingly concerned about inflation. Of course, we have the near-term effects of oil prices and the Gulf hurricanes. But this concern is deeper and wider than that.

2. We created a new position in August at Resurrection for a mid-level web developer. We've gotten very few resumes and no good fits. 18 months ago, we got many strong candidates and made a good hire within 6 weeks of creating a position.

3. A headhunter called me today looking for a Perl and XML programmer. First time I've received a phone call from a headhunter since before 9/11.

4. The Internet is growing faster now than it was at the peak of the dot-com bubble in 2000.

5. Any of you been in IT long enough to remember the term "push" that was so in vogue in the dot-com era? I used PointCast myself. "Push" technology didn't really work - partly because too many people were on dial-up connections that weren't always on - so it faded. But e-mail did work and it became the push that actually caught on. Now we have a reversal. Mass outbound e-mail is so difficult, it's become nearly unusable. In its place we finally have push that really works the way the original "push" people envisioned: RSS.

6. Memeorandum is now the best place for technology news. It's fresher than any other site and the right stuff is at the top of the page. Why? Not in spite of there not being a traditional journalist or editor making the decisions, but because there isn't one. Now here's the really cool part: memorandum is just a piece of software running on a server. It scans the Internet and purely algorithmically determines the top news of the moment and then it presents that news both as a web page for human consumption and as an RSS feed for computer consumption. It illustrates perfectly how a Web 2.0 application can grab information from the Internet, process it and add value, and then output the results in a way that another piece of software can use it as an input.

7. Podcasting has gone from being invented to being everywhere in one year. We're testing our sermon podcast feed at Resurrection right now. The video iPod, announced only yesterday, immediately spawned a deal between Apple and Disney that is getting a chilly response from some ABC affiliates.

8. Brian Bailey has as much influence in my new world as MSNBC - they're peers in my RSS reader (which is Pluck, by the way).

So how are these data points related?

The macro economy has heated up. The IT labor market, at least in Kansas City, is (suddenly?) tight. We have a major change happening in technology (this time driven by RSS). And the Internet is booming. Does it seem like 1995 all over again? It does to me. Only this time, it's perhaps even bigger because, as data points 6, 7, and 8 show, the media world is in the process of being turned upside down.

Reflecting on the above data points, it seems clear to me we're in the early stages of a technology change as significant as the emergence of the web into the mainstream (1994 or 1995) and before that the Macintosh-led graphical user interface and mouse (1984). I'm not suggesting this change is driving the macro economy or even the IT labor market, but it does seem at least noteworthy that all these things are happening at the same time.

The world changed while I wasn't looking. But I'm looking now ...

TYPO3 is hard

Pastor Jeff Mikels blogs this week about the difficulty in trying to install/configure TYPO3 and the Web-Empowered Church (WEC) extensions. Read the comments and you'll see a response from Mark Stephenson.

In my opinion, TYPO3/WEC isn't to the point that it's easily adoptable by small or even medium-sized churches, unless they're unusally blessed with a gifted volunteer web developer. Early adopters will be high-tech churches of any size or very large churches like ours that have IT people on staff.

Having said that, WEC's goal (which we fully share and support) is definitely to make this usable by any church, anywhere. The technical barriers to achieving that goal are significant, but we're all working together to overcome them. I believe that those barriers will be overcome in time, with God's help. In the meantime, I would encourage any large or high-tech church to consider building/rebuilding their site in TYPO3 and to take advantage of the tools and expertise offered by WEC. The more of these early adopters we get involved in WEC, the faster we will be able to make the system work for the other churches.

I'm not speaking for Web-Empowered Church. I'm speaking from the point-of-view of the IT Director of a large church that is fully committed to WEC and its goals. God is doing something big here, and it's very exciting to be a part of it.

WEC Around the World

Mark Stephenson of Web Empowered Church (WEC) posted the following on the WEC forum last night. I thought many of our readers would want to see this ...

------------------

Team,

I'd like to share a praise. Just in the first 10 days of October, people from the following countries visited the WEC website:

European Union, Great Britain, Switzerland, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Netherlands, Germany, Singapore, South Korea, Bulgaria, Austria, Hong Kong, Kuwait, Argentina, France, Guatemala, China, India, Indonesia, Italy, Russian Federation

I have exchanged e-mails with churches in Denmark, Great Britain, Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Japan who are all planning to use WEC.

Thanks for your Awesome work!! God is blessing! This is huge!

Blessed to be a servant of Christ,
Mark

October 11, 2005

More on Flash Video

I mentioned earlier that we're investigating moving from Windows Media Video to Flash Video for our streaming sermons. Brian Bailey of Fellowship Church gives a lot more details today on how they did this. Thanks Brian!

October 10, 2005

Free Downloads of Big Wig Web Developer Conference

A friend of mine emailed me this link recently.  This is a web developer conference that can be downloaded for free.  Its line up is a Who’s Who of web designers and usability experts.  You would pay thousands to go and sit at the feet of these folks (I know from experience)…..Download now wile there is still time!!!

Jakob Nielsen on the Office 12 UI design

Jakob Nielsen, the guru of application and web usability for a generation, is weighing in on Microsoft’s new office 12 user interface paradigm. He seems to indicate that the new paradigm, one he calls "what you get is what you see," will be transformative. I am wondering out loud if this will be one of those Dvorak keyboard moments. I tend to agree that the new paradigm is a better one, but wonder if a generation of folks trained on the old Microsoft standard will have difficulty adapting to the new model no matter how superior it is. I guess this is where I officially become old, and start talking about the new fangled things these kids are using ...

October 09, 2005

Working too much?

How many of us who serve in ministry as a vocation can relate to this article from Business Week?

Here's a quote: "More than 31 percent of college-educated male workers are regularly logging 50 or more hours a week at work, up from 22 percent in 1980. Forty percent of American adults get less than seven hours of sleep on weekdays, reports the National Sleep Foundation, up from 31 percent in 2001. About 60 percent of us are sometimes or often rushed at mealtime, and one-third wolf down lunch at our desks, according to a survey by the American Dietetic Assn. To avoid wasting time, we're talking on our cell phones while rushing to work, answering e-mails during conference calls, waking up at 4 a.m. to call Europe, and generally multitasking our brains out."

Sound familiar? I'm a bit ashamed to admit it, but that's me.

Office 12 supports PDF

Office 12 will generate PDF files natively. Nice.

Scoble breaks a rule

I see that Microsoft's Scoble is switching his domain name to http://www.robertscoble.com/. Obviously, that's a better domain name, but isn't it dangerous to change your address when you're one of the most popular blogs in the known universe? He's aware of this risk, of course, and wonders aloud what will happen to his search ranks, RSS subscriptions, etc.

I’m really curious about how this will turn out. Is Scoble at the level where he can do stuff like this? Are people are so interested in reading his thoughts that they’ll find him wherever he is and update their RSS subscriptions? (I know I will.) Is it possible to get to such a point of popularity that you can break a major marketing rule and still be successful?

October 06, 2005

Anyone else notice problems accessing websites yesterday?

Here's why (apparently). For a while, I couldn't get to Google, MSN, or Yahoo. But I could still get to Resurrection and many other less-trafficed sites.

October 04, 2005

Microsoft really believes that "markets are conversations"

Scoble points us to Macintosh fan Giles Turnbull talking about how far ahead Microsoft is in opening up to customers via employee blogs.

What would it mean for local churches to open up via blogs in the same way Microsoft has? Would the people we're seeking to reach and serve appreciate us opening up in the same way? I expect so. Post-moderns, in particular, put a high premium on authenticity. When we make mistakes, I'd like to see us learn how to be honest about it in our blogs. Microsoft has shown us how.

October 03, 2005

Flash Video

We've had it on our list for months to look into Flash Video (FLV) as a better cross-platform alternative to Windows Media Video (WMV). Ginghamsburg is doing it with success. Now I see that Fellowship Church is going that way too. I'm eager to find some time soon to see if we can develop a new weekly process that would allow us to make this change.

Leadership Institute wrap-up

Adam Hamilton, Resurrection's Senior Pastor, was awesome again Saturday morning in his plenary session at Leadership Institute 2005. Then I had a chance to present on "Proven Principles of Church Technology Management". I hope some of you at the workshop will become regular readers of this blog. Welcome!

Workshop recaps, photos, downloads, and more have been posted to the IT section of our Resurrection website. We're still uploading stuff so if you don't see what you're looking for, come back.

Jon and Brian provided awesome support for the conference, and also for me, their leader. Thanks guys!

Oh yeah, and Friday's blogger did post again and again. He (mostly) liked it! Thanks, Brent.