Web 2.0 Design Elements Dissected

One thing I really like about connecting with people through blogging is that you build relationships that are mutually beneficial. One such relationship for me is with Jon Haarstad. Though we've never met and live thousands of miles away (he's in Portland, Oregon while I'm in Nashville) we've traded numerous emails and exchanged a lot of ideas.

He recently sent me a link to a Pixel Acres blog post that dissects the visual elements of web 2.0 design. I recognized some of these elements in a previous post but didn't go to the sheer depth or show examples like the Pixel Acres post. It's certainly worth a look for anyone trying to understand web 2.0 better and for the experienced person it will just solidify a lot of things you've already observed. If you want to go all out on web 2.0 just do everything they outline here and you'll be set for your beta launch in no time.


Churches + Technology = News

When I was in graduate school the public relations tract (which I was on) fell under the College of Journalism. At the time I didn't really like that because I wanted more business experience and I knew some other schools linked their PR programs close to their MBA programs. I later got (and am still getting) that business experience but have looked back in appreciation for being around the journalists for those two years. One thing I learned from them is that the media, any media, has a hole to fill...they called it the "news hole."

Journalists obviously want to find something interesting to fill the news hole so they look to things that will provide the most interest to the widest number of people like a local connection to a big story or a scandal or something with high drama. When there's not something like that to be found the next best thing is to look at the broad categories of things that interest people like personal relationships, celebrities, pop culture, and so on. Two categories that are going to be high on most journalist's lists are "religion" and "technology" so you can imagine the sheer joy a journalist will have when he or she can find a story that covers both of these categories.

It is with that in mind that I've felt for quite some time there are many opportunities for churches to boost the buzz about themselves in their communities if they are willing to begin using some of the new technology (specifically web 2.0 tools) available to them. I've seen numerous articles about churches who started blogs, podcasts, etc. for outreach purposes and they became local (and sometimes national) news stories. It's a formula that seems too easy to be true yet I'm seeing too many cases to dissuade me of this assumption. A few days ago I came across another article (via Church Marketing Sucks) that affirmed this to me.

Community Bible Church (CBC) in San Antonio has been doing a series about protecting your space, called it "My Space" and used a lot of discussion about MySpace.com. You can read the full story here. At last count I saw where five different bloggers had picked up on the story which only spread it that much further. In fact, two of the blogs receive significant traffic and likely hit an audience more interested in the story than the San Antonio paper did.

In the interest of full disclosure, CBC is a client of my employer and I was visiting them a month ago as they were about to begin this sermon series. After having talked to a staff member today I can affirm that they were not seeking this press coverage but have seen a significant interest in the series as evidenced in the number of people corresponding with the pastor on his MySpace page. Incidentally, I was also told that the pastor is actively talking to people on MySpace daily. Way to go Pastor Robert!!

Ok, back to the topic at hand...the point here is that the "churches + technology = news" equation isn't a magic formula, it's simply meeting a need that journalists have by providing a single story with two engaging hooks. If you're trying to generate some buzz in the community about your church consider this equation. If you're using a lot of new technology already, you might be missing out on an opportunity. Why not place a call to the local newspaper or TV station? After all, they have a news hole to fill...why not give them something to fill it with? If get even a handful of curious visitors come to your church wasn't it worth it implementing some technology you should be using anyway?


Purpose Driven closing down

Purpose Driven, the organization started by Rick Warren, has announced that it will be closing down its operations. According to Jon Walker their pastor of strategic communications (and a former Nashville local I used to see at Panera Bread near my house all the time), "Purpose Driven as an organization, in a sense, really doesn't exist anymore." You can read to full story on Christianity Today.


Micro Hiatus

I am proud to announce the birth of our daughter Audrey Hope on Tuesday the 21st. Mother and daughter are doing great and we're glad to be back home.

If you've ever had a new baby you know it takes a while for life to feel normal so MicroExplosion will be slim for a bit but will be back soon.


Mali, Africa Gets Wi-Fi

I saw on Geekcorps (think Peace Corps for the uber tech savvy crowd) that they had a team in Mali build some WiFi enabled TV receivers for the people in a village. Here's the story. Aside from the interesting technology that was used here to pull this off in quite a MacGyverish fashion, it made me wonder if there are any churches outside of Mali that could begin to broadcast back to the people in this village in their native language. This was just another great reminder that we can reach the world from wherever we are through online broadcast...even in the most remote places in the world.


Music By The Mood

I found a very cool site today thanks to Lifehacker. It's a music website called Musicovery that let's you discover and listen to music (like a radio) based on the style of music you're looking for and the general mood you're in. You can also choose the era of music you want...so if you want to get really specific you can choose calm, jazz music from the 60s and you get a great Stan Getz recording of Night and Day.

Overall this concept is very interesting and applicable to people like me who have times when you're looking for a specific feel of music but don't have an artist or song in mind. Also, the design of the site is very compelling as it maps out the song selections. On the downside, it looks like the actual library of music is fairly limited, but to the average music lover it will more than suffice as a handy resource when you're in the mood for something new.


Play Station 3 Mania - Video Interviews

My friend Chris has officially stepped into the world of video blogging at PourOut.com. Today he and some friends went to a local Best Buy to interview people waiting for the PS3 to go on sale first thing tomorrow morning. It's pretty nuts really. Here's the video:

I'm not a gamer but I always find the hype around these kinds of things very interesting. If anything this affirms to me what I hear about the rising number of options from the traditional media. It also says a lot about the increasing number of distractions we have available to us today. If you're with a church or ministry the PS3 is just one more thing competing for the attention of some of the people you're trying to reach. So is there an opportunity here? I think so...

Think about this, with the growing numbers of distractions there are just as many opportunities to reach those people with a niche missions approach. This is nothing new to churches. Look at all sports, art, music, and hobby groups that churches create or participate in. With every emerging diversion the church has the opportunity to reach out to the unchurched people engaged in those activities.

On a random side note that's slightly related, have you heard of machinima? It's essentially small videos and/or short films made using preexisting video from something like a video game. If you ever played Contra (up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, START) with the sound off and had some friends make up their own dialogue for the game you kind of get the idea of what machinima would be. I know it doesn't sound too interesting but it's actually quite popular now. I've just recently watched a few episodes of one of the more popular machinima series, Red vs Blue, and it's actually funny. There's something to this, I just don't quite know what yet.


Sonic on Blogging?

...it's actually pretty funny and scary how close it hits home to the heart of a blogger...


TiVo To Incorporate Online Video

Last month I had two blog posts on TiVo...one about why it could be dying and another about how it can survive through the influx on online video. Today I saw an article from The New York Times that gives us a glimpse of TiVo's determination to stay in the game. Here are a few interesting excerpts...

  • TiVo plans to introduce features that will allow people to use its digital video recorders to watch some video programming from the Internet on their televisions.
  • Until now, TiVo has not been able to tap into the explosion of Web video — clips uploaded by amateurs and, increasingly, professional segments made for the Internet. The new features, which are set to be announced today and introduced early next year, are intended to change that.
  • TiVo also said it would introduce a service that will allow users to upload their own home movies and have them sent to the TiVo recorders of friends and relatives. Users who want to send will need to sign up for a $4-a-month service offered by One True Media. Receiving the videos is free."

So what does this mean to you? Well, if you've got an interest in video blogging, online video as a distribution method, or just a desire for creating content online then it looks like there's a possible outlet emerging for your content down the road where people won't have to watch it on computer screens anymore. Sounds promising to me.


If you thought banner ads were bad three years ago...

A while back I said that friends don't let friends post banner ads. I've also discussed that banner ads are a bad idea...so if you weren't clear as to my general thoughts on them...I not exactly a fan. Last week a friend sent me a link to a study that was taken nearly three years ago that gauges people's perspectives of various Internet advertising formats. What is most interesting is that despite all my disdain for banner ads...they're actually the most favorable form of ads on the entire list. The most obtrusive ads, like pop ups, are ranked the lowest. Here's the link if you missed it.

Two things came to mind when I saw this:

  • With the way technology has changed and the influx of text ads since this study was taken, I cannot believe that the numbers would be any better now. Three years ago people wouldn't have been as familiar with text ads (and therefore not known there was a better, less annoying way to do online advertising).
  • Let's say these numbers are still valid...look at the percentage of people who are not "very positive" about the selected ad methods. In every single case you are more likely to get a negative response than a positive response...so why would you do it?
I talk about all of this to say that if you're considering spending money on Internet advertising, particularly the forms mentioned in this study, there are better things you can do like blogging which won't cost you anything but will take some time to develop...and therein lies the problem.

Many organizations and marketing departments actually have more money than time. Yes, they'll say they don't have any money but what they have even less of is time. They have deadlines, timelines, and deliverables that they're trying to manage and all the while they can say (quite honestly) that they don't have time to set up blogs for the very products or services they're spending all this time on. The downside to blogs is that they aren't usually quick impact promotion elements, which are what many marketing people need...after all, it's in their timeline. So when they choose these methods, are they really saying that they prefer to annoy a segment of customers with minimal opportunities for return on their investments in order to fulfill their well prepared (though ill conceived) plans? Possibly.

The impact of blogs for promotion will rarely be immediate but you won't be frustrating people either. In the long run you'll connect to more people for longer through the blogs but you have to be in it for the long run.


Understanding Web 2.0 - Six Categories

There are a lot of new MicroExplosion readers now from a few months ago so this post is a recap of something that has become a cornerstone of sorts for this blog. Back in August I posted the six categories of web 2.o. With my attention and focus on web 2.0 and subsequent attempts to explain it to people who are unfamiliar, I've come to realize that these six categories are about as good as anything out there (that I'm aware of) for getting a quick snapshot of what web 2.0 is (and isn't).

If you're interested in a lengthy explanation of web 2.0 you can find great information on Wikipedia's entry. My six categories were an attempt to synthesize a broad topic into something that's easy to remember for both explanation and application. In order to remember them I just think of a "massive Volkswagon" for the MASSVW acronym. Here are the categories:

  • Mashups - sites using existing technologies for an entirely new purpose like WikiMapia.org. It takes the functions of a wiki and overlays it with Google Maps for an entirely new kind of map. You can see ProgrammableWeb.com for more mashups.
  • Aggregators - A site or program that gathers data from multiple sources and organizes the information to present in a new, more streamlined or appropriate format. Digg.com is a top aggregator site. So is Slashdot for the more technical people. And of course our dearly beloved, Google (and any other search engine for that matter) are the mothers of all aggregators.
  • Social Networking - Websites focusing on connecting people with other people directly like Facebook and MySpace.
  • Social Media - User-generated content like blogs, Flickr, or Zooomr.
  • Video - Online television such as YouTube, Vimeo, or Revver.
  • Web Applications - online programs that can do virtually everything your existing software programs can do. Zoho for instance can replace your Microsoft Office programs. Google now has multiple applications that also compete with the old Microsoft Office programs including documents and spreadsheets to calendars.
From a marketing and promotion perspective there are three of these areas that will be of particular interest to you...the social networking, social media, and video categories. In fact, I've seen that most of the things I talk about tend to fall into one of those three areas.

In addition to the six categories there are four commonly used and implemented technologies within many of the web 2.o areas:
  • RSS - Real Simple Syndication is a way for a people to essentially bring the content of a website to their browser rather than visiting the site to see that same information. A website or other technology that incorporates RSS creates a “feed” to everyone who has a feed reader on their browser and has accepted the feed.
  • Wiki - A wiki is a website that allows users to easily add, remove,or otherwise edit the information on a common site. This technology is most commonly implemented where groups need a collaboration tool.
  • Tags – A tag is a keyword or descriptive term associated with an item as a means of classification specific to a website. For instance, on the photo sharing site, Flickr.com, users who tag their photos “dogs” will all be grouped together for a search on dogs.
  • AJAX – AJAX is technology incorporated into websites with the intent to make web pages feel more responsive by exchanging small amounts of data with the server behind the scenes, so that the entire web page does not have to be reloaded each time the user makes a change. This is meant to increase the web page's interactivity, speed, and usability.
Well, believe it or not, if you've read this whole thing you have a better understanding of web 2.0 than the average person. The real question now is what are you going to do with this? The good news about many of the things we talked about above is that there is little to no money needed on your part to begin participating and incorporating these tools into whatever you're doing. So you're a real estate agent? Ok, this stuff is for you...especially the social media. Work retail? Why don't you let users begin to tag items on your website in whatever manner they want and also let them provide feedback about the products? You'll learn a lot about their desires and needs through the process...as well as the best future products to offer them. Oh, you're a pastor...ok, get your church on the social networking sites and use social media and video like crazy! You get the picture...whatever you do, there's something in web 2.0 for you.


Insight into Google page ranking

Jon Haarstad had a great post on his blog about the Google page ranking system. The mysterious ways of page ranking are really not that mysterious as you'll see here...the Google geeks have a rational for it all. If you really want to get in depth on this topic, follow the links on Jon's blog and you'll get all kinds of fun calculations, charts, and formulas (and by fun I mean "fun" for the kind of people who know things like the numerical value of Pi beyond the traditional 3.14). If you're not into that just know it all seems to boil down to this...links. When you get linked to your page rank goes up. If you aren't linked to, your page rank will stay down.


The View of a Generation?

If you spend even minimal time on social media or social networking sites you've undoubtedly seen scores of self portraits like the one of me here. Spend about 16.3 seconds on MySpace and you'll find plenty of these.

My wife and I were recently eating dinner at Panera Bread and saw a girl sitting in a booth by herself snapping pictures of herself just like this. Panera has Wi-Fi so it's a natural spot for web saavy people to eat, hang out, and apparently snap pictures of themselves. Just today I was driving through Brentwood and saw some teenagers hanging out the side of a car taking pictures of themselves like this too.

I've come to a conclusion about these images: they are a picture of an entire generation. Think about it...if you've never taken a picture like this (particularly for the purpose of putting it online) you're missing an entire movement in the way people are relating to each other. There's certainly nothing special about the pictures themselves, but if you've got a picture like this it's a symbol that you're "in" on the new wave of relational networking. It's like this self-shot-picture phenomenon is a mark of a generation like poodle skirts and leg warmers.

The point here is simply this...there's a lot of talk about the adoption of technology, but there seems to be less talk about the culture woven throughout the technology. These images merely represent a slice of the culture. To understand the technology thoroughly we have to look to the culture in which it's being adopted. For now, maybe a picture is not worth a thousand words but instead a thousand pictures are a glimpse of an entire generation.


My Election Day Haiku

I voted today and have a little haiku of my observations:

Voting lines were long
Old people can't work machines
Should it be this hard?


Transcript of two bloggers with nothing to blog about

If you've ever wondered what a couple of bloggers talk about via IM when they've got nothing to blog about I'm about to pull back the veil...here's a conversation from a little while ago with my friend Chris. He blogs at PourOut.com. Here's our Google Talk conversation...

Bill: Hey Chris, I'm stuck...what are you posting about tonight
chris: No clue.
Bill: I got nothing
chris: I'm working a great post for tomorrow night, but it's not done yet.
Bill: I don't even have that
I saw on Greg Verdino's blog that he's in the top 100K blogs on Technorati
...so I had to check it out too....
I'm in there also...pretty sweet
chris: but I can't not post anything, right?
Bill: no, you gotta post something
chris: Mine's not. I have a couple of people who have blogrolled me (you and Greg actually) but freaking Technorati's not picking it up!
Bill: the mystery's of Technorati
are wide and varied
chris: I'm pissed at those guys.
Bill: I know
Bill: but you're always pissed at someone...yesterday Verizon...today Technorati
chris: you see this?
Bill: let me check it out
chris: I feel exactly like those guys
17 unique visitors today
Bill: cool
chris: really, really awesome
17 whole people
Bill: yeah, I can see what those guys are saying
pretty funny
chris: 16 of which were probably bots
Bill: you check your feeds?
chris: 7
Bill: I get them at feedburner
chris: awesome
Bill: sweet
chris: yeah, rock on
Bill: you ever check out http://blaugh.com/?
It's a great laugh for bloggers and web 2.0 folks
chris: that's pretty funny actually
i gotta tell you, i wasn't expecting much when i clicked that link
Bill: come on
give me some credit
chris: just the name
Bill: you should get the RSS feed...it's a great way to get them all at once
chris: i read it as "blaaaaaaaahghggggghhhhhhuuutytythhhdhd"
RSS? What's that Bill?
Bill: well Christoper
let me just tell you
Chris Thomas with the assist
chris: http://www.micropersuasion.com/2006/11/bitty_browser_g.html my new favorite bookmark on the blackberry
Bill: I've been reading a lot about that stuff
you like it?
chris: i do
i really do
we need more mobile sites
Bill: "we" as in you?
chris: right
i forgot
you just have an expensive "phone"
Good post about Digg
I found it helpful
Bill: tagged
that's really thorough
chris: on deli.cio.us?
Bill: yeah
chris: I'm really getting into that
Bill: yeah, me too...I signed up months ago but didn't really start using it until recently
I like that I can access the bookmarks anywhere (via the world wide web of course)
chris: What's the world wide web Bill?
Bill: but seriously...I had a few instances of wanting to go back to a site I bookmarked on my laptop while I was at worked
work that is...
and I didn't have it with me
so deli.cio.us is the solution
to the rescue
Recording voicemail to chris@voxacious at 10:03 PM on Monday
Voicemail ended with chris@voxacious at 10:03 PM on Monday
chris: I couldn't agree more
Seems as if I have a Google Talk voicemail from Bill Seaver that's one second long
Bill: yeah, ignor that...I was just messing around a second ago...by they way...on a different topic entirely
do you use an optical mouse?
chris: yes
mighty mouse
worst mouse ever really
Bill: have you ever noticed the cursor just starting to move from time to time?
chris: yes
Bill: I've got two mice here at home (both optical) and that drives me crazy
it's like someone's in control of my computer
chris: actually not on my macs but on my pc's
Bill: you know what....now that I think about it, I've never had that happen with the optical mouse on my iMac at work
chris: send me another voicemail, but longer than one second, i want to check GT out
Bill: I don't have a mi on my computer
I don't think
Recording voicemail to chris@voxacious at 10:06 PM on Monday
chris: ahhhh...
Voicemail ended with chris@voxacious at 10:06 PM on Monday
chris: on a completely unrelated note...
Kim just said that Carrie Underwood won best female artist tonight and that when she was announced the winner Faith Hill looked into the camera and threw her hands up and screamed "WHAT???!!!?!"
Guaranteed YouTube blast tomorrow
Bill: tomorrow?
give it 30 minutes
....and that may bump your blog post you were working on
there's gotta be some comment in there for you
chris: allright, i'm headed to bed.
Bill: ok, see ya
I got something to post tonight!!
chris: and hey
don't forget to vote tomorrow.
Bill: don't worry...I will
chris: you will forget?
or you will vote?
I will vote
now that I go back and read my response I see that it was totally stupid
chris: always the last word...
Bill: bye


Blog Backup/Archive Solutions

I've been blogging steadily now for just over five months and a while back I got to thinking that it would be nice to have a backup for my blog...because you never can tell what might happen. I don't expect Blogger to lose all my posts, but I've wanted some assurance ever since I read a story by well known blogger, Robert Scoble, who talked about one of the first blog systems he was on lost all of his posts from years ago.

I was told last week about a free solution called BlogCollector. BlogCollector is a free download that backs up your blog and even converts the blog over to a PDF file if you want. Unfortunately BlogCollector limits the number of posts that it will download (and it doesn't tell you how many that is). It also doesn't convert the images in your blog over to the PDF. You can get unlimited saved posts if you're willing to pay the $68 fee. Overall this is a good application and was the only one like it I was able to find.

I also discovered ExpressPDF, which is a pretty cool free application that allows you to convert a website, Word document, or Excel document to a PDF. I used ExpressPDF as a backup for my blog as well. It's essentially a screenshot of the blog (or any other website for that matter) but it's a nice way to at least get a copy of your blog in a place you can control. I now have a PDF for each of the last five months and will begin to do this at the end of every month as part of my routine.

If you're interested in just storing your blog data somewhere (aside from your own hard drive), there are many free online storage options available. I've used Box.net and it gives you a free gigabyte of data storage on their servers. I came across this Tech Crunch article from earlier this year that gives a good overview of Box.net and other online storage options.

Backing up your blog may not seem like a big deal...but if you put a lot of time into what you're writing, wouldn't you want to know that you've got your own personal copy of your blog at the end of the day? I do.


3 ways to get bloggers to hate your website

Ok, so let's say you're not interested in bloggers talking about your organization. In fact, you're more than not interested...you don't care if they like you or not so you really don't want to make their lives any easier. If you think bloggers are annoying little wannabe writers with nothing better to do than sit in front of their laptops while sipping double chocolate mocha latte frappuccinos this is the post for you. Here are three ways to get bloggers to hate your website (but what do you care?):

No permanent links: Bloggers love to post a link to the exact part of a website or story they're talking about. If you don't have a way for a blogger to reference it as a permanent link there's no way they can be guaranteed their reference link will still be there a day later...they'll hate that about your site and may purposefully avoid talking about you.

Bad image files: Bloggers love to spruce up their posts with pictures or logos of the people or organizations they're talking about. Most of the time they'll grab the image from the site to post to their blog. You won't want to do that for them...that would make their lives too easy. In fact, if you can prevent them from copying the images at all that would really get them to hate your site.

Don't give personal email addresses: Bloggers are natural connectors and will occasionally want to ask questions or make a one-on-one connection to the people/organizations they're talking about. If they can't find a personal email address on your site (or at the very least something like info@yourwebsite.com...which will annoy them a bit but not get them to hate your site) they'll never be able to connect with you. Undoubtedly bloggers talk about their connections which can only perpetuate the discussion about you and your organization. Since you're not interested in that just give them a generic form to fill out or an 800 number with an automated voice that answers the phone.

If you are interested in bloggers talking about you (and maybe even loving you) do the opposite of everything above.


PodPoint Relaunches Website

PodPoint.net relaunched its website today with a great new look and some cool new functions. It looks like they've retooled their focus a bit to not just help churches and ministries develop and launch their podcasts but also to serve as an aggregator for other Christian podcasts.

It will be interesting to see how PodPoint progresses because it now has an entirely different (and broader) appeal. Not only can a church or ministry get help with the development of their podcast, but now anyone looking for Christian oriented podcasts has a one-stop-shop for the top Christian podcasts available today. I think this was a smart move for PodPoint. Also, while you're there, check out their "learning center" has some good general information about podcasting.