This is a proposal I submitted for the 2011 Web 2.0 Conference. Though it was a secular conference, I submitted a proposal on how there is a biblical basis for web usability because it seemed that that topic would be of general interest. I’m posting it here as an example of doing public theology — that is, of seeking to bring a gospel-centered perspective on things into the wider culture in a (hopefully!) winsome, appropriate, and respectful way.
Description (65 words)
Website usability is not simply a good idea; there is actually a case to be made for it from the Bible. This transforms not only how we understand usability, but also how we understand all of our work. Now matter what your religious views, it is surprising (and helpful!) to see that the Bible has something to say about even the more sophisticated aspects of everyday life and work.
The first principle for an effective content strategy is: have excellent content and make your site _usable_. You want users to think hard about your content–not about how to use your site.
But usability doesn’t only make your site better and more effective. There is also a case to be made for it from the Bible, because it is a way of serving your users.
This session will show how usable websites are an expression of the core biblical commandments to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27) and put others before ourselves (Philippians 2:4). Even for those who do not have religious beliefs, or who do not share a belief in the authority of the Bible, it can transform our work to see it not simply as a job or a way of making money, but also as a way of serving and doing good for others.
Secular thinkers such as Patrick Lencioni and Howard Schultz and even Tom Peters have long pointed out that work is not just about the work, but serving others and even uplifting the human spirit (see, for example, the beginning of Schultz’s latest book, “Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life Without Losing Its Soul,” or the last chapter of Lencioni’s “The Three Signs of a Miserable Job” or Tom Peter’s discussion of “transcendence” in our work in “In Search of Excellence”). This session will show how these thinkers are echoing an even greater reality that is in tune with the worldview of the Bible itself. We will also make an application to exactly why usability is a matter of serving others well, and how understanding usability in this way motivates even greater excellence–for since excellence is hard work, it is ultimately only possible when we put others (in this case, the user) before ourselves.
Seeing these things is not only surprising and engaging in itself, but will also give those who attend a snapshot into the worldview of many of their own web visitors, as a majority of web users do have at least a loose religious affiliation and concern for spiritual issues.
The purpose of this session is not to persuade people about religion or create any controversy in any way at all. People can choose to believe what they want, and my aim here is not to address any controversial issues.
Rather, it is simply interesting and illuminating to see that the Bible has things to say about the everyday things we do in life–including really cool things like interactive design and making sites usable. Even (especially) people who have no religious viewpoints or do not hold to the Bible as a special book will find this session interesting as they see how a book that many in our culture _do_ hold in high regard has very engaging things to say about everyday life and the world of technology.
While the content of my session will be engaging and interesting and surprising, it will not be religiously controversial. The compelling and interesting thing is the fact _that_ the Bible has relevance to these things, and _how_ this is so. And that is broadly interesting and applicable. Additionally, this session will help meet the diversity value listed in the criteria by which sessions are selected, as it looks at web design from a unique perspective not typically addressed at the conference, while also shedding light for attendees into how many of their users think about the world (as 50% + of the population does at least have some lose religious affiliation).