5 lessons we can learn from the Steven E. Hutchins Architects data sabotage

 Marie Cooley - accused of allegedly wiping out employer's dataAngry Employee Deletes All of Company’s Data‘ is how the headline read last week describing an alleged incident of data sabotage where an employee, erroneously thinking a help wanted ad in the paper by her employer was describing her job, allegedly leveraged her access late Sunday night to destroy 7 years of data worth an estimated 2.5 million dollars.

As Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office spokesman Ken Jefferson told reporters:

“She decided to mess up everything for everybody … She just sabotaged the entire business, thinking she was going to get axed … She decided to be spiteful and go in and sabotage the records. And she did a very good job of that …” – via Fox News & TheRegister.co.UK

According to the Fox News story, Hutchins told one TV station (First Coast News) he’d managed to recover all the files using an expensive data-recovery service … though the Register reports firm owner Steven Hutchins saying the restoration fee was “not a sensationalistic amount of money.

So what does this have to do with your church and/or charity website? Glad you asked …

… those of you with some systems administration experience are undoubtedly shaking your head after reading such stories – and for good reason. Much of the pain could have been prevented had the following five measures been taken:

  1. Make a nightly, or at least weekly backup of the 7 years of work;
  2. Take the grandfather backup, that is the backup before the most recent backup, and move it off site – preferably to a fireproof safety deposit box. It is after all worth 2.5 million dollars;
  3. Create a disaster recovery plan that includes loss of data, loss of hardware, loss of operating system, loss of personnel;
  4. Take a Saturday and practice the disaster recovery plan. An example scenario I might suggest to said Florida firm is to enact the plan to deal with damages incurred by a hurricane;
  5. Limit access to full data to a vetted, trusted, bonded and insured system administrator. Everyone else gets data on a ‘copy of’ and need basis – I’m thinking through a secured revision control system that can be backup-up and where there is immediate recourse to a variety of intentional and unintentional ‘mistakes.

Think about it, all it takes is one disgruntled or even one well-meaning but not-so-careful layperson and/or church staff person to effectively wipe out your church and/or charity’s data in a fashion similar to what Marie Lupe Cooley allegedly did to Steven E. Hutchins Architects.

So make plans to protect your data now!

As for the job … apparently Ms. Cooley originally wasn’t in danger of losing it. The ad was for Hutchins’ wife’s company.

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No promiscuous text found at Scottsdale Christian Church

If I had to say one thing nice about the website for the Scottsdale Christian Church (SCC) of Scottsdale Arizona, it would be that it is devoid of the ‘promiscuous text’ found on some other sites that publish entire novellas on their front page explaining in their best church speak why all babies must eat.

Of course upona closer inspection of the SCC website, one discovers that there is actually NO text on – making it almost impossible for anyone ‘Googling’ for a church just off route 101 near Eldorado Park.

In short, the site violates tenant number #9 on my  top 10 church website design mistakes of 2007: using graphics to render text.

Don’t do that!

Here are five reasons why this is such a bad approach to church website development:

  1. Obscenely Long Load Times: the page takes too long to load, 33 seconds on an ISDN line, 13 on a T1. Both well above the 8 second rule, which isn’t to say that 78.74 seconds on a 56k line is any dream either.
  2. Search Engine Invisibility: search engines index text – not graphics. There is absolutely no way Google, Yahoo or any other search engine is going to be able to provide top-10 results to upcoming events and/or youth activities at SCC because there’s nothing other than the name of the church and location to index.
  3. Maintenance Blues: every time a single item on the church website needs to be changed, it means graphics need to be re-rendered, posted and tested. I mean the front page alone is comprised of 55 images!
  4. Usability Issues: I think this issue is  best reflected on the SCC Resources page, where URLs are displayed as unclickable text. Users usually expect such items to be rendered as hyperlinks.
  5. Printing and Play: One way to help people get to your church or charity on time and with ease is to make sure your direction page can be rendered in print – and/or renders well on a portable device such as a smart phone. I’ve printed the SCC directions page and what I found was the right-side address and time cut-off for a map that assumes I live within 4 blocks of the church.

Point is, while the Scottsdale Christian Church of Scottsdale Arizona website isn’t entirely  brochureware, its use and usability are as hampered as its searchability because the entire site is rendered as a set of nested tables containing images … when easier to manage and maintain, indexable text would have sufficed.

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YourMap – an easier way to integrate Google Maps into your church website

Google Map - Your MapBack in August, I posted a 10-step “How to (really) embed Google Maps on your church website.” Yesterday, I received a really nice email from Mickey of Church Website Help & Google Earth Hacks informing me he’s developed a free online application that automates 8 of the steps I previously defined. In his own words, here is what he’s offering and why:

I thought I’d share this with you in the hopes that you like it and share it with other people and/or blog about it.

I’ve noticed a lot of church sites (and many other small businesses) don’t have a decent map on their directions page to convey a sense of location. It’s often an old MapQuest screenshot or something like that. I’ve built a free tool to help people embed a Google Map on their site, as well as provide a Google Earth file for them.

http://www.gearthhacks.com/yourmap/

I designed it to be very simple. It should be a total of about a two minute process for most people. Enter info –> Generate code –> Paste code.

Here is a demo of what the output looks like:

http://www.gearthhacks.com/yourmap/demo.php

Let me know what you think.

I think the church website community owes you a bit thank you! Meaning, if you’re ever in my neck of the woods, you get a free lunch or at least some coffee and conversation on my nickel!

About the only thing I might add to the service is an AJAX-based latitude/longitude retrieval element so that the user doesn’t have to go off-site of the utility to gain said locational data. I know, whatta pain!

That said, it’s not too much of a hop and skip as it is, and coupled with Tim Bednar’s advice on how to “Get your church listed on the Apple iPhone” by leveraging Google Local Business to map one’s ministry … and you can dispense with the crufty screen captures of various MapQuest and Yahoo Map images Micky sites in his email.

Hand drawn maps … well that’s an entirely different article I’m saving to fun-up an otherwise boring Friday sometime in the probably distant future.

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Is your church website little more than brochureware?

 Little image of little brochure with little contentThe WikiPedia defines brochureware as: “A brochureware website is a business website that has very infrequently updated content, and little of it. Often the site has been developed as a direct translation of existing printed promotional materials, hence the name.

Note the emphasis, that’s mine.

This is because I’ve run into more than one church website that is nothing more than a big-honking Adobe PDF file – or worse, a big-honking graphic file – that is in fact nothing more than an online version of their printed brochure.

The same WikiPedia article asserts “Brochureware sites therefore take little advantage of the capabilities of the web that are missing in printed publication. Often the only hyperlinks on the site are in the site’s navigation menu.

Note again the emphasis, also mine.

This is because most who use the web are seeking – and expect – online more than what is available in a printed brochure.

Here are a few questions you can ask yourself and/or your church webmaster to see if your site falls into the category of brochureware:

  • Is the website designed around an existing printed brochure?
  • Does the website heavily employ PDF or graphic files to represent text?
  • Is the content on your website generally dynamic or static in nature?
  • Is the church website nothing more than one-big-honking brain-dump page created out of Word?
  • Does the church website have a usable search feature?
  • Is your church website rendered with Microsoft FrontPage or Microsoft Publisher?

If you can answer yes to ANY of these questions, then your church website may be in part or in whole brochureware.

Here are some past examples and topics on this topic:

I’m sure some of you can think of some other traits and/or articles related to the topic. If so, leave a comment – in love – so we can all learn from it.

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When web page creation tools and novice church website design collide

One of the good things about the Web in 2008 is the number of free and easy web page creation tools to aid those novices involved in church website design. One of the bad things about the Web in 2008 is the number of free and easy web page creation tools novices employ to generate unusually unusable church websites.

Case in point, Sabbath Day Church of God Hot Springs Arkansas, brought to you by Web Page Maker V2; a web page generation tool described on its own website as:

… an easy-to-use web page editor that allows you to create and upload web pages in minutes without knowing HTML. Simply drag and drop objects onto the page and position them freely in the layout.

It also appears that it is an easy-to-use web page editor that allows you to create web pages in minutes without knowing usable interface design, conversion goals, semantic HTML, and other important details. Basically, all the bad things one gets with FrontPage at only a 1/3rd the expense of FrontPage.

That said, here are 5 things I would do to improve the web presence for the Sabbath Day Church of God:

  1. Since there is information provided on a weekly basis, consider using a blog as a content management tool. It’ll help both better organize and present otherwise compelling content.
  2. Move the prayer list page behind a password protected area – as the current format may expose the church to some unwanted privacy concerns.
  3. Lose the Java Applets – such counters are not needed in a day and age of far better usage measurement tools as Google Analytics. Such counters also slows down the page load ALOT.
  4. Optimize those bloated images.
  5. Lose the grainy-green background image – it makes the black text entirely unreadable.

There are other things I might do as well, perhaps leverage Google Calendars and Google Maps instead of the current calendar and map solutions.

I most definately would put the phone number, location, along with the dates and times of the services in a far more conspicuous place then hiding said lamp under a bowl as is currently the case.

Other observations? You know the drill, leave a comment – in love – so we can all learn from it.

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