Heal Your Church WebSite


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

May 22, 2010
by meandean
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WordCamp Raleigh 2010, Liveblogging, Day 1, Morning Sessions

WordCamp Raleigh 2010One advantage to living in the peak of good living,  Apex, NC, is that I’m about a 15 to 20 minute drive from downtown Raleigh, the site of WordCamp Raleigh 2010 – where today I’ll put on my best effort to live blog about the various sessions and people I discover here.

I already know it’s going to be a fun morning as I no only discovered free parking a block away from the Sheraton in which the conference is held, but my spot was in front of a Starbucks, with none other than iThemes creator Cory Miller &  friend sitting at a table just in front of the spot – as if to reserve my place.

I’ve also run into another online BFF, WordPress ninja Nathan Rice and social media guru Wayne Sutton.

Anyway, hopefully I’ll learn much about the upcoming release of WordPress 3.0.
Continue Reading →

April 26, 2010
by meandean
4 Comments

The Facebook Activity Feed Widget Plugin for WordPress

I’m pleased to announce the initial release of my 2nd social media plugin, the Facebook Activity Widget Plugin for WordPress. Simply put, it automates the display of a Facebook Activity Feed on the sidebar of your blog by making it a easy-to-configure widget.

(This is a new and different plugin than my Facebook Like Button Plugin for WordPress I deployed last week.)

For those who may not be aware of what the Facebook Activity Feed is, it is a ‘social plugin’  displays the most interesting recent activity taking place on your personal website and/or blog. Since the content is hosted by Facebook, the plugin can display personalized content whether or not the user has logged into your site.

The activity feed displays stories both when users like content on your site and when users share content from your site back to Facebook.  You can read more about this over on  the Facebook Activity Feed reference page.

Update April 30, 2010

Okay folks, version 0.2 is out, and now you can:

  • run as many sidebar widgets that your bandwidth can tolerate;
  • pick border colors with a little dialog box (still a little buggy for my tastes);
  • and as always, the plug-in is translation ready (thanks to those of you who’ve been contributing files to my other plugin!-)

NOTE – for those of you early adopters, looks like the WordPress repository did NOT give me the file name/path I requested.

So unfortunately, deactivate and delete version 0.1 before installing v0.2. Yeah, I know, whatta  pain.

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 ‘fbactivitywidget.zip’ file to the `/wp-content/plugins/` directory using wget, curl of ftp.
  2. ‘unzip’ the ‘fbactivitywidget.zip’ which will create the folder to the directory `/wp-content/plugins/fbactivitywidget`
  3. Activate the plugin through the ‘Plugins’ menu in WordPress
  4. Go to the Widets submenu option of the Appearance menu
  5. Drag and drop the widget entitled ‘Facebook Activity Widget’ into widget-enabled the sidebar of your choice
  6. Configure the newly dragged-n-dropped plugin through ‘Facebook Activity Widget’ contol box on the sidebar
  7. Modify the fields to choice and click save..

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

A screenshot of the FBActivity Feed Widget Setup Screen in action

Everything is pretty obvious from there – with the exception of the ‘domain’ parameter. Basically, it is the domain of your personal website and/or blog without the “http://” or “www.” prefixes.

You specify a domain to show activity for. The domain is matched exactly, so a plugin with site=healyourchurchwebsite.com would not include activity from obfuscator.healyourchurchwebsite.com. According to Facebook, currently you cannot currently aggregate across multiple domains.

Here’s how the FaceBook Like button appears on my own sidebar (in case you’re not reading this post from the front page :-):

How the Facebook Activity Feed Widget appears on a blog.

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.

The plugin is now available from the WordPress Repository, until I can get the plugin its ownhome on the WordPress Plugin repository. Keep in mind it is version 0.1 version 0.2 - so expect more to come!

Download the Facebook Activity Feed Plugin for WordPress

As NOTED before, if you implemented version 0.1, de-activate and delete first before installing 0.2 and later versions.

Other Facebook Social Plugins

I don’t know if I’m going to build an entire suite of Facebook Social Plugins for WordPress, but with today’s deployment, that at least gives me two.

In case you’re not a regular at this blog, last week I delivered: The Facebook Like Button Plugin for WordPress.

Unlike it’s cousin here, will display the Facebook Like Button above and/or below your posts and/or pages.

FYI

I said this in my last post … but it bears repeating … please don’t forget to click the FaceBook Like Button for this post … I’d appreciate it.

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.

April 21, 2010
by meandean
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Debating using WordPress 3.0 as your CMS? Here’s 20 ‘Brand Name’ reasons to say Yes!

With the release of WordPress 3.0 right around the corner, I thought I might offer some perspective to those arguing against said tool as a professional content management platform.

I figured the quickest way to do this is simply to point out 20 large companies building their brand by means of WordPress – the links below taking you to their individual portfolio pages on the WordPress showcase:

  1. Fisher Price Expert Series
    Fisher Price Expert Series
  2. UPS Racing
    UPS Racing
  3. Nikon Festival
    Nikon Festival
  4. Pepsi Refresh Everything Blog
    Pepsi Refresh Everything Blog
  5. Now Playing by Nokia
    Now Playing by Nokia
  6. Intel Blogathon 2009
    Intel Blogathon 2009
  7. OnStar Connections
    OnStar Connections
  8. VW TankWars
    VW TankWars
  9. Best Buy
    Best Buy
  10. The Ford Story
    The Ford Story
  11. BLogitech
    BLogitech
  12. Samsung Newsroom
    Samsung Newsroom
  13. GE reports
    GE reports
  14. Inside BlackBerry
    Inside BlackBerry
  15. WSJ. Magazine
    WSJ. Magazine
  16. Coke Studio
    Coke Studio
  17. eBay Insider
    eBay Insider
  18. Yodel Anecdotal
    Yodel Anecdotal
  19. Xerox
    Xerox
  20. BNET
    BNET

Please don’t misinterpret the purpose of this post. It’s not my intent to disparage other open source nor professional web-based content management systems …

… rather, I’m simply pointing out that WordPress isn’t just for us tech-weenies anymore

April 15, 2010
by meandean
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Sarah Palin gets trashed by old-school security flaw

Sarah Palin got trashed the other day. Well, actually, an in-tact draft of her speaking contract with California State University got tossed in the trash resulting in some potentially embarrassing details about the former Governor’s conditions such as:

… two unopened bottles of still water and “bendable straws” must be waiting on a wooden lectern, …

Now personally, I’ve been around enough performers, speakers and politicians to know that demands such as unopened bottles are for security and sanitation, and that bendy straws are best at keeping sips of water from spilling on one’s blouse … but I digress …

Big Deal! So What?

The lesson we can take away from this incident has nothing to do with politics, or even performances,  but rather some good old fashion security practices, which I offer below in a somewhat updated version of a well known proverb:

For want of a shredder the paper was lost.
For want of a paper the password was lost.
For want of a password the benefactor was lost.
For want of a benefactor the campaign was lost.
For want of a campaign the charity was lost.
And all for the want of a paper shredder.

In less poetic terms, the story goes that someone in the offices at California State University dropped five pages of a draft contract and then placed them recycling trash bin in their entirety.

What resulted was one of the oldest security hacks on the book: ‘Urino Purgamentum‘ or ‘Dumpster Diving’ for those of us not versed in Latin.

Again, Big Deal! So What?

Okay, okay, I’m getting to my point.

Today is tax day, which means the offices of your church and/or charity have probably been busy cranking out letters and statements to benefactors and contributors.

I suspect some of those documents for any variety of reasons never got mailed because they needed to be reprinted or revised … or are carelessly lying around after a successful fax transmission.

No matter how you cut it (pun intended), leaving your organization with a potential point of failure if you don’t put in place both policies and hardware on how dispose of such documents in a secure yet ecologically sound manner.

Or if that’s too much effort, put a recycle sticker on the bin to your paper shredder in the office or next to the computer where accounting is done.

Eating my own dog food …

Personally, I not only shred my documents, but then use the spaghetti like papyri in my garden – placing it as a barrier between the ground and the triple shredded mulch I put down a few times a year.

Not only does it insure my personal papers are re-constituted by some crazed HYCW cult member, but it keeps the weeds below at bay while feeding the plants above quite nicely … but I digress …

How important is this?

Point is, be careful with other people’s information. Losing it means losing their trust. And what’s that gone, you’re likely to have lost that volunteer or contributor forever.

Consider that against the cost of a shredder.

Related HYCW Reading:

April 7, 2010
by meandean
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WordPress 3.0 and your church website

Back in 2004, I wrote about using a blog as an inexpensive content management system for your church and/or charity. Seeing how we measure technology in dog years, that article might as well have been written 42 Years ago.

Meaning, blogging systems such as MoveableType, ExpressionEngine, Blogger and WordPress have all matured from snot-nosed little kids into mature adults.

No better proof of that is the upcoming May 1 release of WordPress 3.0 which among its many new features, included are some considerable content management capabilities such as Custom Post Types, Custom Taxonomies, Easy Menu Management and WPMU Multi-site Capabilities.

Here are some examples of 4 big-boy features to bring this home:

WPMU Multi-site Capabilities

I’ve long been a proponent of microsites. Back when I ran the site for Redland from 1998-2004, I employed MoveableType mostly because it allowed me to quickly launch new sites under a subdomain that I could manage from a single admin panel. These included:

  • Seasonal microsites, such as one for Advent, one for Christmas.
  • Group microsites, such as for your youth group, or the adult choir.

Put in the parlance of an overworked and under-appreciated volunteer, it means you can go nuts with a micro-site strategy to presenting the various campaigns and groups within your organization.

As a coder with a healthy background in applications framework architecture and product management, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the ability to deploy once and reuse often.  Even for a small enterprise, this capability offers big-league returns in deployment turn-around with higher overall quality.

Think of the WPMU capabilities in terms of a black box – that with this single install, you can take a more ‘factory’ approach to supporting your organization’s web presence by taking a weekend to:

  • offer a set of stock themes
  • add multiple-language support
  • run a single set of plug-ins across all sites
  • take better control over your analytics
  • install tools such as jQuery once, in one place
  • enforce policy across the entire enterprise
  • employ more effective caching strategies for media

And presto, you’re cranking out sites faster than an errors in early season Orioles game.

Oh, it also means some of you brave souls can experiment shooting your foot clean off with converting WordPress into a social network via BuddyPress.

How this will all work with plug-ins that allow single-sign-on via FaceBook is still something I’ve yet to determine, but more on that particular technology path in an future post.

Custom Taxonomies

Traditionally categories, and to some degree tags, were the only way to identify the “genre” in which a post or set of posts belonged.

This was fine for managing the posts … but managing the actual categories and tags was a real pain in the posterior.

What Custom Taxonomies does is allow administrators greater flexibility and scaleability in managing their information hierarchy.

Put another way, you can now think of all your content in nice, deep outlines if you like … and they don’t have to focus solely on content.  Some of these outlines can include groups people within your organization.

Easy Menu Management

Before, if you wanted custom navigation, you had to get into the individual themes and edit the code. A logistical nightmare if you wanted switch themes and/or manage multiple sites.

The only other way around this was to find plug-ins that allowed you to filter down menus on categories, but this band-aid approach added a level of complexity that often would fail a site once it changed webmasters or needed to expand.

With the integration of custom taxonomies comes a need to better manage navigation through said information outlines.

Now, you can create menu schemes ahead of time, that if well named, can provide navigational clarity to the user based on context … and help you with creating effective conversion campaign funnels.

Custom Post Types

In earlier versions of WordPress, you had a wide variety of content options – so long as you only wanted to field content in the form of a page or a post.

Now you can create a contextual segments. Some that quickly come to mind are:

  • Sermons
  • Galleries
  • Swag (think e-store)

My point being …

… WordPress isn’t just a pimply little blogging tool anymore.

Instead, with judicious use of the above features coupled the right plug-ins, WordPress can become a light-weight yet powerful means of managing your organizations web presence without having to indulge the expense of a large, inflexible IT shop.

Put another way, WordPress 3.0 still nicely addresses the here-and-now while also providing you a basis for ever changing and/or emerging needs and trends … quickly … without forfeiting your future for a bowl of soup.

Still not convinced? Well ask yourself,  is your resource-constrained IT infrastructure capable of managing your current backlog while remaining flexible enough to expand to whatever the heck social media and the web looks like in 2015? For those HYCW cult members who followed my advice in 2004, the answer to that question is yes!

Additional Reading

Don’t take my word for it, here are some other articles on the upcoming release of WordPress 3.0 you may find informative and useful:

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.

February 19, 2010
by meandean
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The iPad will sell despite the wailing and gnashing of teeth

Despite the all the wailing and gnashing of teeth in the tech community about how “closed” or “limited” the iPad is, it is going to sell.

I can’t take credit for the above line, though I wish I had thought of it. Instead, it comes from a comment from ‘Ryan‘ at UX Magazine that continues to read:

iPad will sell despite any shortcomings of a closed, limited operating systemBecause these users, who represent probably at least 60-70% of the market, don’t give a rip about whether the thing is “open” or “closed” or “made of kumquats” (they couldn’t tell the difference anyway). Does it provide an easy way to see their peeps on Facebook, watch some YouTube clips, and find and play some casual games? Yup. Does it get viruses, stash their files places they can’t find, and need to have the HD defragged or the OS reinstalled every 6 months? Nope.

Despite the unsubstantiated metric of 60%-70% – I think its safe to say that Ryan has nicely summed up the most important aspect of the iPad user experience – it does what the target audience want’s done without engaging in what Steve Krug refers to as ‘rocket surgery.’

Want to Tweet? No problem, just pick from 1 of a number of free or $0.99 apps that’ll have you tweeting about what your cat had for dinner faster than Kim Kardashian can out an air marshal!

Facebook your thing? Go ahead and annoy your high school peeps with constant Farmville & Mafia Wars updates from locations and times you’d otherwise be snoozing through a committee meeting.

On a more serious note, I found myself using the compass feature earlier this week while wandering about Piccadilly Circus,  keeping photos of my travel receipts, receiving useful notifications about my plane departures and arrivals, sent a few pictures to mom, and even Skyped with the wife & kid without having a single issue with the operating system, nor needing a single moment of  training on any of said apps.

That my friends is a successful user experience.

Point is, regardless of open or closed operating system, or the costs of starting up an apps development effort, or irritations from ATT’s spotty coverage outside major urban coastal areas … the iPad is going to sell because it makes fun and easy the things its users want to do …

… and does them simply, and well.

Something to think about next time you design a facilities use system for an emerging audience of gamers.