At times, the blog can be a bit like Audrey II — never really satisfied until it’s sucking the “life out of you”:http://wavcentral.com/cgi-bin/log/log.cgi?id=4252&sound=/sounds/movies/little_shop/lshfeed.mp3. I exaggerate, but the feeling of blogger’s guilt that kicks in after successfully maintaining an online presence for the better part of three years can be a powerful motivator. The fact is, being brilliantly original and witty — and doing it for free — is difficult to sustain unless you, oh say, take a 6-week “vacation in Europe”:http://www.posegate.org/russ/topic/france_2005/index.php. Of course, the only thing worse than a prodigal blogger is one who whines about his inability to make blogging a priority, so let’s move on.
So what have we been up to? Well, I recently discovered that Schmoo is swapping animal stories on two or three message boards now. I gently guided her to contribute something to Our Story (“Are you telling stories on these message boards that could be on our blog??”), so watch for that sometime soon. When I haven’t been working at the new gig, I’ve been working on any number of side projects. Like the manufacturing business idea that my Dad wants to start. Or the coffeehouse ministry in Newark set to launch sometime next year. Or building an extremely tech-savvy and innovative web presence for The Village Church. Let alone the family stuff like making time for my bride, making sure the electricity stays on, and — oh yeah — we almost moved again.
Of those things, the Village Church site has certainly been the most technically interesting and fulfilling. The migration to a highly accessible, semantically meaningful, and CSS-driven website last year felt pretty good in and of itself (“before”:http://web.archive.org/web/20040920153241/http://www.villagechurchnyc.com/, “after”:http://www.villagechurchnyc.com). But, in fact, was simply one small step towards a flexible and sustainable architecture for the long term. I spent about three months evaluating Content Management Solutions and am currently in the process of migrating the site to WordPress.
This is one of those tech decisions you make after a long, thoughtful cost/benefit analysis. We could have gone with another CMS product such as MovableType — I even had permission from Six Apart to use a not-for-profit free license and already had a full two years’ experience with the platform — but the fact is that WordPress has too much going for it to be overlooked. While WP is generally regarded as “just a blog tool,” it’s elegant codebase, flexible plugin system, “effective leadership”:http://www.photomatt.net, and thriving “open source ecosystem”:http://www.loudthinking.com/arc/000484.html positions it as a leading contender for publishing on the web today. The kicker for The Village Church, though is that *three years from now*, we will continue to benefit from the technical and political stability of the WordPress community. ??Mark Pilgrim?? noted in his seminal “Freedom 0”:http://diveintomark.org/archives/2004/05/14/freedom-0 (which, arguably, was the tipping point for WordPress’ already growing popularity) that free software will persist because it is built on principles of openness: long after most commercial software ceases to be useful, open source will continue to thrive because of the communities that form around it.
Anyway, that sounded like something we wanted for the church. 🙂
The decision to move to WordPress was also critical because we need the acceleration. As far as a web presence is concerned, we’re moving too slow. Every component of the site is hand-rolled HTML and CSS (with the occasional dash of PHP), so simple posts “like this”:http://www.villagechurchnyc.com/news/2005/07/village-life-deux/ can chew up a good couple of hours of copy, paste, upload, preview, edit, upload, preview, tweak, upload, preview, post. A good portion of the site is chunked up into include files that help with writing content in one place and having it show up in several other places (a design I learned with MovableType and intend to leverage for WordPress), but only enough to keep from absorbing even more time. Even our process of updating the site through CVS — which is otherwise a brilliant technology — is far too high a barrier for a non-techie.
But, aside from “making things easier to post,” WordPress is showing some pretty interesting potential in its core functionality. Take, for example, the hierarchical categories for posts. The plan right now is to tag any new content we post into a main site section using categories: news, sermons, events or ministries. Each of those pages will then show the “posts” for that category, which is kind of nice. But, because we can drill down even further, we can create “book” and “topic” sub-categories for sermons. So, for each sermon that Sam preaches, we will be able to associate it with the book on which it was preached (say, “Genesis”) and an overarching topic (“marriage”). Our pastor already has a taxonomy of categories he uses — we would just need to integrate it. The benefit? Being able to look at sermons preached by book or by topic, as well as chronologically listed. And all that by clicking two checkboxes.
And, yes, there will be Podcasting. Which, incidentally, is why doing this all by hand is too slow: Podcasting is huge, now. People in my Bible study are reading about it “in the Times”:http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/28/technology/circuits/28pogue.html?ex=1123214400&en=874553f0af6bd6b5&ei=5070&emc=eta1 and downloading the goods “in iTunes”:http://www.apple.com/podcasting. If we’re out the door with a Podcast any later than September, I fear we’ll miss the buzz window. I mean, people will still be able to find us in iTunes, and the site will certainly advertise the feature, but that “wow” reaction you hope to get with cutting edge technology slowly turns into a “you, too?” after only a few weeks.
Anyway, this is just a little bit of the online geekery I’ve been up to lately. When we go to launch, you can be sure that the Village Church will announce it on the homepage and that I’ll have an even geekier blog than this to share the gory details.
In the meantime, I’ll try posting some of those 54 links I have stacked up in my Backpack for the blog!