Heal Your Church WebSite


Teaching, rebuking, correcting & training in righteous web design.

When Christian Spammers and PowerPoint collide

What’s more irritating than people spamming in the name of God? How about the same knuckle-head directing you to a website that takes 5 minutes and 20 seconds to download on a 56kb dial-up? That’s what I discovered after someone representing themselves as Casey Dean (CDean2412@aol.com) clicked on each of the obfuscated email addresses on the contacts page at Redland Baptist Church, spamming everyone, except the webservants, with the following message:

Please view this website Eagles Club and pray for God to show you if you’re to become a covenant partner. Our goal is to raise up a Generation of Debt Free Believers (Romans 13:8) by Breaking the Bondage of DEBT(Proverbs 22:7) for any other info contact me.

Needless to say, I was confounded and confused how giving away $100 a month, and spamming total strangers, would make me debt free. So I prayed about it and here’s the Bible passage that came to my mind:

And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. – Mark 11:15

So I began the process of formalizing a complaint. Since the email was actually sent from an AOL account, I merely forwarded the routing headers along with the offending message to abuse@aol.com, but I wasn’t done. With this spam hurled at our bandwidth the week prior Easter, and compelled by Scripture to bear His likeness, I wanted this to be a thorough scourging. At I first thought it might be instructive if I issued the following Linux/wget command and walked away for an hour or three:

# note – don’t let the wordwrap fool you, it’s all one command line
export http_proxy=http://proxy.provider.com:80/;
while [ true ] ;
do wget -r -nd –proxy=on –user-agent=”All Your Spam Sucks”
–delete-after http://www.eaglesclub.info/caseydean > /dev/null ;
done

But that would be returning evil with evil … and I suspect it is also illegal. So instead, I visited the spamvertised website as part of putting together an email of complaint to the website’s hosting company, Yahoo. What I found convinced me to instead turn the other cheek as the site’s current incarnation is far more damaging then getting their host provider to shut them down.

Here are some bullet points on why I think it better to let them wallow in their existent state of affliction:

  • This site is essentially unavailable to the demographic they’re trying to reach;
  • the site epitomizes all that is wrong with Christian spam;
  • the site is the definitive example of ineffective ‘brochureware’;
  • this site serves as a reminder to never publish PowerPoint generated content that can otherwise be rendered with HTML.

It’s on these last two points I want us to focus on.

Brochureware
All too often, legitimate Christian ministries offer an online presence that is little more than ‘brochureware’, a term nicely defined by the good folks at the TheoBlogical Community. There are two problems with this approach:

  1. Telling existing members what they already know doesn’t serve their ongoing needs.
  2. Unless you have a static, 2 dimensional church, then the brochureware approach fails to convey the true personality and purpose of your parish to potential visitors.

Instead, figure out creative ways of presenting the cool people in your pews and pulpits that distinguishes it from all the other churches listed on the Internet. At RBC, our most popular pages are our sermons (which I need to update). They feed the needs of the members, and give visitors a clue as to what they’re likely to hear on a Sunday. I think you would have to agree, this is a far more effective way of conveying what it is we believe than the canned, church-speak, one-size-fits-all mission statement.

Power-less Point
In the same way it might be convenient in the short-term to scan and publish an existing bulletin or newsletter, it is equally convenient to “Save As” a PowerPoint presentation to “HTML.” I put special emphasis on “HTML” because what PowerPoint really does is create a huge JPG file for each slide then creates a HTML file wrapper to contain the bloated images.

In the case of our spammer, he took his slideshow output to a new level of inconvenience, using Yahoo PageBuilder to concatenate all 21 of the 80k images into a single index file that takes close to a minute to download on my beefy DSL line.

Don’t do this!
Even if you’re not a spammer, please, please, please do not be deceived into taking the wide-door of short-term convenience, such appearances of convenience are spawned by satan to seduce you into a long-term maintenance nightmare. Specifically, any updates have to go through a single person’s individual PC each and every time. Worse, the end product is completely unscannable by search engines and the search features of an individual’s browser.

For example, because the Eagles Club contains mostly graphic-generated content, I couldn’t use the F3 search feature on my browser to find keywords or phrases. Instead, I had to hit the PageDown button 17 times to get to the 13th image to find out how I was going to, in their words, ‘break the bondage of debt;’ and I quote:

“There are no guarantees of income. All illustrations are based on you getting your 3 covenant partners and them getting their 3 covenant partners and them getting their 3 and all covenant partners maintaining their $100 monthly auto-ship.” – http://www.eaglesclub.info/Slide13.JPG

Now in the case of the Eagle’s Club, it could be that they were just trying to avoid searches made by the good folks at the Federal Trade Commission. For the rest of us, this is a good example of how to make your site invisible to seekers in your area using Google and/or Yahoo.

So do me a favor, if someone thinks it is a good idea to publish your church’s website using PowerPoint, strongly suggest that they instead consider using Flash instead. And for those of us who really don’t like Flash, there are a number of free and/or low cost text-based solutions available at places like HotScripts.

Yes I know, I’ve been a bit Josephus-like in my critique today, but I’m of the opinion that if charlatans put the energy used to peddle the enslavement of ‘godly‘ pyramid schemes into a real ministry or business, then we would truly multiply our ability to feed the hungry, address the needs of the widow and the prisoner, and lead individuals to a saving knowledge of Christ.

3 Comments

  1. Is there any rule of usability that that site DOESN’T break?

    Appearently they went to http://www.wedaretosoar.com (another award winning site) put their entire presentation on one page. Clever!

    I know that God has the vengence thing taken care of, but I really hope HE has a special place in Hell for people who use HIS name to mislead others (and do it on a bad website to boot)!!

  2. I think I’ve actually met these people before. I was out at a coffee shop discipling two girls and they interrupted us and took up like 15 minutes of our time (they were visiting the area, I live in CA). They were saying all kinds of erroneous things and I was just praying the whole time that it wouldn’t affect the girls I was discipling. Afterwards I spent about 5 or 10 minutes showing the girls what the Bible had to say. I sincerely hope the people will see the truth of God’s word and turn to Him.

  3. Bad website or no, I have a hard time believing that their pyramid scheme is legal at all. My church was spammed by a member of our own denomination. She clicked on the links for our Session and sent them spam about – web design! For the record, that is not what offended me. Her emails had no opt-out, and she gave the name of her pastor as a business reference. I called him, called her, and sent email messages to both. Neither returned my call. Gee, I wonder why?