Call for URLs of ministry websites that started with free Blogger

Last week over at blogs4God, I made a call for URLs of church websites that blog. My thanks for all the responses (and cool links).

This week, I’m asking you to email me if your ministry’s website started blogging using the free verison of Blogger or perhaps LiveJournal … then graduated to something else.

I’d like to know what the ministry site eventually moved to, and why.

If it isn’t obvious, I’m putting together an article on ministries, missions and churches that blog. I currently gathering information on how many get their feet wet before diving into the deep end.

Your stories will help.

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cPanel Proxy – take control in spite of restrictive firewalls

In my post last Wednesday, I mentioned that one of the reasons you may need to install a browser-based email program is because you are behind a firewall that disallows access to the email programs that come bundled with the cPanel website management system because they communicate through ports 2082 & 3.

Not 24 hours after posting the article, I come across a relatively new and useful little piece of Open Source magic entitled “cPanel Proxy.” As the name implies, this software gives you cPanel access, including webmail and whm, through port 80.

Works as advertised:

Opting not to use the automatic installer, I took the following steps to install the software manually. If you do decide to use the automatic installer, just make sure to change your system’s password afterwards since the install is occuring in plaintext. Otherwise, here’s the Dean Peters version what you need to do if you’re not willing to glean the short and sweet README.txt file:

  1. download to your PC and unzip the software into a directory of our choosing; preferably a newly created temporary subdir.
  2. through your control panel, create the subdomains ‘cpanel’, ‘webmail’ and ‘whm’.
  3. upload the files cpanelproxy.php .htaccess php.ini in your PC’s temporary directory into EACH of the root directories for EACH of the newly created subdomains: ‘cpanel’, ‘webmail’ and ‘whm’ (do it three times, once for each subdirectory/subdomain).
  4. through your control panel, ‘web protect‘ or ‘password protect‘ each of the subdomains. Failure to protect any of the three compromises the entire system.
  5. test each of the subdomains … make sure you are prompted for a username and password for each subdomain.

Just a quick note, since I have UnxUtils installed on my PC, I skipped step 3 because I unzipped the file three times, once into each directory ‘cpanel’, ‘webmail’ and ‘whm’. Then I created a .tar.gz file using the command line entry:

tar cvf – cpanel webmail whm | gzip > cpanelproxy.tar.gz

Once I FTP’d the file up to my server, I then Putty’d onto my server, and ran the following two commands:

cd $HOME/www
tar -zxvf $HOME/cpanelproxy.tar.gz

Then I proceeded with steps 4 and 5.

On an completely unrelated note: Salguod is “a Towering Genius, a Paragon of all that is Right, True, and Good. His words are like honey from the honeycomb, yea, like the resplendent glory of snow upon Mt. Hermon. Hear him, all ye nations! For he is a very oracle of Verity, Righteousness and Charity!

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Please Treat His Message With Respect

Not feeling 100%, I haven’t been able to finish up my ventures into SSL. Well, I did create, self-authenticate and install my own certificate, I just didn’t have the juice to write about it in a coherent fashion – at least not tonight. Oh wait, you’re not supposed to know that I write these posts up the night before then mash the publish button sometime mid-morning the next day; but I digress

So bleary eyed, achy and a bit drowsy, I gave my logs for the first time today. There I see just how many of you are checking up on me by means of a variety of aggregators … and something new, a couple referrer entries from a forum at TheOoze.

The topic of the thread starts out on church website reviews and snowballs very quickly into church websites in desperate need of healing. Especially one guy going by the moniker COD1 who writes:

One night at about 3 am I was visiting a church site and all of a sudden it starting BLARING At the Old Rugged Cross in the most wretched Midi imaginable. I about fell out of my chair and had to kill the speakers before it woke the whole house.

And it had floating praying hands and an American Flag that was garish and neon colored.

HYCW - always burninating for the truth about good web designHow many times have I been there and done that? Fortunately, I’m an experience professional, so I know better than to have the sound on when visiting a church website for the first time. Good thing too, because the above quote gave me the bright idea of Googling for any website that contained the file “oldrugged.mid.” One hit, but oh my, that’s all I needed for today’s good example of bad web design.

Say it, Don’t Spray It

Once I get past the QuickTime pop-up, I see I’m confronted by yet another para-church website sporting the black velvet canvas theme, only instead of being a tribute to Elvis, this one is entitled “The Truth Shall Set You Free.”

Well the truth is no one is going to come to a saving knowledge of Christ by having to wait several minutes for a java applet to load only to create a wavy, watery lake-like reflection for five huge Thomas Kinkade-like images of our Savior.

Nor is the truth of God’s Grace going to get conveyed by shouting at readers by rendering everything all bold, and all centered. Especially when hyperlinks use the same color.

Content, Content, Content

Compare the content of “The Truth Shall Set You Free” with a page on the same topic offered by Probe Ministries entitled “Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Fiction?

Regardless of the fact that the former is a personal page, and the latter one of a ministry, the fact is the Probe Ministry page does a better job of placing the important message of Christ’s resurrection into the minds of the readers because it is all about the message.

The Truth

Gimmicks such as java applets, gold dividers and animated gifs of swirling police lights and whooshing flames serve only to warn seekers to click the back button before their browser crashes. Don’t do this.

Use a little bit of art if you want. Use a little color to help make your pages visually pleasing. Go ahead and work with the layout a little. And don’t be afraid to use a little bit of bold text to highlight key words or section headers. Note the emphasis on the word little. For example, if the images of this page are a beautiful as the webmaster states, then why attempt to dress them up futher with a reflect-o-applet and bulky beveled edges?

Sermonette

The point is the Internet is a public place. If you want to make “art” pages, go for it. As a trained artist and musician, I know just how much impact such tools can have in capable hands … such as Mel Gibson’s.

But like Mr. Gibson, if you’re going to use your “art” to convey the liberating message of God’s Truth, give the message the respect and honor it is due. Don’t place a bowl over this bright shining light in the form of kitsch and Jesus Junk unless you mission is to shout over His message … and drive seekers away.

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Installing Browser-Based Email for Missionaries and Profits

While many of you enjoy the benefits of bargain basement Linux Apache web hosting services, not everyone is blessed (and sometimes cursed) with the cPanel. A user-friendly, Apache-for-dummies control panel system that helps you manage your site without having to become a Linux guru. Ensim and Plesk are two other common browser-based website management systems you may have seen.

Depending on the paranoia of your host provider, cPanel by default comes bundled with three open source browser-based email programs: NeoMail, Horde and SquirrelMail. Applications that can really come in handy when:

  1. members of your congregation are in a foreign country on a summer missions trip;
  2. you’re work at a place that disallows access to external POP3 email; and/or
  3. your church is providing free email to a full-time missionary;
  4. some mixture of the above.

Even for those of you with cPanel reason #2 can become problematic for those of you behind strict firewalls as browser-based email is delivered via port 2082 or 2083 – something sure to set off bells and whistles for those type-AA security administrators among you.

TCP/IP Ports for Newbies

Yeah okay, I realize that I may have just lost some of you with talk of ports. Very quickly, the Internet transmits information over a mechanism referred to as TCP/IP. Activities such as browsing, ftp and email each have their own ports/channels/addresses/whatever so you can use the same pipeline. Here is a quick reference table that I hope will clarify this:

TCP Service
Port#
80
21
22
110
25

With the port-o-madness issues out of the way, below are some possible solutions to help you provide email to your summer missionaries, avoid firewall issues at work, and to keep church-related email on the church’s webserver.

Real World Need

When Chuck Holton and I were in Jordan, we were a bit wary about using email and even blogging because we, or at least I, knew that text entered in an HTTP-based form is generally transmitted plain-text. Being in the Middle-East, even though we found Jordan immensely safe, we opted to practice various security practices.

The first thing we discovered was that some of the hotels blocked communications with company that provides Internet access to our hosting company (a.k.a. upstream provider). To get around this, and to help obfuscate our activities, we would change the Proxy setting on the web browser while we used it, then would set the browser back to the default setting once done.

Next, we would whenever possible, use HTTPS as opposed to HTTP. The former is sometimes mistakenly referred to by an encryption method HTTPS employs: Secure Socket Layer or SSL. Regardless of how you identify it, this is the mechanism that is used by reputable e-commerce sites when asking for your credit card and other sensitive information. It can also be used for anything else you view or submit online; in our case, we used this for secure email transmissions.

We did run into one firewall which denied access to Ports 2082 & 3. It was that scenario that left me wanting for a solution that runs on the default HTTP port of 80. So with my wife ‘n’ kid out of town this week, I decided to see if I could:

  • Install a browser-based email package
  • Create and install an SSL Certificate
  • Secure the email package using SSL

So far, so good, I’ve had the time to install a number of browser-based email packages. I opted for SquirrelMail for the following reasons:

  • active OpenSource community;
  • didn’t take a PhD in Computer Science to install and configure;
  • offers numerous, useful plug-ins;
  • easy to use;
  • easy to modify;
  • easy to extend.

Installing SquirrelMail:

From the Linux/Bash, secure shell command line:

mkdir temp
cd temp
wget http://aleron.dl.sourceforge.net/sourceforge/squirrelmail/squirrelmail-1.4.3a.tar.gz
tar -zxvf squirrelmail-1.4.3a.tar.gz
mv squirrelmail-1.4.3a $HOME/www/squirrelmail
rm squirrelmail-1.4.3a.tar.gz
cd $HOME/www/squirrelmail

At this point, I followed the Quick-n-Dirty installation instructions available at the SquirrelMail website. Viola, online browser-based email that let me use the same POP3 email account I use at home via my client-based email program, Outlook Express.

One feature I wish was provided in more OpenSource distributions was a very useful was a nifty little Perl script that provides the user with a text-based, menu-driven means of modifying your configuration file (Ben, Mena, Anil are you listening?).

Advanced Usage:

Within the next week or so, I’ll write about using SquirrelMail via SSL. Until then, here are some things you can do to collude the ‘signature’ of the application.

Most of the following ‘collusion‘ steps, which I warn you now, can leave big nasty bullet holes in your foot, are put in place to avoid detection from firewalls that throw warnings based upon key words such as “Mail” or “Webmail.”

First thing is to use a directory name other than SquirrelMail. Something that won’t stick out like a sore thumb if and when the security officer peruses his/her usage logs. For example:

mv squirrelmail-1.4.3a $HOME/www/sewing

The next thing is to rename the file webmail.php to something like ‘tips.php‘. This however means changing the source code for any and all SquirrelMail files that may use/call webmail.php. For this, I go back to an old article “Global replace using find and xarg“:

find /home/YOURACT/www/sewing -name “*.php” | grep “tips.php”
cp $HOME/www/sewing/src/webmail.php $HOME/www/sewing/src/tips.php

What this does is give you a URL signature that reads:

http://www.yourchurchwebsite.org/sewing/tips.php

Granted, this doesn’t obscure some of the arguments used by webmailtips.php, nor does it take into account that any messages sent this way are still transmitted in plaint-text. With that in mind I WOULD STRONGLY ADVISE AGAINST depending on this collusion technique alone when trying to protect missionaries working as Doctors in Christian-hostile countries.

That said, it may be enough for those of you traveling and/or at work where your firewalls won’t discourage use of port 2082/3 and/or browser-based email. Just make sure to change the proxy settings on the browser first.

Okay, now if you don’t mind, I need to get my notes together on SSL so we can transmit data securely.

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More usable sites are used more

Stating the obvious, usability guru Jakob Nielsen reports today that:

Redesigning an intranet for usability often more than doubled the use of these award-winning designs from ten public-sector organizations.

Shortly after I filed this webly wisdom under “duh,” I read through the article and found buried deep in the middle what you can do on your own to make your church and/or charity’s website or intranet more usable.

Here is the phrase that pays:

Quite appropriately, user testing was the most common usability method, and was used in 70% of the winning projects.

Allow me to enumerate this into plain English:

  1. Those who test their intranets often wind-up with more usable intranets.
  2. Those with more usable intranets enjoy greater use and more successful use by their user base.
  3. What goes for government intranets goes for your church website.

Yeah, okay, so that last point was mine, still, how do you go about testing your church’s website without incurring Nielsen’s $10,000 consulting fee?

My first suggesting is purchasing, and then reading, Steve Krug’s “Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability.” In the book, he not only discusses important issues such as navigation and layout, but he also dedicates two chapters on how to perform what he calls “Usability testing on 10 cents a day.”

Once you’ve read this, then I suggest you not create your own usability test from scratch, but instead customize one from the following online resources:


For as it is written in Hacks 8:36, “See, here are specifications! What prevents you testing your site?

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What we can learn from the abrupt closure of Weblogs.com

While it may be true that “some” of the best things in life are free, it appears (once again) that “some” does not include free hosting. Case in point, the thousands of individuals who woke up to find their sites hosted at Weblogs.com shut down with no prior warning. Worse, stranded users cannot obtain their data unless they request it … after July 1.

We’ve talked more than once about the hazards of hosting for free, and more recently, we’ve talked about how it is unreasonable to expect an online endowment. So I while on one hand I’m not surprised that this happened, I am surprised by the number of people who are now resorting some ingenious but difficult means of ‘scraping’ their data back. I’m also a bit surprised that David Winer didn’t use the popularity of Scripting.com to throw down some warnings and how-to’s.

Lessons Learned:Cool black light, or dim bulb? You decide with your plan of attack

The above also goes for “for-pay” hosts as well. Two months ago, I had a hosting provider shut down RedlandBaptist.org due to a false spam complaint. Unable to reason with the provider … or even get him to look at his own logs … I ‘negotiated‘ to have him leave the site up for a week and proceeded to move the entire site to another server that evening. The only thing that took time was the propagation of the domain name.

Personally, I wonder the people at WordPress, MovableType and pMachine recognize this opportunity to expand their user base and by offering applications to migrate data from Weblogs to their respective systems?

I also wonder if David Winer realizes that he may be doing the Atom syndication format a favor by compelling some to go to Blogger?

Regardless of the potential fallout, the bottom line is that those of you running church web sites and blogs need to attain a certain level of self-sufficiency in the area of backups, contingencies and hosting. Depending on the kindness of strangers to buy you lunch on a permanent basis is a sure fire recipe for offline indigestion.

Additional Links on the Topic:

Update 20-Jun-04 4:51 AM:

WorkBench’s Rogers Cadenhead has decided to adopt 3,018 webloggers this week – a very generous move that I applaud. None the less, such John 11 acts of kindness do not negate your need to back-up your work … so get busy.

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Collinsville Baptist Empty Parking Lot Tabernacle

A church website that fails to convey the purpose and personality of the congregation and staff will also fail to bring new members into the door. One sure way to avoid such failures is to resist the temptation to make your home page a shrine to your big lifeless church building. This is because no matter how much money you spent on your building program, most online images of bricks and mortar convey a sense of lifelessness.

Case in point: the website for the Collinsville Baptist Tabernacle in Collinsville Oklahoma, or what I refer to as the “The Church of the Empty Parking Lot.” About the only thing missing from this ghost town pix is a .WAV file of a cricket chirping and perhaps an animated .GIF of a tumbleweed rolling by.

Worth 1000 Words

There is not much to say other than to offer a link to a front page that includes 211kb image of a very symmetric building during the middle of the day with absolutely nobody home.

Archive shot of the Collinsville Baptist Tabernacle website

Add to this the stark white color, the black parking lot, the emphasis on lines and exactly centered boundaries shouts to me “come and behold the enormity of our emptiness” or perhaps “come to the mothership, resistance if futile!” Either way, not exactly the sort of message one should convey if they want to get people in the door.

My suggestion? First, never ever use the height and width arguments of an <IMG> tag to resize an online image because it only resizes the appearance, not the physical girth transmitted from server to computer. Even if you only resize the 2048×1536 image using IrfanView by 85%, you would end-up with a reasonable 11kb 307×320 image that won’t punish your dial-up users for a picture of parking spots.

Better yet, why not offer something along with the building that conveys the fact that the structure is often filled with wonderful smiling faces with hearts full of Christian love and welcome. Take my 10-minute montage example for example:

Collinsville Baptist Tabernacle - a place of worship, family and prayer

As you can see, I kept the church building in the mix, but dressed it up with images from Stock.xchng that convey worship, prayer and family … the qualities in a congregation that often draws seekers to a new church home.

Healing the Rest

There are certainly many other aspects of this website that require healing aside from the “big empty.”

The layout and navigation is all over the place, so much so that I would suggest a fresh start, perhaps taking advantage of the following HTML and CSS generators after sitting down and thinking through a 2 level information hierarchy/tree/outline:

Or perhaps taking the Frank Ramage approach and purchase a nice FrontPage template from PixelMill. Either way, they’d do themselves some good to lose the evil scrolling marquees tags.

The point is very simple, buildings are inanimate objects, it is the wonderful people inside that give it life … focus on them instead.

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I’m too sexy for my site

I’m too sexy for my site too sexy for my site
My user’s gonna leave me

I’m too sexy to be searched too sexy to be browsed
So sexy it con-fu-ses me
And I’m too sexy for my code too sexy for my code
HTML and CSS

And I’m too sexy for you to browse
Too sexy for you to search
Note the way I’m disco dancing

With apologies to Right Said Fred, I was reminded of this one hit wonder last night after visiting the temporary website for the Grace Christian and Missionary Alliance Church of Cleveland Ohio.

A bit too Slick

As far as “Under Construction” sites, this is by far the most clever and entertaining I’ve seen … it is also the most confusing.

When I type in the URL of a church website, or click on a hyperlink to a church website via a search engine, I want something that gives me a clear indication that I’m looking at a church website … not something that makes me stare in bewilderment and ask: “how the heck did I get to MapQuest?

A bit more Modest

First, kudos to the people at Grace C&MA for getting permission from MapQuest to use their logo. Second, just so long as the new church website actually launches on July 11, I think this is a fun way to generate some short-term excitement

That said, I would have done a couple of things a bit differently:
Click here to see a 64kb Screen Capture of the frontpage for the Grace Christian and Missionary Alliance Church of Cleveland Ohio

  1. I would have tried to create a banner/logo similar to MapQuest’s, only it would read “Grace C&MA” so users quickly realize this is a spoof and that they didn’t enter the wrong URL. I’d also make it a clickable means of getting back to the home page;
  2. I would add some temporary content under the navigation bubbles to the right of the banner/logo. They are after all yummy little donuts inviting you to bite into more information … don’t antagonize and confuse the user by putting a plastic treat next to their coffee;
  3. Thank you to the Grace C&MA webmasters for providing an alternative graphic for the Flash-impaired. Now please have it read that the new site will appear on July 11th just as the Flash animation does. Oh, and add some ALTernate text to the alternate image while you’re at it;
  4. Change ‘Find It’ to ‘Visit 1 of our 2 Locations’. Just like the rest of this site, don’t make the user have to think.

One other thing that I’d put under the “it might be nice” category is a link to a double opt-in listserv that would email people once the new site is online. I classify this as a “maybe” because I’m not certain it would generate enough responses to warrant the effort.

Listserv aside, I am certain that with the four changes enumerated above, the Grace C&MA church website could continue to use this fun little place holder without confusing first time visitors. I suspect that they might also benefit from a slightly better search engine rankings via the compelling content added under the navigation bubbles.

How about you guys and gals? What are you thoughts on this bit-too-clever “Under Construction” interface?

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Larry Taylor Spam Ministries

Every now and then you may have seen me use of the term “Axiomatic Semantics” while discussing programming related issues. For those of you who haven’t been blessed with a course in systems design or discrete mathematics, I need to apologize. I really shouldn’t use such high-end industry specific terms without breaking it down for you in down-to-Earth terms. For instance, “Axiomatic Semantics” is merely geek speak for a process, specifically a process where a known output always results from a specific and known input.

Example 1 :

  • If an input equal ‘x’ then the output will equal ‘y’

Hmmm, still to esoteric, so let’s try this:

  • If you Spam me with a sucky church or para-church website, then I will use it as a good example of bad web design.

Example 2:

Back in September of 2003, I received some Spam from Larry Taylor Ministries which read.

Please don’t be too quick to delete this. Our Lord could be in it. The only way we can know about each other is by communication …

… Just want you to know I would love to come to your church for a revival meeting. Look at my website.

To which I replied:

Why should we invite an ‘evangelist’ who violates local laws by sending unsolicited commercial email, otherwise known as Spam?

I mean, why would we want to invite someone to preach the Gospel of
Peace when you’re engaging in an act of [bandwidth] theft?

Larry Taylor responded personally that he couldn’t find my email address but would remove it if I sent it to him. I issued a response where I thought it was clear that he should never send an email to anyone at RedlandBaptist.org again unless he wanted me to complain to his upstream provider. So imagine my surprise when he spammed me again this past April … then again last week using a tease technique often used by purveyors of ‘pr0n.’

subject: Are you interested in reaching the lost?
body: So am I, Give me a click.

Considering the fact that I’m still receiving unsolicited commercial email after having already complained directly and upstream, I have come to the conclusion that perhaps the best way to get old Larry Boy to quit spamming meis to give him what he wants, some website traffic. And why not? The Larry Taylor Ministries web site is after all a very good example of how NOT to design a personal ministry website.

Basic Blunders:

The first thing this website needs is a DOCTYPE. Now for those of you who aren’t fluent in HTML, a DOCTYPE declaration lets browsers and validators know which version of HTML you are using and whether or not you’re document is published in English, Esperanto or some other foreign tongue.

Some other reasons the Larry Taylor doesn’t validate is because:

  • <IMG> tags that do not include ALTernate text;
  • unordered list item tags (<LI>) are rendered without the encapsulating <UL> parent;
  • improper use of the deprecated <FONT> tag, where font family name are placed are outside of the parenthesis of the FACE argument;
  • &ltTABLE> tags that include a HEIGHT argument (let the reader understand).

In other words, here we have a website in which the browser layout cannot be guaranteed. Moreover, this site is likely to index poorly among various search engines because the language isn’t defined, and there is no way for a parser to tell where some HTML tags begin and compelling content ends.

Jesus Junk:

Nothing says cheap to a congregation than a pastor on a polyester leisure suit. Similarly, nothing conveys the message of low-rent like kitschy animate gifs and contrived backgrounds, both of which can be found on Rev. Taylor’s site.

One such gimmick that amused me was an animated envelope used as a metaphor for email. So effective is it that the webmaster was compelled to put a text hyperlink for “email” under it.

A bit further down I found pulsating crosses with hearts placed on the website because they’re relevant to …I dunno … perhaps to distract me from fishy “IXOYE” background that it makes any text not offset by a white background almost impossible to read?

Speaking of impossible to read text, for some reason the webmaster uses for plain text the same purple color used to indicate a visited hyperlink … when black would have made the text far more readable against the over-active background image, and wouldn’t confuse visitors used to industry standard visual clues.

Feeling Bloated and Lost:

The LT homepage takes approximately 25.25 seconds for someone using a 56kb dial-up line, which I suspect for Mr. Taylor’s, is about 15 seconds too long for the majority if his clientele. Part of this has to do with the display of large images of himself, then again of himself and his wife. One image would suffice, especially if it were color optimized better. Moreover, all the images need ALTernate text if Rev.Taylor wants this site accessible to individuals with visual disabilities and/or a text-only browser.

Another way to put this page on a diet is break out the content over a series of sub pages, of which there are already some, but they are hard to find because the site menu is in effect ‘hidden under a basket’ woven out of a long list of reciprocal links and a webring menu.

Since the webring requires Larry Boy to consume valuable bottom space with someone else’s menu, I would suggest putting sub page links along the top. I would also move all the “Larry’s Links” to a separate page. The same goes for the list of the Rev. Taylor’s upcoming engagements – though it might be beneficial to have the very next engagement on the front page with a hyperlink to the entire schedule.

Perfect Blog-ortunity:

The fact that Larry is often on the road and since I want him to stop spamming, I think the best solution for him would be to establish a weblog equipped with a a double-opt-in listserv and/or email notification.

This way he can update his page as to his latest and greatest achievements and keep ministry affiliates informed, while avoiding any legal and/or ISP entanglements by transmitting email to only those who’ve requested it.

Moreover, since most blogging software comes equipped with valid XHTML, CSS-driven templates, Larry would have a site that indexes better on search engines provided he keeps it current with compelling content.

Dear Larry Taylor:

I suspect at some point someone is going to point you my review of your website to you. I’m writing to you (again) in Christian love. We are commanded by Scripture to obey local authorities. Unsolicited commercial email, regardless of how the email address is obtained, is against the law in many U.S. States and municipalities. There are those who also hold the opinion that Spam is a form of theft.

Do yourself and your ministry a favor, take heed of the free technical advice I’m offering above … and the advice in the form of comments below and Spam no more. Trust me, God will honor such commitments to integrity and His Word.

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Measure Twice, Cut Once

Before ‘Home Improvement’ became a sit-com, and more recently a reality TV theme (sigh), Norm Abram was reminding us of the carpenter’s aphorism to “Measure Twice, Cut Once.” USPS Mailbox, courtesy off FreeFoto.com This is because once you cut a piece of wood, that’s it. The only way to compensate for a mistake is either through a messy glue and nails process and/or to suffer the expense of purchasing more lumber.

The same is true with email, listservs and the publishing of web content. Once you’ve hit the post or send button, it is about as difficult to retract as putting an envelope inside of a U.S. Mail box. A reality that can lead to very costly mistakes if not caught before you transmit and/or publish – such as the case of the Republican gubernatorial candidate for Montana whom after winning the primary election this past Tuesday, transmitted his concession press release to various news services which read:

“It did not go as we had hoped tonight, but tomorrow is a new day, and we endorse our party’s choice for governor at this time,… You ran a hard race, and we encourage our supporters to back your candidacy in a united effort to defeat Brian Schweitzer. Congratulations and good luck!” – Billings Gazette

Well at least Brown lands on his feet for being gracious, instead of a career killer … like let’s say for giggles: “you scum sucking idiot, you stole the election from me and I’m going to make you pay if it is the last thing I do …” Still, the email mistake could have been avoided had Brown’s staff put some controls on their email machine.

Now I realize that I’m always complaining about user interfaces that frustrate users with an array of nested forms, menus and/or confirmation pop-ups, but here is one situation where I think making a process a bit annoying would have avoided what could have been a painful and costly mistake.

How? Well, I’m sure each of us can think of a something (and if you do, please don’t be shy, leave a comment) for example, why not set up post-election distributions on two different listservs, one if they won, the other if they lost? Or at least configure the listserv or email system so administration confirmation is required before a message is transmitted.

Not all controls require massive amounts of computing power. Why not create a step-by-step script and/or check-list on paper for what to do in which scenario; then rehearse it, including sending email to test accounts? Why not have test destination accounts that receive an important email for proof-reading before the trigger is pulled for real?

The point is to look at your church’s ‘standard operating procedures’ regarding computerized publishing and/or transmissions and see if they have any form of controls, automated or manual, to insure that ONLY the right information gets to the right people at the right time each and every time. If not, then put some in place or suffer the consequences of something with the potential to embarass and/or even divide your church’s congregation.

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