I go to the Biola Digital Ministry Conference every year I can. I think since 2007 or so I’ve only missed once (it used to be known as The Christian Web Conference). It is a fantastic time to learn, innovate, and connect with other like-minded people who are excited about ministry and the web.
The Aim and This Year’s Theme
This year’s conference is June 5-7 at Biola. Here’s the aim of the conference:
The Biola Digital Ministry Conferenceis designed to empower individuals with the vision, knowledge, and relationships necessary to be thoughtful designers, developers, and practitioners of digital technologies for the cause of Christ.
The theme this year is “The Disruptive Nature of Digital.” The sessions will focus on three key topics: theology, strategy, and technology.
That’s incredible because so often, ministry conferences focus only on strategy and tactics. But they will be focusing on the theology and philosophy of digital ministry as well.
What I’ll Be Talking About
I will also be speaking there again this year. I’d be highly recommending the conference either way, but since I’ll be out there, I’d love to see any of you as well.
My message will be: Practical Usability: Why So Many Websites Frustrate their Users and How to Make Your Site a Destination that People Actually Enjoy.
Last year I gave a theology of usability — why it ought to matter greatly to us to make our websites usable, and the (very interesting) biblical basis for doing so. This year I’m going to dive more fully into the nuts and bolts: how do you actually create a usable website? And how do you do this in the midst of budget constraints? I’ll talk about the core fundamentals of web usability, which we built the Desiring God website on the basis of, and practical principles that are at the core of almost every easy-to-use website.
Also, I love questions, especially super hard ones. So bring your questions on usability or ministry web strategy in general, and we’ll take some time to interact with them.
And, if anyone is interested in getting together to talk in more detail about ministry web strategy while out there, contact me (see the tab above) and I’ll see if we can pull a meal or something together.
The Essential Importance of Usability
Here’s one way to summarize the importance of usability: free is not enough. Even if you post all your content online for free (which I highly recommend!), your content will still not serve people or spread to the extent it can if your site is not usable.
Good content is not enough, either. You have to make your site usable. And, this comes from actually understanding usability and knowing how — you can’t just do what you think will be good. You have to actually know what you are doing.
Other speakers include:
- Drew Goodmanson (CEO of MonkDev, creators of Ekklesia 360)
- Chad Williams (CEO of Five Q)
- John Mark Reynolds (professor of philosophy at Biola and founder of the Torrey Honors Institute)
- Brett McCracken (social media manager at Biola University)
- And many others
Here’s the article I wrote back in 2007 at Desiring God on why every ministry should post all of its content online, for free, without requiring registration, in a maximally usable interface.
And here’s the message I gave at the conference last year:
This Friday morning (November 11th) I’ll be speaking at the Social Media Shepherds monthly event on “How the Gospel Should Shape Your Web Strategy.” It will be 8:00 – 9:30 am at Bethlehem Baptist Church (downtown campus), 720 13th Ave S, Minneapolis, room 203 (upstairs and to the left).
For anyone in or around the Twin Cities interested in web strategy and social media, it would be fun to see you there.
Looks like you can also RSVP and get more info on Facebook.
Read this book and do what it says:
This book has influenced our thinking on website design and structure at Desiring God more than anything else we have come across.
Seth Godin has a good section in Meatball Sundae on how Kiva serves as a good example of the difference between an organization that is in sync with the nature of the web and one that isn’t.
I attended an all-day brainstorming session with one of the oldest, best-known nonprofits in the country. They have a fancy web site, loaded with Flash features, tell-a-friend buttons, and a blog.
Last year, the site raised two million dollars. This year they want to do more.
With a mailing list of five hundred thousand e-mail accounts, this organization has demonstrated that they can extract money from people who sign up for “e-mail blasts.” And the stated goal of the group is to increase the size of the list by a factor of six, to three million. Then, using free stamps (e-mail), they can hammer this list to raise a lot of money for their good work.
Compare this organization to Kiva. Kiva is a brand-new [it was a few years ago, when Godin wrote this] organization that, after just a few months, generated nearly ten times as much traffic as the older group. And they are raising more in a month online than competition does in a year.
Is it because they have a better site?
Nope. It’s because they have a different sort of organization. They created a web-based nonprofit that could never even exist without the New Marketing. One group uses the web to advance its old agenda, while the other group is of and by and for the web.
One is focused on market share, on getting big by controlling the conversation. The other is into fashion, in creating stories that spread because people want to spread them.
And that’s the schism, the fundamental demarcation between the Old and the New.
One organization wants the New Marketing to help it grow a traditional mailing list so it can do fundraising and support a traditional organization.
The other (Kiva) is creating an organization that thrives on the New Marketing rather than fighting it.
Kiva works because the very nature of their organization requires the Web at the same time that their story is so friendly to those who use the web. Kiva connects funders (that would be you) with individuals in the developing world who can put a microloan to good use. Doing this in a world of stamps is almost impossible to consider. But doing it online plays to the strengths of the medium, and so, at least for now, the users of the medium embrace the sotry and spread the word.
Please note that I’m not insisting that everyone embrace these new techniques. All I’m arguing for is synchronization. Don’t use the tactics of one paradigm and the strategies of another and hope that you’ll get the best of both. You won’t.
After just a few minutes of conversation at the older nonprofit, one person realized, “So, if we embrace this approach, we don’t have to just change our web site — we’re going to have to change everything about our organization. Our mission, our structure, our decision making. . . . ” Exactly.
This is a good 8-minute explanation of Google Wave by two of the product managers for it:
According to Fast Company, it looks like Facebook will soon link geo-location information to your actions on the site.
In terms of number of followers, here’s the list.
According to Ad Age:
Co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook had crossed the 300 million registered-user milestone and that it had become “cash-flow positive” in the second quarter, ahead of schedule. Previously, Facebook had said it was targeting profitability “sometime in 2010.”
From What Would Google Do? (pp. 32ff):
Networks are built atop platforms. The internet is a platform, as is Google, as are services such as photo site Flickr, blogging service WordPress.com, payment service PayPal, self-publishing company Lulu.com and business software company Salesforce.com A platform enables. It helps others build value.
Any company can be a platform. Home Depot is a platform for contractors and Continental Airlines is a platform for book tours. Platforms help users create products, businesses, communities, and networks of their own. If it is open and collaborative, those users may in turn add value to the platforms — as IBM does when it shares the improvements it makes in the open-source Linux operating system.
In the old architecture and language of centralized, controlling businesses, Google Maps would be a product that consumers may use, generating an audience that Google could sell to advertisers. That’s if Google wanted to stay in control.
Instead, Google handed over control to anyone. It opened up maps so others could build atop them. This openness has spawned no end of new applications known as “mashups.”
Opening Google Maps as a platform spawned not just neat applications but entire businesses. Mobile phone companies are building Google maps into their devices, which gets maps into the hands of new customers. Platial.com built an elegant user interface atop Google Maps that lets users place pins at any locations, showing the world anyone’s favorite restaurants or a family’s stops on vacation. Neighbors can collaborate and create a map pinpointing all the potholes in town. That map could, turn, be embedded on a blog or a newspaper page. News sites have used maps to have readers pinpoint their photos during big stories, such as floods in the U.K.
Thinking in terms of how to make your company a platform is a key to success in the new economy. So, some questions to ask yourself:
How can you act as a platform? What can others build on top of it? How can you add value? How little value can you extract? How big can the network atop your platform grow? How can the platform get better learning from users? How can you create open standards so even competitors will use and contribute to the network and you get a share of their value? It’s time to make your own virtuous circle.
This is instructive on the difference between old media and new media. From What Would Google Do?, by Jeff Jarvis:
[Old media companies] all want to control the internet because that is how they view their worlds. Listen to the rhetoric of corporate value: Companies own customers, control distribution, make exclusive deals, lock out competitors, keep trade secrets. The internet explodes all those points of control. It abhors centralization. It loves sea level and tears down barriers to entry. It despises secrecy and rewards openness. It favors collaboration over ownership. The once-powerful approach the internet with dread when they realize they cannot control it.
If Google thought like an old-media company — like, say, Time Inc. or Yahoo — it would have controlled content, built a wall around it, and tried to keep us inside. Instead, it opened up and put its ads anywhere, building an advertising network so vast and powerful that it is overtaking both the media and advertising industries even as it collaborates with and powers them online. There’s Google’s next virtuous circle: The more Google sends traffic to sites with its ads, the more money it makes; the more money those sites make the more content they can create for Google to organize. Google also helps those sites by giving them content and functionality: maps, widgets, search pages, YouTube videos. Google feeds the network to make the network grow.
I am surprised that old media companies have not tried to copy Google’s model — that is, creating open networks.
In sum, it comes down to create closed networks you try to control (old media), or creating and feeding open networks you don’t try to control.
This was a helpful article by Rohit Bhargava summarizing “10 standout conclusions” from a recent analytics report on Twitter by the media analytics company Sysomos.
One interesting fact: Tuesday is the best day to tweet something.
Facebook usernames are coming Friday night at 11:01 pm Central Time. This means that the url for your profile will be as simple as www.facebook.com/mattperman, rather than www.facebook.com/id=592952074?!#@4832
From the Facebook blog:
Starting at 12:01 a.m. EDT on Saturday, June 13, you’ll be able to choose a username on a first-come, first-serve basis for your profile and the Facebook Pages that you administer by visiting www.facebook.com/username/. You’ll also see a notice on your home page with instructions for obtaining your username at that time.
From the beginning of Facebook, people have used their real names to share and connect with the people they know. This authenticity helps to create a trusted environment because you know the identity of the people and things on Facebook. The one place, though, where your identity wasn’t reflected was in the Web address for your profile or the Facebook Pages you administer. The URL was just a randomly assigned number like “id=592952074.” That soon will change.
We’re planning to offer Facebook usernames to make it easier for people to find and connect with you. When your friends, family members or co-workers visit your profile or Pages on Facebook, they will be able to enter your username as part of the URL in their browser. This way people will have an easy-to-remember way to find you. We expect to offer even more ways to use your Facebook username in the future.
You’ve probably heard about Google Wave. If you haven’t (or even if you have), TechCrunch has a good summary of Google Wave that is worth taking a look at. Here’s the 40,000 foot view:
Everyone uses email and instant messaging on the web now, but imagine if you could tie those two forms of communication together and add a load of functionality on top of it. At its most fundamental form, that’s essentially what Wave is. Developed by brothers Lars and Jens Rasmussen and Stephanie Hannon out of Google’s Sydney, Australia offices, Wave was born out of the idea that email and instant messaging, as successful as they still are, were both created a very long time ago. We now have a much more robust web full of content and brimming with a desire to share stuff. Or as Lars Rasumussen put it, “Wave is what email would look like if it were invented today.”
Having seen a lengthy demonstration, as ridiculous as it may sound, I have to agree. Wave offers a very sleek and easy way to navigate and participate in communication on the web that makes both email and instant messaging look stale.
Twitter is immersive. It washes over you. But what happens when a great link or clever post goes by? Squidoo just launched a promotion around the new TwttrList tool. The power of this tool is that it turns the momentary stream of tweets into a permanent sign post. A curated best of instead of a random time-based river. You can chronicle a conference, or highlight great posts about your brand or event.
Jakob Nielsen, the web usability guru, makes a point about large monitors that I completely affirm:
Big monitors are the easiest way to increase white-collar productivity, and anyone who makes at least $50,000 per year ought to have at least 1600×1200 screen resolution. A flat-panel display with this resolution currently costs less than $500. So, as long as the bigger display increases productivity by at least 0.5%, you’ll recover the investment in less than a year. (The typical corporate overhead doubles the company’s per-employee cost; always remember to use loaded cost, not take-home salary, in any productivity calculation.)
Apple and Microsoft have both published reports that attempt to quantify the productivity gains from bigger monitors. Sadly, the studies don’t provide credible numbers because of various methodological weaknesses. My experience shows estimated productivity gains of 5-10% when users do knowledge work on a big monitor. This translates into about an 0.5-1% increase in overall productivity for a person who does screen-focused knowledge work 10% of the day. There’s no doubt that big screens are worth the money.
I personally use a 2048×1536 display, and I wouldn’t even call that a really big screen. Within the next 10 years, I expect monitors of, say, 5000×3000 to be in fairly common use, at least among high-end business professionals.
Starting at 1600×1200, users rarely stretch their browser windows to the full screen because few websites work well on such a wide canvas. Big windows are magic for working on spreadsheets, graphic design, and many other tasks, but not for the current paradigm of Web pages. Today, big-screen Web users typically utilize their extra space for multiple windows and parallel browsing.
In sum: Get a big monitor — at least 1600×1200 resolution and 24 inches. It might cost a little more, but in a very real sense it may be wasteful not to.
As an aside, here is a very interesting comment that he makes on where the web may be going as monitor resolution grows even more. Very, very interesting:
To serve Web users with truly big screens in the future, we’ll probably need a different paradigm than individual pages. Perhaps a more newspaper-like metaphor or a different information dashboard will prove superior down the road.
TechCrunchIT has a good Q&A on the social web with Google’s Kevin Marks. Right away, his comments on the first question are very significant:
Q: We keep hearing that “Google wants to make the web more social.” What does that mean?
Everything on the web is more interesting when it takes place with friends. Today’s social networking sites are the online contexts where you and your friends go to be social, and the time we spend on them shows the attraction.
But the model of going to a single website to interact with other people is changing. In the future, we expect everything on the web will become more social, augmenting the many things you already do on the web. Whether you’re shopping, deciding what to read, or researching a topic, knowing what your friends, or family, or the people you respect think about that product, book, or source of information is a vital part of the web.
I call this the “social cloud,” meaning that “social” will be integrated with the web so that you don’t think about it anymore. Charlene Li calls this same idea “social networks become like air.” The web itself is like this — following links seems like second nature to us because we know a URL can take us anywhere. Social isn’t there yet, but that’s the highest level goal of the OpenSocial project — to make interacting with people a natural part of how we use the web.