Adam Bird

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Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Case Study (Part 4) - kings-medway.co.uk

King's Church Medway website

Towards the end of last month, I read a status update from my Uncle Matthew who is Pastor of King's Church in Medway. His status championed the launch of his church’s new website and encouraged his Facebook connections to visit. Except that when I did, I wasn’t enthused by what I saw. After I put across my point of view he agreed with my assessment and accepted my invitation to review the current site and work with him and his team to start again - pretty much from the ground up.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve visited the church several times. On each occasion we’ve had a proactive discussion on what a potential new website should feature, how it should look and most importantly of all, how it should communicate - not just to visitors of the website, but to friends of people who belong to the church, or organisations that help on a daily basis to do good for the greater church community.

We made a decision early on that we were actually dealing with multiple websites rather than try to tell the full story across a single domain. We turned this into a three way split - the Church, Caring Hands and Light the Way. There is still a possibility of a fourth website, but this is still pending upon various other important matters unconnected with this blog, so I’ll leave that where it is for now.

The Social Layer:


Outside of the three domains set up to deal with each of the three websites, a social layer will be created to help spread and share the good work that happens both inside the church (Kings), outside in the local community (Caring Hands) and on a global level (Light the Way).

Each of the three sites will have an external voice (Twitter) telling the world what they are doing, have done, or are about to do. Whilst members of each community (Facebook) will be invited to attend events and partake in sharing content that is posted via each community's Page. Each of the three sites will also have an associated You Tube channel where imagery can be captured and added to the website or shared across any of the two communication channels (Twitter and Facebook).

Each site will also have at least one blog which will allow any invited member of the organisation to write a post keeping visitors to the website and to any of the social channels updated with all the latest goings on inside the church.

An example would be:

  • - A member of the church writes a blog post about the planning for the next Light the Way mission.
  • - This blog post appears on the Light the Way website, but I, as a potential visitor would have to visit the website to read it. Instead because it is a blog post, and I've visited the website before I can subscribe to the blog feed and have this appear automatically in my own news reader. Immediately one piece of content has reached me in either one of two ways.
  • - The author of the blog is also an page admin on Facebook, so they update the Light the Way Facebook page with a link to the new content.
  • - As I’ve also ‘Liked’ Light the Way on Facebook, I’ve now received three opportunities to read the same content.
  • - More importantly, now that I have, and it is on Facebook I can share this content with my own Facebook connections. From one person seeing a single piece of content, I’ve now exposed this to 500 of my own friends. If the Light the Way page has 100 people 'liking' the page and all 100 share a piece of content, you can see how quickly good news spreads!
  • - The author of the blog, just for good measure sends a tweet from the Light the Way Twitter feed with another link to the new post. This has now been picked up by me again as I’m also following Light the Way on Twitter. I then decide to retweet the link so that my own followers can read it.
  • - I wasn't the only one, the charity in which Light the Way are helping on their mission also notices’s the tweet. They have 10,000 followers. The charity retweets the Light the Way link and immediately it is picked up by a much bigger audience.
  • - And finally, now that the organisation has been broken down into three, each part of the church can now talk about one another, the church can share content that Caring Hands or Light the Way has created and vice versa.

It might seem common sense to me and it is, I deal with it day in day out and understand how each of the platforms work. I also understand how used correctly, they can do great and wonderful things for your business, or in this case organisation.  Never presume that people will visit your website, get your website to the people - it's straightforward enough. But for my Uncle and his team, its unknown territory which they a, need to know how to use and b, know how to get the most from it.

For example, a particularly talking point was Facebook. At the moment the church has two Facebook accounts, one set up as a friend account and the other as a Page. The friend account has every attribute that you and I have, a DOB, a first name and surname and strangely for an organisation a Gender. Hang on a minute? How can an organisation have a gender? It doesn’t, which is why Facebook created 'pages' for organisations, authors, clubs, brands and businesses.

The biggest problem, particularly if you are a religious organisation with a ‘friend’ profile, is that you are mixing in the same Facebook social circles as those you have ‘friended’. You can now see all of your ‘friends’ problems, the status updates which moan about someone else, or links that they’ve shared, or even photos uploaded which could cause embarrassment and/or distress to either party.

By creating a ‘page’, you are then elevating yourself out of that social circle and putting yourself above it, so that that in your own ‘news feed’ (which is different to your profile) you will see only things that your organisation has ‘liked’. You no longer have friends and you can only share content that has been added by those pages that you've liked . Everything that people then do, everyone who ‘likes’ your page is then invisible to you as a page owner, leaving you then to take all of your great content and share it in the knowledge that you are only sharing it with those people who’ve explicitly said that they ‘like’ you - and if they no longer want to hear from you, they simply ‘unlike’ your page and you can carry on with sharing to those who are interested.

The Design:


Whilst the social layer eco-system gets put in place and members of the church learn to how to use and perfect each system, I have been left to think about and consider how the three main websites are to work and what they might begin to look like.

This, for me is the hardest part of the whole process. The main issue being that by trade, I am not a website designer. I bring to life other peoples designs, which does have its benefits. The websites I build day in day out are (mainly) beautifully but the downside is that I don’t use Photoshop or Fireworks to design, I use it to slice and optimise, which is fundamentally different. The only ‘design’ work I do is on the odd occasion like this where a little private project needs bringing to life and I’m the only one to do it!

My design ethos then, is pretty much non-existent other than knowing what I like and knowing what I don’t. I can look at all the websites in the world and tell you if I like them or not, but I couldn’t tell you why. It is instinctive. Some are more obvious than others, but at the beginning of this whole series of blog posts I reviewed and looked at a group of websites which I said that worked and others than simply didn’t.

My main design considerations then for this project were as follows:

  • - the design had to be modern and well laid out
  • - it had to fall into the later category of sites that I felt worked in my earlier blog post
  • - all three sites had a common ‘theme’ or something that linked them all together so that if you visited them all one after another you were dealing with the same organisation
  • - it encapsulated the brochure style of a static website, but incorporated all the elements of the social layer that was discussed above
  • - that Uncle Matthew and the key church stakeholders liked it!
  • - that each design incorporated a functional piece of JavaScript that I’d seen elsewhere, that I didn’t know how it worked, but I’d teach myself to build it

With all things considered and thought out, I’m glad to say that after nearly three weeks, after plenty of deliberation and revision, we now have a design that all parties are happy with and are now currently working at developing into a functional website!

The Shared Elements:


  • - Each site has its own color palette
  • - Each site has a header, a footer and a navigation that is exactly the same but identifiable through colour and logo.
  • - Each site links to each other
  • - Each site has vital elements in familiar positions i.e. quick links and social media icons
  • - Each site then has a content area, which can be used to display the specific site content individually using a design that is unique and stands out from the other two.

Not wanting to give too much away at this point, I’ve added a screenshot of the three sites sitting side by side - roll over the image below to see the colour version:



As always, please send me any feedback, opinion or comment either on the comments below or by email at adamdbird@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

The Betrayal

Priestfield Stadium, home of the Gills

For a long time I’ve had this belief that Sky are evil and as a corporation have done more harm than good for English football, that they’ve taken the working class soul out of the game and made it a rich persons plaything. The only problem is, last night - I became its latest victim. I sold out. Sacrificed my team for the comfort of my lounge and added my last few pennies into the bottomless Rupert Murdoch honeypot instead of being there for the team I love.

Gillingham vs Southend on a Monday night. Nothing glamorous about that, but being a Gillingham supporter has never been about glamour. The closest I’ll ever get to see Gillingham in Europe was a friendly in Calais a couple of years ago and the Premier League seems just as far away. We were close once, not so long ago in fact, finishing 11th in what is now the Championship, but it is the ghost of those glory days that make the current level of mediocrity so difficult to bare.

When it was announced that Gillingham vs Southend was going to be shown on Sky, I was excited. Gillingham were flying high and on a good run, equally the case for Southend. The game promised to be a promotion six-pointer with the victor having all to look forward to as the season reaches its climax.

Unfortunately it hasn’t quite worked out like that.

Our last two games have seen us on the wrong end of 4-3 scorelines, coupled with a similar poor run before those two debacles. We are now out of the play-off positions and try as I might, I simply cannot see us getting back into them any time soon.

It is in these times of battle that you want your supporters to rally behind the team and help fight for the cause, but for once, I just couldn’t muster the will or energy and took the easy route out.

Coming back from London to a night match means stopping off in Gravesend to pick up the car, which makes me arrive in Gillingham later than I would like, I then have to fight for a parking space as close to the ground as I can get. The alternative is to go direct from London and wait for the 22.00 return train home after the game - it all seemed too much hassle. Plus it was still biting cold outside, even if rain had replaced the snow. Whilst back at home, Oliver was out having a sleepover at his Nanny Tracey’s house, so it was just Stephanie, Phoebe and I which it hasn’t ever been since Phoebe was born. When you add it all together, I can just about justify it - even if it doesn’t make me feel any better.

I’ve always considered a relationship with a football team to be an analogy for married life. Last night was further proof of that. Sky television, the beautiful, attractive alternative to the equally beautiful football club. Except that the football club has let itself go a bit, wasn’t as good as when you were younger and you feel the urge for a new experience. You try as hard as you can to put it off and give yourself all the right reasons why you fell in love with them in the first place. That you need to go, you need to make it work and that with your help the two of you can go on to bigger and better things. But the lure of Sky television, with all it’s warmth and comfort and HD sophistication was simply too much and I fell weakly to its advances.

Did I feel guilty afterwards? No, not really, not at all. Which is where the analogy ends. The first half summed up everything that is currently wrong with the team at the moment - it was actually quite sad to watch. It was like seeing an ex that had put on weight but was wearing a dress two sizes two small and was sleeping with a man that hadn’t washed for three weeks. You were left feeling sorry for them and a carried a sense of being somewhere better, a superiority complex and a realisation that you’d done the right thing.

As with all betrayals, you should say sorry and that you won’t do it again. So, sorry Gills - I am, but as for not doing it again, I’ll try not to.

x

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Case Study (Part 3) - kings-medway.co.uk

King's Church Website

A lot can happen in the short space of a week. Since I wrote last time and showcased some of the websites that I liked and others that I didn’t, I have met with King’s Church Medway on two separate occasions and formulated the beginnings of a working plan. A plan, that by the time it is complete should see them sitting pretty with not one new website but potentially four!

Our first meeting last week was an introductory affair. I met my Uncle Matthew and Austin, a Deacon within the church who overseas the media department and built the current site. Alongside the two of them was a chap named Christian (ironically enough) who wants to help out and volunteered his services just as I had.

We spoke about some of the points that I had raised in my original blog post about the current site, we talked about their current working processes and chatted freely about what the new site should do and more importantly some of the things that it needed to contain. Christian also led us through some of his own thoughts, which were very similar to my own in that the new site should be powered by a Content Management System. Which will then enable Austin and his team to focus on supplying content rather than squeezing what they can into the confines of their current system.

The “oh shit” moment


What became clearly very evident during that first meeting was the scale and density of the project that I had invited myself into. The church itself is the place where people meet, worship and celebrate, but those people, in believing what they do have felt compelled to spread out, not just into Medway, but across the world in the form of ministry which is about helping those less fortunate than themselves.

As the conversation went on and each part of the church was explained to me and its daily impact on peoples lives I suddenly had a moment of “oh shit, this is actually a much, much bigger project than I thought!” I got home that night and had a rather sleepless time of it with ideas and thoughts running around my head as to how the new look like web site should work.

The four pronged attack


In thinking it through over a period of twenty-four hours, I made the decision that whatever happens, the project that we were now working on was not a one website affair. I mentally jotted it down and prepared something like this:

Church website

  • - For people interested in Christianity and who want to find a local church
  • - For congregation wanting to know what is happening and when
  • - Church life and what being a member of a church is all about. Why King’s Church Medway? What sets them apart?

Caring Hands

  • - What is Caring Hands and how is it helping change peoples lives?
  • - Who is involved in the project and how can I get involved?

Project Future Vision

  • - The church are currently in early stages of formulating a plan for the future which will have wide interest to the general public. This website will be an information guide for all.

Light the way

  • - What is the church doing for impoverished communities?
  • - What happens on one of these global missions? Where are you going and why?
  • - Where have you been and how can I get involved?

Sharing and creating


Last night, I shared with Matthew and Austin my thoughts (without the “oh shit!” remark). Both were in agreement that this was the way forward. I also took with me a mocked up screenshot of the homepage for each site and we stuck all four of them to the wall of the church hall. From there, we dissected each site individually and created a rudimentary site map for each using post-it notes and stickers to indicate if the content was to updated frequently and/or hosted by an external site (i.e. You Tube, Facebook, other social media networks).

Sitemap under construction

In final analysis, it was determined that most, if not all of the frequently updated content of the site could be hosted and added to third party sites. Videos could be sent to You Tube and pulled back via the You Tube API, Photos could be shared on Facebook or Flickr, whilst Twitter could be used to act as the church’s voice and tell people everything that is happening. Finally, a blogging platform could be used for anything else, event information perhaps to keep people up to date as and when things happen, as well as talking about it after the event has taken place.

Considering that we now have four separate, albeit linked websites, our original CMS specification then becomes, not redundant, but far harder to implement. None of the team, including myself have any hands on experience of setting up a CMS. I’ve had to use plenty whilst at work, but these have always already been set up ready for me to use and maintain - never to build from scratch. The idea then at the moment, is to build four websites, without a CMS that incorporates a social layer in which King’s Church branded content is hosted and integrated to the site, whilst research into a viable CMS continues until decided otherwise that it isn’t viable.

Next steps


With the Light the way team heading towards the Philippines in March, immediate focus is upon setting up tools to enable them to capture the experience as it unfolds. How are the team preparing? What are the factors that need to be considered before a trip? What is the itinerary when they are there? All valuable information for interested parties to read and keep up to date with as the mission unfolds.

The immediate need:

  • - Creation of a blog to enable reporting as it happens
  • - Look and feel of blog not important at the moment as it is the mechanism for capturing the story that we want to use and become familiar with.
  • - Set up a Twitter feed for Light the Way so team can use platform for a) sharing short updates b) becoming familiar with the tool before the trip takes place, c) generating publicity.

Once Light the Way is ready and active, thoughts start to turn back again to the main church website and just how it might look - remember those post-it notes? Where do they fit in? Those three other sites, how do they marry in with the church and how does the design reflect that?

The challenge lies in wait!

PS: If anyone has any experience in installing and integrating a custom CMS, please email me at adamdbird@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Case Study (Part 2) - kings-medway.co.uk

Kings Website

Last week I took a look at a website (www.kings-medway.co.uk) which belongs to a church run by my Uncle Matthew and are doing some wonderful work for their local community. I pointed out that perhaps the website could function better and look more professional. More importantly, it should show off some of that great work that is happening on a daily basis and be more accessible for the local people of Medway and beyond.

Whilst discussions are very much at preliminary stages as to the concept of the new website, I thought that now would be as good a time as any to look around at other church websites, get some inspiration and look at what people have done well, what type of content is being displayed and what pitfalls to avoid.

As design is always so subjective, it should be stated that those that I’ve not particularly liked might well be by others. It should also be worth remembering that someone, or a group of people have put the time and effort to make these websites work, and church websites are often created by volunteers and hobbyist’s - this then is not a critique of someones work. It is purely a list of examples showing what works for me and what doesn’t.

Here are some of the best and not so great websites I came across on my travels (click any of the visuals to open the website):

The not so good:


Christ Church (Tunbridge Wells)


Christ Church (Tunbridge Wells)

  • - Despite the bright purples, it lacks general interest and a focal point
  • - 6 key sections on the homepage are difficult to make out against the main menu
  • + Contains recent and up to date information

City Praise Centre


City Praise Centre

  • - Feels as if everything has been squashed into a small a space as possible
  • - Dislike the imagery used inside the main rotating panel
  • + Navigation is simple and concise

Emmanuel Baptist Church


Emmanuel Baptist Church

  • - Shows why a website shouldn't be left to stagnate, as things on the web tend to age very quickly.

Jubilee Church


Jubilee Church

  • - Needs modernisation
  • - Repeating background tiles on larger screen sizes
  • + Navigation feels familiar and easy to use

Medway Family Church


Medway Family Church

  • - Shows why a website should be careful to choose a right template
  • - Feels corporate, as if it should be selling taps or something water related
  • + A positive introduction message that says who they are

St Peters


St Peters

  • - Too generic in theme, doesn't feel intuitively that it is a church website
  • - Lacks real interest
  • + Information is up to date and easy to find

Waterford House Evangelical Free Church


Waterford House Evangelical Free Church

  • - Lacks immediate visual appeal.
  • - Second item on the menu "India 2011", therefore second most important page on the site. Has a coming soon message. If it isn't ready, don't display it.
  • + Social tools integrated into the site allowing visitors to share content.

The lot better:


Calvary Church


Calvary Church

  • + How a simple colour scheme of one or two colours can really make your website shine
  • + Clean, concise navigation
  • + Bright, vibrant, appealing event banner on homepage

Community Bible Church


Community Bible Church

  • + Segmented homepage with each section giving you just what you need to know.
  • + Photography carefully chosen and edited to complement the site design, not detract from it.
  • + Homepage carousel compliments the site and functions correctly.

First Presbyterian Houston


First Presbyterian Houston

  • + Another example of how a few colours can make for an appealing appearance.
  • + Site content split into seven clear sections for ease of use.
  • + Content pages feel natural and well laid out

Hillsong London


Hillsong London

  • + Have opted for a full screen layout which is bold and different
  • + Homepage panels offer a fun element looking for what they contain
  • - Top navigation isn't easy to use

Kings Church London


Kings Church London

  • + Proof that bold colours can work
  • + Navigation feels familiar and easy to use
  • - Lacks a key welcome message

Mars Hill Church


Mars Hill Church

  • + Interesting navigation menu
  • + Proof lots of content on a single page can work with the right design
  • + Content pages are full of interest with graphical appeal

Silverdale


Silverdale

  • + Use of stock photography to give a professional look
  • + Easy to find what you are looking for
  • + Content pages are well thought out without being copy heavy.

What do you think? Have you seen a great church website that I might have missed? Email me at adamdbird@gmail.com or leave a comment below.
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