December 2002 Archives

Churches on the Web
December 17, 2002 6:47 AM | Posted in: ,

We Southern Baptists don't, as a rule, subscribe to the concept of "Seven Deadly Sins" (which, if you've read your Chaucer lately, you know includes pride, lust, gluttony, sloth, anger, envy and...umm...intentionally watching more than one episode of "The Bachelor"), at least not as being a foundational doctrine. However, we do tend to hedge our bets by prefacing a reference to (some of) these traits with a positive spiritual adjective, like "righteous." Thus, while it's not OK to be angry at the jerk who just cut you off in traffic, it is perfectly acceptable to be "righteously angry" at his obvious contempt for the God-ordained Law of the Land. (Admittedly, this practice falls apart quickly when applied to some of the other "Sins." I'll leave you to your own devices to figure out how "righteously lustful" or "righteously gluttonous" might work.)

So, with that context, I admit to being righteously proud when my church's website was featured in last Saturday's Religion section of the Reporter-Telegram (the letters of which can be rearranged to spell "Ample Error Getter"). The short article, entitled "Churches on the Net," focused on three local churches which are using websites as part of their overall communications strategy.

More righteous pride ensued upon reading a quote that included this phrase: "We're not First Baptist, but..." My natural inclination is to interpret any comparison that begins with this phrase in a positive light. I use it a lot myself: "As far as my guitar-playing goes, I'm not Eric Clapton, but..." or "As far as my net worth is concerned, I'm not Bill Gates, but..." [Well, actually, with respect to the second example, I'm not even Bill's gardener's housekeeper's dogwalker, but that's not really relevant at this point. And I'm even less noteworthy as a guitar player.]

Anyhow, I am somewhat proud of the First Baptist website, since I designed it and maintain it. In fact, it was my search for a website for the church that led me into the design field. We actually went online in 1996, a year earlier than Dr. Dyer states in the article (but, hey...who's counting?), and at that time, web designers were about as rare in West Texas as bull riders wearing tutus. Being the forward-looking thinker I am (a trait also commonly described as "geekiness") I believed our church needed a website, and if nobody else could do it, then by golly (can I say "golly" in the same sentence as "our church"?) I'd figure it out myself. <cliche>The rest is history.</cliche>

FBC remains my largest pro bono client. According to the last crawl by the Atomz spider, the site contains 240 pages (and 397,996 words). It's been redesigned three times, the latest coming about a year ago when I introduced Cascading Style Sheets and dropped some of the less-visited features. The site gets 350-400 page requests each day, which isn't Amazon.com, but... (see how that works?!) probably isn't too bad for a local community site.

One of the features all three pastors are interested in having on their respective sites is the availability of sermon downloads, in audio and/or video format. We already provide a running last-four-sermon inventory in MP3 format, but it's a giant leap to video, and I'm not sure we're ready for the technical challenges (a.k.a. outrageously expensive and aesthetically disappointing solutions) that go along with it. As it stands, according to the FBC site's referer log, a large majority of people who begin listening to the online audio sermons (and they number in the hundreds each month) stop the download before getting all the way through it. This is consistent with the studies I've seen about Internet usage in general. Attention spans are just too short nowadays. (Gary, if you're reading this...it has nothing to do with your sermon length! The phenomenon appears to apply to anything over about five or ten minutes.) And audio quality is superb compared to what video is going to look like. But that's a technology issue that will eventually be overcome. I'm not so sure about the attention-span issue.

I suspect the solution - for us, anyway - will prove to be a third-party who converts the regular weekly videotapes of our Sunday morning services to a web-deliverable format AND who provides the on-demand delivery via its own server. But the cost will be high, and given the current budget for the site (that would be zero), I wouldn't hold my breath. Unless, of course, any of you dear readers might become righteously envious of other churches with that feature and wish to fund it for us!

Consuming Treeware
December 5, 2002 8:02 AM | Posted in:

Do you find that you're reading less nowadays? I know I don't read like I once did; I do less serious reading than I used to. I read constantly but it's bits and pieces: technical documentation; web-based articles and news items, mostly related to my work; headlines on WSJ.com and CNNSI.com; and, more often, blogs like Lileks.com and Meryl.net. I tend to make a distinction between these sorts of short-attention items vs. books (aka treeware) that are made to be read from cover-to-cover.

Don't misunderstand. My reading habits are no less rewarding now, but I must confess to a sense of inadequacy when someone asks about the last book I read. (OK, it was "Cascading Style Sheets: The Definitive Guide," by Eric Meyer...great plot but not much character development.) I can't name any of the books on the NYT Bestseller lists although now that I've followed my own link I can't say that I feel like I'm missing much: "Who Moved My Cheese" is still on the non-fiction list (how many years has it been?), and I see that John Grisham's "Skipping Christmas" is back on the fiction list (perhaps it's the Director's Cut).

So, in order to salvage a bit of my reading reputation I offer for your consideration brief looks at a few "real books" that I've read and which might have escaped your attention. I was going to write some witty and insightful mini-reviews, until I realized that I have absolutely no credentials for doing so, other than having read the books. So, let's just make a list, shall we, and let you decide how to proceed.

  1. "Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life" - Anne Lamott - Recommended for writers, both aspiring and accomplished...as well as for readers, both aspiring and accomplished. In short, everyone needs this book.

  2. "Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith" - also by Anne Lamott - Read it, if only to find out which three words comprise the totality of the two most sincerely faith-affirming prayers I've ever read.

    [If you're too cheap to buy one of her books, read some of her "Word By Word" columns in the Salon.com archive. Then, go buy her books.]

  3. "Doomsday Book" - Connie Willis - Almost exactly like "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," only without the humor and zany antics. You know you're reading good SF when you no longer recognize the world you inhabit while reading it.

  4. "Cryptonomicon" - Neal Stephenson - OK...maybe a micro-mini review of this one: take the movie "A Beautiful Mind," alter it [significantly] so that it's actually interesting AND intellectually stimulating (and get rid of R. Crowe while you're at it) and you just begin to scratch the surface of this amazing book. If you are fascinated by cryptology (and who isn't?), this is a must-read. If you couldn't care less about cryptology (you know who you are...but more importantly, so do we), read it for Stephenson's description of a man eating corn flakes.

I'll close today with the headline from Mr. Stephenson's elegantly designed website, which pretty much sums up my life...and perhaps yours, as well:

"We live in an age of continuous partial attention."
--Ms. Linda Stone, researcher and VP at Microsoft, as quoted in the New York Times, Jan. 30, 2001
(Note: As much as I would like to provide a link to this article - as well as confirming its existence - I find that the NYT website is now freezing my browser AND computer every time I access it. Go figure.)

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