Social Networking and Churches

Nearly two years ago I tweeted about three sites which sought to connect people in order to meet needs: worldwideopen.org, roov.com, thecommon.org.  All seemed to be quite similar in filling such a niche.

I had the same feeling when I heard of tableproject.org today.  It reminds me of mychurch.org, onthecity.org, beonebody.com, and some aspects of churchcommunitybuilder.com and other ChMSes.

No doubt there are differences between those listed above, but it will be interesting to watch how churches respond to all of these choices.

[update: related post on some of the above and another]

Timebridge vs. Tungle

Scheduling a meeting is difficult because syncing schedules is difficult.

Enter Timebridge.com and Tungle.me.

No doubt many others have compared these (cf. this one), but here is my personal review.

Timebridge.com

+Like the ability to plan the agenda

+Like the ability to assign action items

+Like the easy-to-use response piece:

Timebridge Response

Timebridge Response

+Like the informative meeting reminder email (with Agenda and Action Items included) automatically sent to attendees.  Very clean and professional looking.  In addition, I find the simple “Download to Calendar” piece more pleasing than Tungle.me’s implementation (which works well in Gmail, but not so well in Yahoo! Mail):

Timebridge's "Download to Calendar"

Timebridge's "Download to Calendar"

-Don’t like the fact that I have to invite attendees through the Timebridge.com interface.  Why don’t they give me a unique URL to which I can personally point potential attendees (ala Tungle.me)?   The good news is that when they send it, the email appears to come for your primary email address.

-Don’t like the fact that invited users might feel they need to register after responding to an invitation:

Timebridge Registration

-Don’t like the fact that pleas to upgrade abound

Tungle.com

+Like the custom URL that I can personally send out to invited attendees

-Don’t like the fact that no reminder emails are sent out

Summary

Although my review of Timebridge is shorter, Tungle is a solid service and the custom URL could be a tipping point.

The Three Strengths of DevonThink

It was early 2005, and I was researching free form databases when I came across this article by Steven Berlin Johnson extolling the virtues of DevonThink.  I was sold. The surprising usefulness of DevonThink’s artificial intelligence set it apart from all the other products.

Nearly five years later, I still find myself leveraging DevonThink for research and work.  Specifically, here are the three strengths of  DevonThink that keep me using it:

  1. Stores various filetypes
  2. Data preserved in original format
  3. Internal wiki-like linking

    These strengths conformed to how I worked.  For example, I basically use DevonThink for two purposes:

    1. Data collection – Web clippings, PDFs, mp3s, etc. are all accepted and preserved in their original format
    2. Project planning – I’ll create a master document for a project I’m working on and internally link it to web clippings, PDFs, mp3s, etc. that I’ve collected.

    There are plenty of applications (such as Evernote, Yojimbo, or a plethora of web-based apps) that could be used for something similar to this, but none of them offer all three strengths highlighted above.

    That said, DevonThink isn’t perfect.  Two critiques are:

    1. Weak tagging support — Although a form of this is coming in 2.0, DevonThink seems to rely more on folder than tags (contra delicious and Evernote, for example).  However, after experimenting with Evernote, I find this to be an advantage because my tagging is wildly inconsistent as I usually forget my taxonomy paradigm.  Folders, on the other hand, are more controlled as there are far less folders.  In other words, the flexibility of tags was not as helpful to me as the rigidity of folders.  (But to be fair, DevonThink allows you to replicate a file in various folders which overcomes the one-file-to-one-folder barrier of folders.)
    2. No online backup (ala Evernote) — Guilty as charged.  However, to partially overcome this, I use Mozy to back-up my DevonThink database.   But my DevonThink information is still not accessible from all my computers — much less via the Internet.

    In conclusion, while I’e looked at a variety of applications, DevonThink has the right combination of sets for my current workflow.

    PS – Here are three links which detail specific use cases:

    PPS – I realize I am only using a fraction of the features in DevonThink.

    Be a Computer Ninja!

    ninja

    photo by R'eyes'


    If you are a knowledge worker who spends most of the day at a computer, you need be a computer ninja and develop a strategy for subduing your ever-increasing workload.  Here are four tips and my current strategy:

    1. Use as few apps as possible. The more apps, the more that can go wrong.
    2. Related, opt for web-based apps like Google Docs.  Your data is backed-up, accessible from anywhere (that there is Internet), sharing is a breeze, and you just need to use one app (your browser) to access them.
    3. Learn keyboard shortcuts. Mice and trackpads are for non-ninjas.
    4. Subscribe to your apps’ blogs.  Good apps are always evolving.  Stay current about time-saving enhancements by reading their blog.

    My current strategy:

    3 Reasons I Don’t Use Linux

    I still remember when I first read about Linux.  It was an article in the New York times in the Spring of 1999.  “A free operating system with low requirements?!  Amazing!” were my thoughts.

    As a result I gathered some old Pentium 75s and ordered my first distro of Linux.  While everything didn’t really work out that well–even a simple GUI needs a little more horsepower than a P75, I was hooked on the idea.  [btw, here are some resources for lightweight Linuxes: one, two]

    Over the years I’ve enjoyed watching the maturation of Linux, and I feel that for most people Linux is a very viable choice.  However, there are three reasons I don’t use Linux (and, trust me, I’ve tried).

    1. DevonThink – I use this information manager to plan series and archive resources.  I like the fact that I can throw everything from documents to movies in it.  I wasn’t able to find anything similar on Linux (and, yes, I did look at LinuxAppFinder.com)
    2. Accordance – I know  about the Sword project, but there is no way copyrighted materials (like good commentaries) will ever be free.  Also, I know I could run a good Windows Bible program in Linux, but I’d rather keep everything in one OS to keep things simple.
    3. Keynote – I present one to three times a week and like to use multimedia.  As of yet, I haven’t found the OpenOffice suite to be as equipped to handle such multimedia.

    I’m open to switching, but just can’t find suitable alternatives for these cornerstone programs.  But for regular web/email/word processing, I’d heartily recommend Linux.

    Google Spreadsheet to coordinate schedules

    I’ve become a big fan of Google Apps over the last year.

    One of the ways I use the Google Form/Spreadsheet application is to coordinate schedules.

    1. Create a form with name and potential meeting times (as checkboxes)
    2. Embed and email the form to participants
    3. After they respond, go to Form -> Summary.  Where there is 100% agreement is when you can meet.

    googlespreadsheetrsvp

    Google Spreadsheets vs. Wufoo vs. EventBrite

    We have a number of retreats each year which require attendees to register and pay.  Back in the day forms and checks were the way to go.  However, recently I’ve been exploring online registration and payment.

    Here are my thoughts on three services I’ve explored.

    Google Spreadsheet is a great way to collect information; I only wish it could send an email confirmation once the form is completed as well as easily redirect to Google Checkout for online payment.

    Wufoo can do all of that at their entry-level plan ($10/month); if one upgrades to the second-tier plan ($25/month), one can make it even slicker as payment is integrated directly into Wufoo (however, there is no way to registrants to pay by check).

    EventBrite is slickest of all with a complete event site (complete with calendar and map integration) and timed tickets (for example, and early bird tickets which is only available until 10 days before the event).  In addition, because everything is integrated, it keeps track of how much everyone has paid.  IOW, all of their information is kept together.  However, EventBrite would be the most costly of the three surveyed here.

    In sum, here are my requirements and wants:

    Requirements

    • Gather custom information from registrant
    • Allow registrant to pay by credit card (via Google Checkout) or check (offline)

    Wants

    • Timed tickets which expire (e.g. – “early bird”)
    • Email confirmation sent to registrant
    • Graphs of data (like grade or payment vehicle)
    • Free or inexpensive

    On that last note, if we have ~50 people, here is the cost breakdown (per person) of the registration system (not counting Google fees):

    • Google Spreadsheet and Checkout: $0.00
    • Wufoo entry-level: $0.40
    • EventBrite: ~$2.50

    Currently, I’m thinking of staying with the Google Spreadsheet and Checkout route, but we’ve used Wufoo in the past with good success.

    5/29/2012 Update: We’re now using Smart Events for our retreats. Made especially for these types of gatherings.

    Epistles, email, and courtesy.

    IIRC, I recall once reading an article arguing that Paul’s grace as evidenced in his letters ought to be the model for how we write emails.  

    Now I am all for graciousness and surely could improve on that count.  But I wonder if that argument confuses genres?  That is, an epistle is not an email anymore than a novel is a text message.  I used to think short emails were curt–how dare they get straight to the point?

    But now that I am increasingly overloaded with information and responsibilities, I find myself appreciating such emails.  Indeed, I begun putting the following in my signature:

    Q: Why is this email 5 sentences or less?
    A: http://five.sentenc.es

    [ht: pastorhacks]

    So please don’t be offended if I write you a short email; it’s me–not you–really!  🙂

    Cool Find Friday: Drop.io


    Drop.io is a simple and private file sharing site that is under-appreciated, IMHO.

    For no charge, one can upload a 100 MB worth of files and then share them via a URL (which you can specify). But that is just the tip of the iceberg, your new site can be password protected, others can add to and collaborate on the drop (e.g. – each drop is given a phone number which can be used for conference calls; in addition, people can leave voicemails via another number), and it will automatically expire in a period of time that you determine.

    Usage #1: You need to send hi-res photos to Susan which are too big to email. Use drop.io.

    Usage #2: You are in a class which relies heavily on commentary work–of which there are only 1 or 2 copies each in the library. A classmate graciously agrees to scan the applicable commentaries and post them on drop.io. Voila! A file sharing website makes everybody happy.

    Sermon Hosting: Sermon Player vs. Sermondrop vs. Sermon Cloud

    While looking for sermon hosting solutions, I came across three. Here are my initial thoughts.

    Sermon Drop

    Pros

    • Easy to use: good back-end interface
    • Easy to use: good front-end interface.  That is, it has a clean layout — I particularly like the big play button.

    Cons

    • Free version is limited to 500MB; then oldest sermons are deleted as new ones are added.
    • Can filter, but not easily search by speaker or series
    • iTunes link does not denote that your podcast was actually submitted to the iTunes Store.  It only means that iTunes is the application which opens the feed.  In other words, I do not think Sermon Drop actually submits your feed to iTunes thereby making it findable to the rest of the world from within the iTunes Store.

    Sermon Player


    Pros

    • Unlimited storage
    • Robust player including Bible, multiple sharing avenues (e.g. – Facebook, MySpace, WordPress, etc.), search and search/filter functionalities
    • Extensive stats

    Cons

    • Ad-supported player in free version with non-intuitive play button. That is, I fumbled around trying to find the play button–I would like a bigger and clearer button that plays the most recent sermon. In addition, in the list of sermons, one must click the speaker icon to play the sermon–and not the play icon . This doesn’t seem to be consistent nor intuitive.
    • Like Sermon Drop, iTunes link does not denote that your podcast was actually submitted to the iTunes Store.

    Sermon Cloud

    Pros

    • This is the first sermon hosting service that I remember.

    Cons

    • Seems very similar to how it was back in the day. (Supporting this is that their last blog post was over a year ago.)
    • Free version stores sermons for 1 year before deleting. (I believe.)
    • Pop-up player (as opposed to in-line)
    • No direct iTunes link (but see comment below on the iTunes link in the other sites).
    • Cannot easily search by speaker or series

    One pro for all the sites is that all of these services get your sermon and church “out there”–perhaps more than if your sermons were hosted on your own site.

    One con for all three is the lack of customization available. (This is to be expected from a hosted service, but still important to note.) For example, the RSS feed is static–which means that if you ever move from that site, your RSS feed address will change. Allowing a user to specify a Feedburner feed address would be excellent and would avoid this pitfall.

    Conclusion

    Sermon Player has a lot of great features, but I like the layout and presentation of Sermon Drop.  At the end of the day, I think most users care more about presentation than features.  (After all, if they can’t figure out how to play a sermon, they probably won’t care about much else.)

    Any of these sites would be a boon to the majority of churches.  Churches with the resources, however, may consider using a solution based on Drupal likk the Fieldfield + jQuery recipe.  Hopefully this plus the View2 Enclosure (referenced here) will made a good solution for churches looking to go this route.

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