Overprotective?

padlockWhy do people write things and put them on the Internet, then make it hard for others to read them? Or hard to share? Or hard to comment on?

OK, I understand a bit the large print publications that are trying to find a way to stay alive and stay profitable. But I’m talking about some of the average people who find it necessary to put pop-up displays, or have designs that make it difficult to read a single article, or have RSS feeds that only display a few words of the article. (Yeah, I know… I’m getting technical)

It’s not easy for us 20th-century types to grasp the new paradigms of the digital age. I guess that’s a big part of it. We’re worried that others will steal our ideas, misuse our words, or write abusive things on our sites. They will. But that’s part of getting your thoughts out there. When you make it hard for others to share your words with others, you limit your audience. When you make your site difficult to access, people will go elsewhere where they can find similar thoughts more easily. When you make it hard to participate, you lose those who would contribute to your site.

There will be intellectual thieves. There will be Internet trolls. There will be malicious individuals.

And there will be those that will read your ideas and grow from them. There will be those that will interact with you and help you to sharpen your thinking.

And that’s what it’s all about.

Photo courtesy of MorgueFile.com

Locusts and Internet groups

I was traveling this past weekend, doing a “Christ and Culture” seminar for Herald of Truth down in Lake Jackson, Texas. While on airplanes, I try to catch up on some of the magazine reading that I don’t seem to get to here in Abilene. This time I was reading an interesting article in Wired magazine called “What Social Media Reveals About Cannibalistic Locusts” (how could you resist a title like that?).

Here’s a quote that especially caught my attention:

People get stuck in groups that turn into frenzied action, but for us, these clusters are built around common interests, politics, and background. “The longer you have an opinion, the longer you’ll have neighbors who share it and the higher the probability that everyone in the group is marching in the same direction,” says Cristián Huepe, lead author of the locust study.

I can see myself in that quote. Can’t you?

Online spirituality, online carnality

I want to revisit the discussion about spiritual realities from last week. As I read the comments and thought more about this issue, I realized that one obvious application of all of this is right here. The Internet. Our cyberdiscussions.

Thinking about how the spiritual world surrounds all that we do, I think we need to take a hard look at our online interactions. What do they say about us? Do we see love and generosity, grace and peace? Do we see the bonds of the Spirit uniting us, even as we disagree? Or is there anger and judgmentalness, grudges and bitterness? Is it truth or is it falsehood?

“I have a right to get angry. Look at what he said.” That’s one of my favorite lines to tell myself. “Even Jesus got angry.” Yes he did, but I’m not sure that everything I feel can be titled righteous indignation. “We have to expose error.” Error is best exposed by shining truth on it, not by trying to bury it under criticism and ridicule.

When I give in to my carnal nature in online discussions, I’m ignoring the Spirit’s lead. When I use the ways of the world, I become more a part of the world and less a part of the Kingdom.

It all adds up. It’s a weakness of mine. Maybe by writing all of this, I can remind myself to do better. Better yet, I can remind myself to let God lead, not my pride.

Church websites: Final suggestions

It’s silly to finish up a blog series with a Monday post, so let’s just say there will be a pause in this series after this post. It may be a pause of several decades, but we’ll call it a pause.

Let me offer some final tips as I round out the series:

  • Content matters, but make it web content. People make quick decisions about a site. Cute will catch their attention, but content will keep it. That content needs to be prepared with the web in mind. Keep it brief, when possible. Use headings and highlighted text to make the content scannable. Don’t be afraid to rework and rewrite to tighten the copy.
  • Use good imagery. There is a debate about stock imagery (cheap and professional, but possibly repeating what other sites have) versus real photography (potential complications due to real life issues). Whichever you choose, make sure the quality is good. Optimize the photos for the web, when possible. A big part of that is reducing the size of the image so that it loads quickly.
  • Make navigation easy. Help people know how to get around. Headers, menus, buttons… use what it takes to help people get from one place to the next.
  • Think about what’s above the fold. That’s an old newspaper term, referring to the way a paper is typically folded in half. On the Internet, it refers to what people see without having to scroll down. Put information above the fold, especially your call to action.
  • Anticipate and answer questions. People go to your site looking for information. Think about what information on outsider would want, and make sure it’s there. Consider having a Frequently Asked Questions page.

Those are some final thoughts. Anything that you would add that would help people improve their church website?

Church websites: Do you want that to go?

Something that has changed dramatically, and will continue to change, is the way people access the Internet. 7% of all web traffic is from mobile devices. About one out of four users access the web through a mobile device at some point during the day. Is your church website ready for them?

Royce Ogle asked me to look at his church’s website the other day (www.wfrchurch.org). The first thing that appears on the page is an option to view the mobile version. That’s smart. If you don’t have a mobile version of your site, that needs to be high priority. If you’re not sure, you can check the Mobilizer on Google (though Google posts this clarification: “This page adapted for your browser comes from and is not endorsed by Google.”). That will let you see what your visitors see when they use a mobile device.

Most modern sites are built on CSS, and creating an alternate mobile version through CSS is fairly simple. Keep in mind also that many devices (iPhone, etc.) don’t do Flash or don’t do it well. You may want to find another way to do those cute animations. A good web designer will know what needs to be done to make your site work well in a mobile version.

There is a hidden advantage to building a mobile site. When you do a search from a mobile device, the search engines give priority to mobile sites. You’ll have a better chance of being found if you take the time to create a mobile version.

Smartphones aren’t going away. Neither are tablets and other mobile devices. It will be worth your time to get your site ready for those mobile users.