MicroExplosion Year In Review

It's been a great year getting MicroExplosion going and I've enjoyed it immensely. With 122 posts since June 13, here a few of the MicroExplosion highlights for 2006:


New look for the new year

I've been waiting to transfer MicroExplosion over to the new Blogger template system for a while now and finally started playing around with it the other day. Aside from losing my stat tools in the switch, everything transferred nicely. The new customization system Blogger built is pretty handy. I used to have to get into the HTML code to make customizations but now they've created some very easy tools to keep me from doing that.

I've come to like Blogger and even though I've considered switching in the past I think I'm going to stay with it for a while. My biggest beef with Blogger is that it doesn't take full advantage of being owned by Google. There are so many great Google tools available, it's a shame they're not more fully implemented into Blogger. If I could change three things about Blogger's it would be:

  • The ability to remove the Blogger toolbar at the top of the blog. I know many people who specifically don't use Blogger for this reason. More than anything their concern is that when someone comes to their blog and hits the "next blog" link you never know where they're going to end up. I think most people are smart enough to understand that a blogger has no control over where that link will take you, but it's enough of a concern to some people I know that they chose Wordpress or Typepad instead.
  • Custom header. Blogger's taken customization to a new level for them with their new template features but the one thing they're missing is the ability to let a user create a custom header image. Right now the only header customization you get is in the form of the text changes. I know Wordpress, for instance, has an easy header image customization tool. I hope Blogger's working on making this change. Heck, they could even tie it into Blogger's Picasa software to pull the image. Picasa's already got a Blogger tie-in anyway, so why not?
  • Stats. Blogger still doesn't have its own stat tracking built in. I hope it won't be long before they build Google Analytics into the system. It would really strengthen Blogger as a whole.
By and large the blogging community seems to view Blogger as an entry level blog tool which is kind of ironic if you think about it because Google's such a respected entity by the blog community as a whole, yet their blog tool seems to be looked upon as inferior to "serious blog tools." If Blogger could begin to roll in more Google applications it could really become a contender among the other free tools available today.


Four tips for good podcasts from a listeners perspective

Though I've been familiar with podcasts and podcasting for quite a while I have to admit it wasn't until recently that I really immersed myself in them to see what's out there. What I discovered is that when podcasts are good, they can be really good. On the flip side, when they're bad, they can be quite awful. Below are four things I discovered that the good ones seem to be doing:

1. Attention to pace:
The good podcasts feel like they move quickly. Whether it was the pace of the people talking or the momentum they would carry from one story to the next, the really good ones keep it moving forward. Not all podcasts move at the same pace however. Some seem like a steady jog while others move like a brisk run, but in the end they all know they have a pace to maintain and do it well to keep the show moving forward.

2. Sound quality:
I didn't think poor sound quality would be as annoying as it was. After all, we're dealing with amateurs here right? Yes, partly, but the difference is that the line between pro and amateur is very blurry now so it's all about good quality. Whether you're a solitary guy in garage or a team in a studio, the playing field is level and the listeners can't help but desire good sound quality. The good news is that the solitary guy in a garage can actually sound like a pro in the studio with fairly basic equipment. The rule seems to be that if it doesn't sound as good as the radio, it's not going to be good enough.

3. Set the hook early:
The most distinct thing I heard between the good podcasts and the bad ones was that the good ones recognized that I may very well be a first time listener and therefore not familiar with the personalities, the format, the content, the tone, etc. In every case they set it up as if they know some percentage of their listeners are first timers. If you think about it, that's how talk radio is...at any point in time a radio personality knows people are coming and going and although that wouldn't be necessary to incorporate through an entire show, that mindset seems vital within the first two minutes of the podcast. I was most turned off with one particular podcast where it seemed like the guys were trying to figure out if they were even ready to begin. The dialogue went something like this (names made up for example purposes):
Tim: "So Joe, how's it going?"
Joe: "Pretty good."
Tim: "Whatcha been up to?"
Joe: "Not much."
Tim: "Jeff, how are you doing?"
Jeff: "Good."
Tim: "Whatcha been up to?"
Jeff: "Not a whole lot."
After this they traded a few inside jokes and sort of talked about what the show was going to cover that day but at this point I went to the next podcast. They lost me. The thing is the preceding dialogue followed a pretty decent prerecorded intro and a "Welcome to the podcast" intro by the host. The point here is that you can't forget how easy it is for people to move on. They don't know you. They don't know how smart you are or how inspired and compelling your message is. If you don't get them hooked early they probably won't take the time to find out.

4. Content quality:
In the same way that the lines are blurry between pro and amateur on the sound quality side, they are equally blurry when it comes to good content. The fact of the matter is that good content is what will keep people over the long term. Everything above is to get them to pay attention to you the first time or two. Giving attention to quality content will keep them their for the long term.

Bonus 1: Episode numbers
Aside from the above items I discovered that everyone tells me what episode number that particular podcast is. I don't get that. Why do I need to know what number episode they're broadcasting? Maybe if you're just starting out it buys you a little bit of grace but on the other hand it could work against you because a listener could assume you don't have your act together since you're brand new.

Bonus 2: Browseable podcasts
Also, I read a post from Seth Godin back in May, 2005 when he noted that one of the downsides to podcasts is that they can't be browsed. That sentiment didn't resonate with me until listening to a bunch of different podcasts more recently. I can't help but wonder what it would do for a listener if the podcast posted a timestamp listing of all the topics covered in each podcast...meaning if you have a 30 minute show that covers blogging, a new book, and an interview you note that at 1:13 of the show you talk about blogging, at 8:47 you begin talking about the book and at 14:09 you begin the interview. Seems to me that would be a step toward browseable podcasts.


Wii got a good laugh at this

I'm not a video game guy (meaning I don't own any video game systems) but I'm fascinated by the capabilities of the new systems that have come out. I've been especially interested in Nintendo's new Wii (pronounced "we") and the fact that Nintendo's not trying compete with the Xbox and PS3 on the hardcore gaming market. It's a compelling strategy that very well may pay off if the line at my local Target last weekend was any indication. That being said, Nintendo sure did pick a funny name...and this comic pointed that out about as good as anything I've seen.

I Really Wanna Wii, Please


U.S. ranks sixth among global blog readers

There was an interesting post on Micro Persuasion today about the percentages of people from North America and Western Europe who read blogs. The post references the actual study done by comScore.

Below is the chart with the breakdown, but it's interesting to see that over half the online population in both Canada and Spain are blog readers. What surprised me most was that the U.S. was so far down the list coming in sixth behind the previously mentioned Canada and Spain as well as France, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. I'm not entirely sure what the full missions implications are here, but it seems like an opportunity for America's churches taking mission trips to any of these countries to begin with a blog now...and this study even tells you the blogging platform you should use depending on the country.

My only other question now is how do some of the South American countries rank? I hear blogging is big in Brazil.


Study: Email is old school for teens

My friend Nathan recently sent me a link to an article from PC Magazine that says less than one-fifth of teenagers (13-17 year olds) use email to communicate with friends whereas 40% of adults ages 25-54 use email to communicate to friends. The preferred method of communication for a third of the teenagers studied was instant messaging. Only 11% of adults use instant messaging though.

Although this study isn't surprising, it was fascinating to see more numbers about the use and adoption of instant messaging over email for the teens. We heard some big numbers about IM back in the summer from Rick Klau when he spoke about web 2.0 at a convention in August.


Just another PS3 enjoying the holiday season

I've always thought my friend Chris was creative. Not in an artsy kind of way but more in an "everybody does it like this so let's do it like that" fashion. He just recently put up an eBay auction for a new PS3 for a friend of his...and true to form, he did it a little different than the average eBay seller. Rather than the standard four or five photos and description, Chris put the PS3 in a number of different holiday scenarios like sipping hot cocoa with a female companion and lighting some Christmas candles. You can check out the auction here. His account of this venture can be found on his blog PourOut.com.

Here are a few pictures for your viewing enjoyment. Be sure to click on the images to read the captions...


Interview with creator of Christian vs Christ-follower videos

Last week I was looking through Gizmodo and came across a post about a "Christian version" of the Apple computer "Get a Mac" ads. Being that Gizmodo is about gadgets I was obviously curious to see what this was about. From there I was directed to ThinkChristian.net where they had three of the four videos posted. The videos on Think Christian were attributed to Community Christian Church in Chicago. Over the course of the next several days I had several friends send me links to these videos. My friend Ray told me that a guy we used to work with was actually behind these videos so I emailed Tom Greever, my former coworker and the current Media Arts Director at Community Christian Church. He agreed to an interview and I've posted it in full below.

With all the comments I've read and due to the now controversial nature of these videos it seemed important to hear what the church's original intent for these videos were. Tom addressed my questions with a level of openness I wasn't expecting and I appreciated that. He also provided some context for the videos and provided a link to the actual sermons that supported each of these videos.

I've also been fascinated by the viral effect of these videos. A coworker commented to me that he thinks these videos may be the first Christian viral videos in the online video era we're now in. He might be right. The first video has almost 132,000 views as of tonight. It's an interesting thing to see play out and I think it's going to cause churches to consider a broader perspective when they post videos online. According to Tom, that's actually one of the things he's learned from this.

Here's the full interview:

What's your role at the church and what level of responsibility did you have with the Christian vs. Christ follower video?
I am the Media Arts Director, which means I’m the primary video guy. Basically, anything that shows up on a projector screen at our (currently) eight Chicagoland locations I am in some way responsible for.

As for these videos, our Creative Arts Team came up with the idea together. We meet every week to plan our services about 8 weeks before they run, so this idea was just one of many we had for consideration. Because of the cultural impact the Mac/PC commercials has had, we thought this was the best framework to communicate our message.

I shot and edited them start to finish. Elic (the Christ-follower character) did most of the writing with his brother Eric (the Christian character). My friend Mark assisted me on the shoot and recorded the song. But ultimately, the whole process is collaborative.

What was the original intent of the videos?
To understand our intent, you have to understand our audience and the context in which the videos were originally shown. Our services are geared mostly to newcomers: people who have never been to church or who have not been in a long time. That’s who we have in mind when we plan our services. That’s not to say believers don’t have a place, that’s another conversation altogether. But when we plan our services, we are constantly asking, “If someone is here for the first time, are they going to get it? How do we reach the person that may know nothing about ‘doing church’?”

As for the context, each video was a ‘sermon roll-in’ for our “Christian No More” series. That is, they introduced the teaching pastor. So the content of each video connects directly to the teaching for that particular week. The “Christian No More” series was our attempt to open the discussion on what it means to be a Christian: let’s get the stereotypes out on the table and separate what Jesus calls us to do from our own misguided intentions.

That said, our intent with the videos was to play on extreme stereotypes of Christians and compare them to a ‘Christ-follower’ who doesn’t fit in the mold of those stereotypes. Our audiences could immediately identify with the Mac/PC commercials and it is a great platform for comparing two similar (but different) things. The very fact that they mimic the Mac/PC commercials alone is funny and a lot of other people are doing the same thing on the web.

Did you expect they could be so viral?
Yes and no. We hoped that eventually something we did would make a splash. Eric created his YouTube account (bramsvan) after seeing YouTube really take off this past year. And like any artist, we’re proud of our work and like showing it. But of course, we had no way of predicting that this would be the one to cause such a stir. We have other great videos we’re making and a lot that we haven’t posted yet, so I hope the buzz that’s been generated from these videos will expand our web audience.

What kind of feedback are you getting from people seeing them?
There’s no doubt the response has been mixed. I’ll quote Eric from his blog, “Christians are mad, Christians are sad, Christians are happy, Christians are laughing. And don't get me started on the Christ-followers!”

There are so many people talking about it that it’s impossible to keep tally. But from what I’ve seen, Jews and Atheists really seem to like them… Christians are more divided. A lot of people like them and some are offended. But I think most of the negative responses boil down to misunderstanding, incorrect assumptions, or just being uncomfortable with a conversation about what we Christians look like to the rest of the world. But honestly, if Jews and Atheists like them, then I think we hit the mark… We’re not trying to reach Christians. We want to start a conversation with people that don’t have a relationship with Jesus. And if these videos make them stop and think, or blog, or attend church for the first time then we’ve done what we intended to do. Everyone carries their own baggage into the scenario when they watch these videos. It just so happens that the same baggage that would cause an atheist to say, “Wow, finally a church that realizes how I see them.” causes a Christian to knee-jerk with “Those guys are just being mean…”

What's been the biggest surprise with all of the discussion these videos have generated?
I’m surprised at how many Christians have made assumptions about what we were trying to do, and in effect, assuming the worst about our intentions. People assume that this is an ad for our church, or that we’re creating an ‘us vs. them’ scenario where our church is better than yours. Even the assumption that we (as in, Community Christian Church) represent the Christ-follower is wrong. But without a doubt the silliest assumption I’ve seen is that we are actually attempting to remove the word Christian from our vocabulary or somehow create a new ‘sect’ called Christ-follower. The name of our church is Community Christian Church! Gimme a break.

And honestly, I thought stuff like having to wear a suit to church or Jesus bumper stickers was so 1990s that the sheer ridiculousness of the character would be almost unreachable in today’s culture. It’s like those Geico commercials where the caveman is offended, but they didn’t mean anything by it because they didn’t even realize that cavemen still existed. We figured it was an old conversation and therefore ‘safe’ to poke at. But even if it is an old conversation, people that haven’t been to church in 20 years don’t realize how churches have changed. For most of our attenders, not being expected to wear a suit or only listen to Christian music is a breath of fresh air.

The other thing that surprised me was the people that came to our defense. We have largely avoided the conversation on the web because there was no need for us to get involved. Our opinions are biased. So it was a strange thing to throw this benign video out into the world and let it grow up all on its own. We didn’t have to say a word. Other people stepped in and said everything we would have said.

Will you create videos with a viral intent in the future?
Not really, and we didn’t create these videos with viral intent. We create videos that communicate a message to our particular audience in our particular cultural context. And then we share them because we think they’re fun. If some of our future videos become popular on YouTube, that’s great… but they will never be written or shot or edited with viral video in mind.

The challenge for people who intend to make viral video is you can’t assume to know what’s going to be popular on the web. I’ll be surprised if more than a handful of people are able to pull it off. Videos don’t become viral because they’re advertisements, they become advertisements because they’re viral and I don’t think you can reverse engineer that. Setting out to create viral video is almost the antithesis of what the ‘viral video’ movement is: regular people having fun and sharing their stuff and who knows who might become a new internet star.

At the same time, I can’t help but be influenced by what has become our ‘new audience’ on the web. The truth is that we shot all four of them back-to-back one Wednesday morning in about 3 hours. We didn’t pour over the scripts with a theological fine-toothed comb and I spent maybe 8 hours editing them. Had I known ‘this would be the one’ I might have put a little more into it. It forces me to be a better artist if my work is under a microscope by a larger audience.

What have you learned from all of this?
I’ve learned that people really care about how Christians are perceived, which is funny since some people on the web have said that (assuming CCC represents the Christ-follower) we care too much about how the world perceives us. Yet, their very defense of themselves or our videos and the passion with which blog tells me that this is really something to wrestle with. Perhaps we should make more. Perhaps we should push the envelope even further.

An experience like this makes me stop and re-think what we actually intended to communicate. There’s a fair amount of questioning that goes on even in my head about what we did. Someone will post a comment and I’ll question myself, “Did we really say that?” But that’s what makes this art: it’s never finished, the message is never fully decided on. Personally, I love it. I’ve loved the discussion and I’m proud to be have been a part of it.


Tech Review: LoopNote - Churches in the loop?

I discovered a new website today via TechCrunch. It's called LoopNote and looks very interesting...particularly for churches.

LoopNote is essentially a group notification system that allows anyone to create a "loop" to which people can join (and thus are in that particular loop). The "loop" can be about anything. It could be for a band that wants to notify people about upcoming shows or a community sports team that wants to give updates on games or rain outs.

What will make LoopNote work is that it allows you to choose your method of notification. If you want email notifications, you'll get an email. If you would prefer a text message on your cell phone, you'll get it that way. If you use instant messaging a lot, you can get it that way. Or maybe you just want to get it through an RSS feed...and that's available too. With so many options to get the message it seems like a handy way to reach more people effectively.

Though this technology is nothing new to people familiar with similar features on social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace, the unique thing that LoopNote presents is this technology without the need to be a part of one of those networks.

Churches in the Loop?
Here's where I think churches could find a benefit with LoopNote...churches are:
A) organizations that require regular communication to people about a variety of topics
B) notorious for not communicating well
That being said LoopNote seems like it would have a variety of uses in most churches. Here are a few examples:

  • Small Group notifier - whatever type of small group/Sunday school method your church may take, this could be a great way to communicate with the people in the groups
  • Worship Service announcements - recap Sunday's announcements on Monday with a loop reminder
  • Weekly message announcement - at the end of each week the church could send a message to the loop with the coming Sunday's message title and a brief statement about what you could hope to learn or some questions for consideration leading up to Sunday.
  • Playdates - I know my church has groups of moms who designate different days to get their kids together to play. With the text message feature, this loop would get the word out about last minute changes more effectively.
  • Staff communications - in larger churches things change really fast and staff are not all in the same offices together. The staff could set up a private loop to be notified of everything from urgent needs to staff meeting changes.
On a side note, I don't know that the creators of LoopNote intend for the system to be a content distribution mechanism, but it certainly could be. For instance a church could use LoopNote to send out daily or weekly devotionals.

LoopNote looks like it's got some significant promise. It's early on (they just launched for the public) and the adoption level will make or break it, but the idea seems solid and looks like it could really meet a need.


There's Just Something About Viral Video - Elf Yourself

It's fair to say that the crowning achievement for any new media marketer is a video that people will talk about and pass along. Even better (and falling even more in line with web 2.0) is anything that engages the audience and spurs them to interaction. That's where OfficeMax seems to have gotten it right with their new "Elf Yourself" site. Tonight I pulled a picture of my good friend Chris to give you a look at what OfficeMax is doing with their Christmas viral campaign. Check it out here. I'm pretty sure Chris will forgive me.


Sending Large Files Made Easy

Last month I talked about backing up your blog and mentioned the free online data storage site Box.net. I like Box.net because it's an easy way to store files online (and did I mention it's free up to 1 GB?) and it is also a quick and easy way to get files to other people without the need for FTP.

This afternoon I got a link from my friend Steve H. to check out YouSendIt.com. YouSendIt is a free file transfer site that looks easy to use and has an extremely straightforward interface. According to Steve it's very easy to use. The site lets you send files up to 100MB for free and for a monthly fee of $5 you can send files as large as 2GB.

If you need serious data storage and file transfer Box.net looks like the way to go since it has the larger capacities including 5GB for $5/month or 15GB for $10/month. If you need a quick way to transfer a file it looks like YouSendIt may be your best option.


So Churches Are Telemarketing Now?

Tonight around 6:30 I was sitting at the kitchen table with my daughter and the phone rang. It was an automated telemarketing call and since we get those from time to time I was about hang up but the voice asked the question, "If you're interested in finding out about a local church press '1'." Since I'm in church marketing and this was my first church telemarketing call I had to see where it took me. The automated voice told me that "New Church (name changed to protect the guilty) is an exciting place for families with contemporary worship, a great children's ministry, Bible based teaching and it's in your local area."

The voice never told me where in my local area this church is located but informed me that if I wanted more information about the church I could leave my name and mailing address at the conclusion of the message to receive further information by mail. The voice also told me that the information I would receive would guide me to the website where I could find out more about the church but it never told me what the actual URL for the church is (in case I was actually interested in finding out more about it now).

So here's my question...what were the leaders at this church thinking when they chose telemarketing as their method of solicitation? Of anything they could have done they opted for one of the most notoriously disruptive devices known to mankind. People dislike this form of solicitation so much that there's a National Do Not Call Registry. Is this a sign that we have officially reached the end of the road when it comes to good ideas on ways churches can promote themselves in their communities?

The fact of the matter is that people are so accustomed to the daily barrage of marketing messages that their filters are turned on almost all the time. Also, there are certain marketing methods that are simply viewed as obtrusive (like telemarketing calls and pop-up ads). With both of these things in mind it's important for churches to be even more aware and strategic with their marketing methods. If anything, churches should aspire to be the most attentive toward people's preferred methods of communication because the message of the church is so important that we should want to create as few secondary obstacles for people to overcome as possible. If someone is going to have an issue with a church (and we know there will be plenty) it shouldn't be with their marketing. Let an unbeliever's issues with a church be related to something of substance that can start them down a road toward a life changing decision.

I'm all for good church marketing. I do it every day with my job. Tonight, however, I was both challenged and disappointed. I was disappointed with this very bad church marketing idea and I was challenged to consider what constitutes good church marketing and what responsibilities a church may have with any promotional effort it makes.

I'm encouraged too. I'm encouraged by where I see things going. The new media (web 2.0) tools facilitate relationship building and allow churches who use them to engage people and establish connections through interactions. These new tools are some the best things permission marketing has to offer and I believe they will be responsible for some of the greatest strides churches can make to connect with people...especially people who don't want telemarketing calls.


MyChurch.org - New Look, New Features

The good people behind MyChurch.org have been making some changes to the website. They announced a few upgrades today:

  • Church disk space has increased to 100MB.
  • U.S. active churches are now browsable with Google Church Map. Over 1000 churches are listed.
  • A new front page features blogs and sermons.
  • The site is now available to churches outside the USA.

The new front page looks very sharp and certainly engages users more than the old version. From the looks of it, MyChurch seems to be taking some steady strides forward. Personally, it's allowed me to connect with at least one person here locally, so keep up the good work guys.


Digging Into Digg.com

My friend Ray sent me a link to a great resource for anyone who wants to get more familiar with Digg.com. The post provides a great overview of what Digg is (resource for interesting user-provided news items) and how to use it.