What Record Sales of the Amazon Kindle Means to Your Church Website

Yesterday , I was attracted by the Wired Magazine Gadget Labs  headline “Amazon: Kindle Books Outsold Real Books This Christmas.” According to a release cited in the article:

“[the] Kindle has become the most gifted item in Amazon’s history …

… On Christmas Day customers purchased more Kindle books than physical books.”

Now unlike my good friend Vincent Flanders, I’m not ready to tweet:

“RT @VincentFlandersThe bookstore is dead says Seth Godin http://bit.ly/8StlpZ

Kindle 2That said, when I look at all the paper my own church consumes on a weekly basis, I have to wonder if we don’t have as a mission initiative keeping the fine folks at Dunder Mifflin employed (let the reader understand).

This all got me to thinking, even though I’m not the type of guy who is going to chain himself to a tree – I do think judicious of resources falls under good stewardship – and that includes both natural resources as well as financial.

Meaning, as we continue to see the emergence of digital media devices, such as the Kindle and/or smart phones, why not consider providing and/or publishing more and more of your organizations information in supported by such devices?

Providing: let’s say you want to study Os Guinness’ “Dining with the Devil: The Megachurch Movement Flirts with Modernity”. The Paperback version is $12.82 not including the cost of shipping. The Kindle price for the same is $9.99. That’s about a 33% difference, again not including the cost of shipping.

Publishing: each Christmas and Easter, I see many churches publish multi-page pamphlets that contain all the bulletins for all the services. These are nice as they provide continuity, but I can also see where they’re going to run the church and/or charity a few bucks – especially as people forget to bring with them their nicely stapled paper pile from the previous week.

Yes, Amazon does get to keep about $0.65 of every dollar, but I do think there is a cost savings and possibly cost recovery even if your organization only charges the minimum $0.99 cents to sell your Advent Season bulletin on the Kindle.

Similarly, what would be the cost of simply pushing out to your organization’s website the average, weekly bulletin out to PDF or HTML for consumption by those in your congregation armed with BlackBerry’s and/or iPhones? Other than setting up the router? Especially since they can then also use the same network to follow-along Scripture readings with the mobile version of the ESV Bible?

Point is, I think it’s time to look around your church and/or charity’s offices and meeting rooms and see just how much paper could be saved by simply publishing the temporal stuff online.

What are your thoughts?

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Bad idea design poster #10 – Feature Creep

The misguided notion that somehow more is always better.

  • Main Entry: Feature Creep
  • Pronunciation: \ˈfÄ“-chÉ™r ˈkrÄ“p\
  • Function: intransitive verb
  • Etymology: Middle English feture crepen, from the act of over-building something
  • Date: December 24, 2009

Remember folks, flee from temptation to ‘gizmo’ up your site.

The misguided notion that somehow more is always better.

Instead, focus on workflow – that is the things your users want/need to do/learn from visiting your website.

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12 Days of Jesus Junk – Day 5 – Speak Clearly

Even if you haven’t read the latest writings of Steve Krug, Jakob Nielsen or Luke Wroblewski, it doesn’t take a ‘Rocket Surgeon‘ understand the wisdom the “duck test” which according to the all-knowing Wikipedia asserts:

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.

Which is why I find myself  a little bit confused when stumbled onto the  ‘Jesus Christ Celebriduck Limited Edition Collectible Rubber Duck‘ parodied in the instructional poster below:

12 Days of Jesus Junk - Day 5 - Speak Clearly

Call me old school but as I recall a rubber ducky is, as Ernie of Sesame Street so aptly described in song a “ .. little fella who’s Cute and yellow and chubby …

Now I know what some of you are thinking “Dean, you dope, the Celebriduck is a collector item thing … of course it doesn’t look like a duck!” …

… kidding aside, I already figured out it’s some niche merchandise marketed who also speak other arcane dialects such as “Beanie Baby” … but that gets to my point!

Using insider jargon-eze is a sure fire way to relegate your website the non-desirable’ SEO’ known as ‘search-engine obscurity.

Consider this:  in the U.S. 1 in 3 adults is unchurched. Meaning 1 in 3 adults don’t understand the ‘church-speak‘ that bables-up and out of expensive color brochures, sermon videos and web sites.

So when it comes to the purpose and personality of your organization, speak clearly and say it plain. Tell visitors precisely what THEY seek in terms THEY understand.

Put another way, by avoiding ‘clique chat‘  you’ll not only make your site more usable to individuals trying to find what you have to offer, but you’ll also help avoid spending $5k on a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) expert.

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12 Days of Jesus Junk – Day 4 – Unreadable at 11:23

Even though I’m a software guy, I think if I were asked to design a religious-themed wall clock I might steer clear of some of the usability issues I find with the Jesus Christ Carrying Cross Christian Theme Wall Clock parodied below:

12 Days of Jesus Junk - Day 4 - Unreadable at 11:23

What usability issue? Well if I’m a user sitting across the room at 11:23, and possibly at 4:55 and 8:05, I might find it hard to see what time it is because of the dark black lines of the artwork create a dark black background for the thin black arms of the clock.

So what has this got to do with my church or charity website? Glad you asked.

What we want to take away from today’s example is the concept that part of a successful user interface isn’t just design that looks good (not that I find the clock artwork all that inspiring) — but also a design facilitates a positive and productive user experience.

This can be measured in ‘conversion rates,’ that is the rate at which the user successfully uses the website (or clock) to accomplish some item of work or information gathering.

This means we need to avoid design elements get in the way of a web page’s core functionality, otherwise we’re left with the antithesis of conversion – the user abandons the product – often quantified as the ‘bounce rate.

To help avoid this common pitfall, I offer this “fast five” lists of things to remember when designing a webpage:

  1. You are not your user;
  2. solve their problems, don’t burden them yours;
  3. don’t assume all any of your users are idiots;
  4. engage in user testing – where non-geeks attempt simple, common tasks; and
  5. when a problem and/or encumbrance by a user is reported – do what it takes to provide the user a clear path to operational/work-flow success.

On that last point, think Amazon.com, the premier example of conversion goals in action. When they hear of something that gets in the user’s way – even if it sounds stupid – they fix their site to accommodate the customer.

I’d recommend doing the same, perhaps starting with some good-old-fashioned hallway testing and moving out from there.




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12 Days of Jesus Junk – Day 3 – Avoid Wipeouts

Nothing says “wipe-out” like a cheap little Holy Bible eraser.

12 Days of Jesus Junk - Day 3 - Avoid Wipeouts

And while the product parodied above is applied a slightly different meaning of “fail” the point is hardware failures, power outages, software bugs, stolen computers, cross site scripted SQL injections, and/or zombie induced denial of service attacks can all turn your church and/or charity website into a tub of techno-mush quicker than you can recurse a binary tree.

The only real defense against such failures is to plan for them – anticipating them in three ways:

  • backing up your data
  • moving your backed-up data off site
  • having and practicing how to restore backed-up data

Here’s a very simple snippet from an oldie but goldie article entitled “How to backup your MySQL tables and data every night using a bash script and cron:

#!/bin/sh
# backup data
mysqldump -uroot -ppwd --opt db1 > /sqldata/db1.sql
mysqldump -uroot -ppwd --opt db2 > /sqldata/db2.sql
# zip up data
cd /sqldata/
tar -zcvf sqldata.tgz *.sql
# email data off-site
cd /scripts/
perl emailsql.cgi

The article also displays a script on how to email the data off site, not a bad deal if your data is small – such backups being just as simple to restore with this dynamic command line duo of directives:

tar -zxvf sqldata.tgz
mysql -uroot -ppwd db1 < db1.sql

Things get trickier when you have tons of data, in which it may play into one’s restoration plan better to backup and restore a database by individual tables. Here is a set of articles that describes how to do this that includes some script examples you can modify to suite your needs:

Either way, then it is just a manner of putting the shell script on a timer, or in the vernacular of crontab:

1 3 * * * /usr/home/mysite.com/prvt/tbak.sh > /usr/home/logs/tbak.log

If either of these shell script, bash-based approach seems to complex then perhaps one of the control panel, web-based method offered by UpStartBlogger’s post “8 MySQL Backup Strategies for WordPress Bloggers (And Others)” will do the trick.

Here are some other related articles that might help, the last two include automagic date stamping of the backup files:

The bottom line is this: just Peter implores us to make a ready defense in 1 Peter 3:15, so I’m asking you always be ready to make a defense to anything that endangers the data that is on your system so you’re not found tearfully dissheveled cowering in a corner meek and fearful, mumbling something about how you should have planned for such failures.

You’ll be glad you did – probably at the most inopportune time possible.

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12 Days of Jesus Junk – Day 2 – Think Globally!

As once again the  TSA reminds us that Christmas Snow Globes a threat to National Security, I thought it might be a good time to talk about the wide-World of bad-guys and some simple things you can do to guard your site from a potentially explosive situation.

12 Days of Jesus Junk - Day 2 - Think Globally

Unlike the 5.5″ The Kneeling Santa Claus Musical Christmas Water Globe parodies above, there are some real threats to your website that are an unfortunate aspect of the “World Wide” nature of the Web.

Specifically, I’m talking about the army of professional hackers employed in far flung regions such as China, Nigeria and of course what is now the former U.S.S.R.

For that, I recommend a modification to your  .htaccess file such as:

<Limit GET HEAD POST>
deny from 218.25.161
allow from all
</LIMIT>

If you look close, I’m only using 3 levels of the IP address to 218.25.161.0 through 218.25.161.255.

And where does one get a block of  IPs to block? Glad you asked …

Pre-fabricated blacklists to block IP addresses of entire countries:

A bit more on .htaccess and mod_access:

Just remember to keep good backups of whatever files you’re working on – and try not to lock yourself out while experimenting with changes!

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12 Days of Jesus Junk – Day 1 – Hallway Testing

I’m sure the makers of the Gemmy 6ft Airblown Inflatable Christmas Nativity Scene parodied below were not trying to assert that Jesus was of Aryan descent:

Avoid accidental message myopia by subjecting all your design work to hallway testing

So how do we avoid the type of ‘accidental-message-myopia‘ that produces a design that includes a not-so Middle-East,  blond haired (and possibly blue-eyed)  baby Jesus?  Two words “Hallway Testing.”

The Wikipedia describes hallway testing as:

Hallway testing (or hallway usability testing) is a specific methodology of software usability testing. Rather than using an in-house, trained group of testers, just five to six random people, indicative of a cross-section of end users, are brought in to test the software (be it an application, web site, etc.); the name of the technique refers to the fact that the testers should be random people who pass by in the hallway. The theory, as adopted from Jakob Nielsen’s research, is that 95% of usability problems can be discovered using this technique.

In short, hallway testing is the simple act of accostingI mean drafting … I mean enlisting 5 or 6 random individuals to inspect your designs to insure among other things, you’re not overlooking some detail great or small that accidentally sends the wrong message.

I know it’s an extra step in the web design process, but when one considers alternatives as the above parody poster depiction, it’s probably worth it.

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