Heal Your Church WebSite

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

April 22, 2010
by meandean
40 Comments

The Facebook Like Button Plugin for WordPress

Facebook rocked the internet yesterday with 5 new plugins, one of which is an API for the Facebook Like Button. After reading about it and playing a bit with the Facebook’s Like Button generator, I decided what’s needed is a WordPress plugin that allows folks to easily configure the look-and-feel of the Facebook Like Button, and then automatically add it the beginning and/or the end of their posts.

Update 26-Apr-10

FYI, I just released version  0.1 of the The Facebook Activity Widget Plugin for WordPress – yet another useful (and different) WordPress plugin for displaying Facebook Social plugins on your website.

Update 25-Apr-10

Version 0.4 just got released – it now has a preview feature built into the administrator panel … and I’m starting to get translation .po & .mo files from abroad (thanks!-). It’s also now being distributed via the WordPress Plugin Repository.

Update 24-Apr-10

Version 0.2 is released as of Saturday, April 24, 2010 7:14 Eastern Standard Time.

Also after some excellent email and FB message feedback from some early adopters, you can now also decide whether or not you want the FaceBook Like Button to appear on the top and/or bottom of individual pages, individual posts and/or your front page.

Installation & Use

I also wanted to keep it simple, so here’s how it works — using the standard WordPress plugin installation process:

  1. Upload the ‘fblikebutton.zip’ file to the `/wp-content/plugins/` directory using wget, curl of ftp.
  2. ‘unzip’ the ‘fblikebutton.zip’ which will create the folder to the directory `/wp-content/plugins/fblikebutton`
  3. Activate the plugin through the ‘Plugins’ menu in WordPress
  4. Configure the plugin through ‘FBLikeButton’ submenu in the the ‘Settings’ section of the WordPress admin menu.
  5. Modify the fields to choice and save.

Here’s a screen shot below of the administrator screen (you’ll want to click on it to see it full size):

Screenshot of the FBLikeButton Admin Panel - now with preview

Here’s how the FaceBook Like button appears on the bottom of this post:

Screenshot of the FBLikeButton after fabulous formatting

This being being version 0.1, you can bet your sweet bippee there’s more to come. Still, I wanted to get this out to the WordPress community as fast as possible.

A bit more about the FaceBook Like Button

What’s nice about the Facebook Like button is that no login to your site is required. Even if you’ve never visited HealYourChurchWebsite.com before, they can get social context starting with their very first visit.

If you’re logged into FaceBook, then you can see which of your friends like a site — without the site knowing anything about you. Pretty neat, huh?

Download It

Also, I’m currently in the process of setting getting established with the WordPress SVN  and everything else that goes with publishing an official WordPress plugin.

Until then, click here to download the latest fblikebutton, from the WordPress Plugin repository keeping in mind it is version 0.1 0.2 – so expect more to come!

Download the FaceBook Like Button Plugin for WordPress

Shout Outs and Thanks

A shout–out of thanks for the immediate feedback goes out to Benjain, Julien, Tim, Jason, Dave, and Chuck.

Additional Reading

FYI

Oh, and hey, don’t forget to click the FaceBook Like Button for this post … I’d appreciate it.

March 16, 2010
by meandean
2 Comments

Preparing your server for success

So what happens when your church or charity website gets mentioned on a popular blog, like say Instapundit or Slashdot? Are you ready for the surge in traffic when a popular radio host or TV station plugs your URL? How about for the Thursday night before Easter services?

Odds are, probably not.Stay connected, even during the good times

I’ve personally enjoyed an occasional ‘Instalanche,’ and once even the dreaded ‘Slashdot effect,’ along with some air time when I first started this blog. I’ve seen first hand the type of volume that can hammer away at a server when this happens?

So what to do?

Well let’s talk about some of the low lying fruit first. I’ll go ahead and use WordPress as an example platform as that covers the majority of HYCW cult members out there other than Mike Boyink, whom has special dispensation for his Expression Engine ways … but I digress …

  1. Caching is your friend – meaning if you’re not caching your content, do so now. There are plenty of plug-ins available including Super-Cache which rolls out with version 2.8. There are even 3rd party services if you’re in the big leagues.
  2. Optimize them images – I’ve written more than once about image bloat, which basically means for those who are not equipped and knowledgeable PhotoShop practitioners – get IrfanView and resize and optmize your .JPG, .GIF and .PNG images using the application’s default settings.
  3. Update your platform – Even though later versions of WordPress and associated plug-ins are likely to contain new features that increase their server footprint, they often include bug fixes and optimizations that help them perform better downstream.

So now that we’ve stated the obvious, let’s talk about a few more intermediate things we can do that’ll help things keep chugging along – provided you remember to make backups:

  1. Optimize your database – which is built-into phpMyAdmin that most hosts provide gratis. Otherwise, this can be accomplished at the command line by backing-up and then restoring one’s database – which is a good procedure to know regardless of optimization.
  2. Compress your CSS & JavaScript – for those of you who don’t code, there’s alot of repetitive white spaces, commands and operands that can be ‘tokenized’ into smaller symbology. YUI Compressor does a good job with JavaScript. CSS Drive offers one of many competent CSS Compressors out there.
  3. Turn-off unnecessary plug-ins, remove unused plugins – especially the former as they inject code and processing cycles into the page delivery process. No need to burden the user with this stuff if it’s not helping the cause.

Okay, now for the advanced stuff , the type of tasks no one likes because for the most part, these steps either require engaging in planning or policy:

  1. Email notifications – Consider turning off select groups of email notifications temporarily while the rush is on, for example, new registration notifications. This means knowing what emails you get from your site and what happens to whom when they’re altered.
  2. Old Post Comments – Think about using plugins that allow you to switch comments and/or pings on or off for batches of existing posts. I personally use Extended Comments Options such as those over a year old. This may be tough when dealing with pastors with several years of sermon submissions.
  3. Contingency plan –
    • I mentioned this before, but is your data backed-up on a regular basis? Do you know how to restore it?
    • It might help to have an alternate theme that is less graphic and media intensive for use during the rush. You know, one without all the ‘flashination?’
    • Work out an alternate domain with your service provider, and/or a sub-domain with neighboring organization. This could even be a microsite platform temporarily drafted to help with the load.
    • Discuss with your hosting provider other alternatives they might offer.

There are still some other real-hairy things you can do, but I suspect if you’re the type of reader who already knows about employing dual-server gardens for data and application, then I don’t really need to explain such big-league tactics.

The point is, be ready for success.

After all, Easter is just around the corner, and I can guarantee you, even if you don’t get mentioned by an A-blogger, you’re site is going to get hit with first time visitors looking for service times, directions, things for the kids, and what type of pancakes you’re serving at the sunrise service.

It might not hurt to have your analytics goals set up to capture such events either … more on that later.

December 29, 2009
by meandean
2 Comments

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?

December 18, 2009
by meandean
1 Comment

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.

December 17, 2009
by meandean
Comments Off on 12 Days of Jesus Junk – Day 4 – Unreadable at 11:23

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.




December 16, 2009
by meandean
2 Comments

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.

December 15, 2009
by meandean
Comments Off on 12 Days of Jesus Junk – Day 2 – Think Globally!

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!

December 14, 2009
by meandean
1 Comment

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.