Posts filed under ‘Technology’

Faithful Finances: When to Adopt New Technology – Tech News

Faithful Finances: When to Adopt New Technology

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February 1, 2010 at 9:55 am Leave a comment

Cool New Website

Check out http://techreligious.com/


January 16, 2010 at 4:54 pm Leave a comment

Finally, Shul Web Sites Coming Of Age

A great article by Tamar Snyder in The Jewish Week on the development of synagogue websites.

Gil Mann can’t recall what the old Beth El Synagogue Web site used to look like. “I don’t think it was heavily used,” he says. And it certainly wasn’t pretty.

When Beth El, a 1,200-family synagogue located in St. Louis Park, Minn., began to think strategically about its future two years ago, a fresh Web site was a crucial component of the emerging plan.

“We developed four portfolios for the shul: education, spirituality, community (all the ways we belong to the shul) and acts of kindness (both internal and within our community at large),” says Mann, who serves as vice president for implementation of the strategic plan. Each of the four elements is expressed with its own tab on the synagogue’s new Website, which was launched earlier this year with the help of volunteers and the hiring of a full-time Web guru.

The new site, www.bethelsynagogue.org, features service times, an easy-to-access online donation form, and colorful pictures of members. Since synagogue dues cover only 55 percent of the total operating budget, members are asked to contribute to the “Chai appeal” by clicking on a prominent link on the front of the Web site. The site “reflects well on the culture of the synagogue,” Mann says. “It’s warm and welcoming and alive.”

Synagogue Web sites are — after an agonizingly slow start — coming of age. Rabbis are blogging and posting sermons on YouTube. Members are signing up and paying for classes online. And several synagogues have launched virtual yahrtzeit boards — complete with e-mail reminders.

With the High Holy Days past, many synagogues are contemplating ways to fill their pews on a regular basis. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, the key to building a physical sense of community may well lie in enhancing a synagogue’s online community, social media experts say. That’s why, despite the slumped economy, more and more congregations are realizing the importance of investing in fresh, easy-to-navigate synagogue Web sites (preferably equipped with “donate now” buttons).

And as synagogue Web sites become more sophisticated — though they still lag far behind those of churches — volunteer Web masters are being replaced by the services of professional Web design companies.

The burgeoning interest and willingness to invest in synagogue Web sites have given rise to a crop of Web design companies that cater to synagogues.

Talance, a Web development firm in Boston, recently launched a Web design package geared toward synagogues, at what they describe as a budget cost of $1,999. Massachusetts-based TnR Global launched a division of its technology company called ShofarSites (www.shofarsites.com), which produces Web sites exclusively for synagogues and other Jewish nonprofits. And Darim Online, which developed about 100 Web sites for Jewish nonprofits over the last several years, recently sold its Web development company to the newly formed JVillage Network.

“The market [for synagogue Web sites] is growing in breadth and depth,” says Lisa Colton, the founder of Darim (www.darimonline.org), an organization that offers technological and social media training to Jewish nonprofits. The organization is now focusing its efforts on teaching Jewish nonprofits how to utilize social media to enhance their online presence. “We try to stay on the front end of the Jewish community.”

When Colton launched Darim in 2000, synagogue Web sites were “basically atrocious,” she says. “They were poorly designed, had low functionality, and the content was out of date.”

Back then, the competition Darim faced was mostly inaction. Now, the competitor is the professional Web developer down the street. “We reached an important tipping point in the Jewish community,” she says. “People realized that this [having a good Web site] is no longer optional.”

For Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan, which hosts nearly 300 events each year, investing in a Web site equipped with the ability for both members and non-members to sign up and pay for events online was deemed essential.

“We’ve gone through a couple of generations of Web sites and e-mail marketing practices,” says Alan Samuels, LSS’s treasurer. Now, approximately 90 percent of event-goers sign up and pay in advance, helping free up cash flow issues for the synagogue and reduce back-office staff hours. “The payback on efficiencies is  very great,” he says.

When the synagogue sends out shiva notices or mazal tov announcements, members can click on a link and make a donation in memory or in honor of a friend or loved one. And the Web site, which was designed by Web Design Insight, automatically deletes past events from the “upcoming events” roster. “Being in real-time and up-to-date is very important,” says Samuels.

For Temple Beth El in Portland, Maine, a new Web site has cut down on mailing costs, says Tom Berman, the synagogue’s Tech Team leader. The site, funded by a grant from the Scott L. Cohen Foundation and built by ShofarSites, features a newsflash on the front page of its Web site, which is constantly updated with last-minute notices, such as cancellations.

Modeling itself on the popular social networking site Facebook, members of Temple Beth El can “friend” other members and e-mail each other anonymously. The tech team is also setting up password-protected areas on the site where committees can share documents and post business-related matters. To encourage more visits, Temple Beth El shortened its domain name from templebethel-maine.org to tbemaine.org (the old domain still points to the new site).

“Folks are starting to realize how easy it is to make online donations in honor or memory of others, obviating the need to write a check or call the Temple office,” says Berman. After events, Berman and his team post pictures or videos on the Temple’s blog, which helps “promote greater community,” he says.

For synagogues on Long Island needing an extra boost of support in creating Web 2.0-enabled Web sites, the UJA-Federation of New York has launched The Social Media Boot Camp. The two-year initiative run by Darim will help synagogues align their congregations with the 21st century digital culture.

The Boot Camp, a project of Synergy: UJA-Federation of New York, arose from discussions among a group of 20 or so rabbis from congregations across Long Island. They reasoned that the demographic shifts and the loss of Jewish experience on the Island are partly impacted by the lackluster utilization of the Internet to promote congregational activities.

“What we find [when we run a one-time social media seminar] is that everyone goes to the workshop, loves it, goes back home and there’s no impact, nothing happens,” says Dru Greenwood, director of Synergy.

That’s why the Social Media Boot Camp will feature a kick-off event next week at the UJA-Federation building in Syosset, Long Island, followed by eight or so Webinars and monthly conference calls. Synagogues that attend the boot camp will need to be represented by a team of staff members and volunteers.

“If this is really to be picked up and make its way into the fundamental culture of how the synagogue works, we need the rabbi to blog and youth directors to twitter and the synagogue to engage in online fundraising,” says Greenwood. “All different arms of the synagogue need to be on board.”

Darim’s next Social Media Boot Camp, funded by a Berrie Innovation Grant, will take place in December for synagogues in northern New Jersey. Applications are being accepted through the end of October.

Despite initiatives like the Social Media Boot Camp, synagogues remain eons behind churches, at least when it comes to technological savvy. “Partly it’s economies of scale,” says Rabbi Aaron Spiegel, director of the Center for Congregations, an institution that assists all congregations in Indiana. “Of the 300,000 congregations in the U.S., synagogues represent such a small percentage.”

“Most synagogue Web sites are glorified brochures,” says Spiegel, who blogs at http://mahamatzav.org. Churches, on the other hand, tend to view their Web sites as tools of outreach. “There’s potential power to communicate with the world, not just membership, using basic social networking tools,” he says. “The synagogue world hasn’t embraced that just yet.”

If anyone’s figured it out, Spiegel says, it’s the Orthodox. “The earliest adaptor of Web technology was Chabad.” That makes sense, since Chabad is so focused on outreach.

Chabad.org currently powers 1,172 Web sites in 52 countries and 21 languages, according to Moshe Rosenberg, manager of affiliate sites at Chabad.org. Chabad’s emissaries around the world have the option of creating Web sites using Chabad.org’s existing templates, and Chabad’s headquarters provide free phone, email, and live chat technological support.

In addition to posting local family programming, classes, and minyan times, each Chabad Web site has the option of featuring regularly updated syndicated content, which includes primers on Jewish lifecycle events and holidays, news from Jewish communities worldwide, weekly Torah portion, and interactive videos and games for kids. “If you can send an e-mail, you can publish a good-looking and useful Web site,” Rosenberg says.

The flailing economy hasn’t gotten in the way of this shift toward professional Web sites for Jewish synagogues, says Colton. “I was pleasantly surprised. The economy has not negatively impacted the number of dollars Jewish organizations are willing to invest in upgrading their online presence. To me, that signifies a recognition in the community that this is no longer optional.”

Yet as synagogue membership continues to be seen as optional (and is increasingly becoming an option Jews simply aren’t choosing), the question is whether a dynamic Web site is enough.

Social media technology can “serve as a tether to help reel in” unaffiliated Jews and those who no longer see membership at a synagogue as a necessity, says Rabbi Charles Klein, president of The New York Board of Rabbis and spiritual leader of the Merrick Jewish Centre on Long Island. “Is the technology going to turn the tide? I’m not certain,” he says. “But will it help? Definitely.”

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October 14, 2009 at 4:15 pm Leave a comment

10 Things To Include on Your Synagogue Site – Now!

From the Talance blog, http://talance.com/blog/2009/07/22/10-things-to-include-on-your-synagogue-site-now/ 

  1. Contact information – on the homepage. This includes mailng address, phone number, e-mail address and fax number.
  2. Directions. This includes a map (like a Google map), parking information and public transport options. Do you provide transport services? Include info on this here too.
  3. Service times. keep this up to date with candle-lighting times and special, high holy day services. In text, on the homepage.
  4. Rabbi’s blog. If there are two things rabbis do well, it’s think and write. They should be blogging machines. If you’re thinking, “But I can’t get the rabbi to blog!” have him or her send you an e-mail every week with their thoughts, and you do a cut-and-paste job. Bonus points if you put the most recent blog posts on the homepage.
  5. Extra blog for special projects. This is especially for long-term projects you want to inform your members of, like renovations, new programs or campaigns like Save Darfur. Yes, start a second blog for these things. That way you don’t cloud the focus of the rabbi’s blog.
  6. Pictures – OF PEOPLE. If you have to show a picture of a room, make somebody stand in it. Better if multiple people are standing in it. If you can’t take pictures during services, provide arty shots of architectural highlights.
  7. A calendar. Keep it up to date. Bonus points if you put the week’s events or a date-picker on the homepage.
  8. A way to give. Do not be shy. Do not make it hard for people to figure out how to give. They want to help you out. Let them.
  9. Calls to action. Tell your visitors what they should do when they arrive at your site. if you want donations, say, “Donate now!” If you want them to subscribe to the blog, say, “Subscribe to the blog!” If you want them to come to an event, say, “Sign up for our next event!” Get the picture?
  10. A special section for potential members. Your regular Joes know what you’re all about, but your new people need special guidance. Put all the stuff they need – like directions, membership forms, rabbi’s profile – in one handy spot so they can pick it up when they come. Label it clearly, “Visitors: Click Here.”

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July 22, 2009 at 7:19 pm 2 comments

Social Networking and Congregations

This article by Center for Congregations Information Technology Director Aaron Spiegel appeared in the Summer 2009 issue of Congregations magazine.

Social Networking and Congregations

by Aaron Spiegel

A recent YouTube video titled “Social Networking in Plain English” claims networks are only as valuable as the people and connections one can see. If I think about real “friends” and connections in my life this makes perfect sense. The piece goes on to assert that social networking sites help us see the real world connections that are hidden. So, by allowing me to see who my friend’s friends are, I can connect with a broader community than the one I can “see.” Simplistic? Yes, but this is really the essence of social networking.

Social networking sites are a phenomenon. Sites like Facebook, My Space, YouTube, LinkedIn, and others are redefining personal social experiences. They have even redefined the use of the term “friend.” The Annenberg Center for the Digital Future’s 2007 report was titled “Online World as Important to Internet Users as Real World?”and the 2008 study reported that membership in online communities has more than doubled in only three years.

These sites are also changing the way people communicate with their congregations. We see more congregations creating Facebook and LinkedIn groups, using YahooGroups as extensions of congregational communications, and even pastors Twittering (microblogging). To find out what congregations are really doing with social networking we conducted a survey. The results are interesting!

Of the congregations surveyed, only 32 percent reported that they had a Facebook or MySpace page for their congregation. When we asked why, some reported suspicion of the medium and a general lack of knowledge about its purpose. Several commented that clergy won’t support it. Some report that they are still trying to get a functional website up and running (an interesting reminder that we can’t assume all congregations are using even basic technology tools). One of my favorite responses was “My church does not see the need to have a website. They still treat the Internet like it is a novelty.” Interesting, since someone from that church saw this survey and thought it important enough to fill it out! Of the 32 percent who answered that they did use Facebook or MySpace, nearly 60 percent affirmed that it enhanced communications between the congregation and its members.

While 32 percent of congregations reported using these tools, almost 50 percent of those surveyed answered “yes” when asked if the pastor or rabbi has a personal Facebook, MySpace, blog, or other such account. So, while almost half of congregational leaders are using social networking, respondents don’t consider this to be part of the congregation’s communication strategy!

When we asked, “Do you think online social networking enhances or worsens congregation/member relationships?” 90 percent responded that it enhances them. While the use of these tools is far from widespread, the perception that they enhance member-congregation communications is resoundingly positive. One respondent said, “Intuitively, I believe it has the potential to enhance it, but we have no experience to back that. We are working toward exploring this.”

We included blogs in social networking strategies and the survey. Only 26 percent of respondents reported using blogs. We expected more. Those who reported using blogs gave some interesting and varied uses: clergy sermons with commentary, building construction updates, podcasting, a sabbatical travelogue, and personal thoughts from clergy and staff. While I don’t mean to pick on anyone, some responses were downright funny. One commented, “No, but I would like to start one. We are forming a committee to explore maximizing the uses of our church website, and a blog makes sense to me…” Great, another committee! And my favorite, “Most folks here are introverts and writing thoughts down seems redundant.”

There seems to be widespread perception that social networking tools target a certain age group. When we asked, “Does social networking target a specific age group (i.e., next-generation twenty- to thirty-somethings)?” 57 percent of the responses were either “definitely” or “we think so.” “Not sure” accounted for another 21 percent. “No” trailed at a mere 6 percent. Recent data shows a different picture: The average age of Twitter users is between thirty and forty-nine. According to comScore in 2007, the average age of social sites like Facebook and MySpace was twenty-five and trending upward. According to Inside Facebook, the number of users over thirty-five has nearly doubled in the last sixty days (dated March 25, 2009). The fastest growing demographic is women over fifty-five. “The biggest growth in terms of absolute new users over the last six months occurred among users thirty-five to forty-four.” The majority of U.S. Facebook users are now over twenty-five.

Clearly these are not tools for young people, at least not anymore.

I understand the reluctance of congregations to venture into the world of social networking. Caution is certainly warranted—but I don’t think we can wait too long. People are spending large amounts of their time in the virtual world. We need to be there to greet them!

Rabbi Aaron Spiegel is the information technology director of the Indianapolis Center for Congregations.

Congregations, 2009-07-01

Summer 2009, Number 3

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July 8, 2009 at 8:26 pm Leave a comment

Robo-Goys, Kosher Phones and Other Jewish Technological Innovations

by Patrick Aleph, July 2, 2009, http://www.jewcy.com/post/robogoys_kosher_phones_and_other_jewish_technological_innovations

People don’t like to think very far into the future. I understand that: I can barely think about next week, let alone a decade from now.

But if the Tribe is going to survive, we need to learn to adapt. Judaism came from a pre-modern era. Now, more than ever, we need to find creative ways to use technology to bring the Tribe into the 21st Century…kicking and screaming if we have to.

So here are five technological innovations, which I feel will greatly improve Jewish life and further the Jewish People.

Twitter Minyans: I brought this up in my last article on Judaism and Marketing. It makes no sense to me that technology and prayer have not been fused together. Most of the prayers are short enough that they will work in Twitter, and we can shorten the other ones to fit in the 150 character box.

Digital Shabbos Candles: There’s nothing that requires a Shabbos candle be a physical candle (haters beware, I did look in Code of Jewish Law for this), so we can assume that a candle screen saver would work just as well for Friday night. If you want something a little more low-tech, a simple flashlight would work just as well. But remember that if you do that, you have to let the battery run out, as switching the light off is “work.”

Robot Shabbos Goys: Need a Shabbos goy but don’t want to bother the nice Christian family next door? In the future, we’ll have robots to do that for us. Even today, modern conveniences like the Roomba by iRobot take away any pressure to work on Shabbat.

Kosher iPhone: The future is here and it’s called the iPhone. iBlessing and ParveOMeter are two amazing iPhone/iTouch apps to appease the yiddishkeit desire to introduce efficiency into the Jewish lifestyle. Future apps that I would like to see include the Modeh Ani alarm clock and a call-your-mother app that sends pre-recorded voicemails to your mom, letting her know you haven’t dropped out of med school (yet)!

Insta-Conversion: Utilizing the power of the Internet, we can completely re-think how new Jews are brought into the Tribe. The general requirements are a pre-interview, some kind of Judaism 101 class, Bet Din, bris, mikvah and a public ceremony. If we break this down, we find that most of this can be done quickly and efficiently, utilizing e-technology. Pre-conversion interviews between rabbi and convert can easily be done via IM or Skype. Classes can be modeled after distance learning with e-books to read and online exams. The Bet Din can be turned into a teleconference, or again, another Skype adventure. The bris (for men) and mikvah would need to be in person, but as far as I’m concerned a public ceremony could be a mass update on your Facebook/Myspace/Twitter. We could also use webcams to broadcast this event.

Stay tuned; I am sure I’ll come up with more.

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July 2, 2009 at 6:59 pm Leave a comment

How To Create a Dysfunctional Website

original post at http://talance.com/blog/2009/06/22/how-to-create-a-dysfunctional-website/

In preparing for an upcoming presentation on how to create functional websites, and it’s got me thinking about all the dysfunctional sites I’ve seen recently. There’s no single feature that makes a website completely unusable, but there definitely are trends.

Below, divided into three categories, are the chief gaffes you should follow if you really feel like creating a website that doesn’t work.

Market Positioning

Build your website without thinking what you want. “Yes, we need a website!” is a lousy reason for a website, yet it’s the one too many people follow. First, make a list of all your organization’s goals, and then think about how technology might help you meet those goals. Then from that you can start to think about shaping your website around your needs.

Don’t think about who’s looking at the site. If your audience is made of 50-year-old women from the Midwest, why would you create a zippy website built to attract college students? If those people are interested in volunteering, why would you load the homepage with information on grants, staff bios and news releases? Think about what the people coming to your website want or need to see, and then give it to them.

Design

Ugly artUse lots of clipart. Ooph. Steer clear of crummy clipart. Go for real pictures, even freebie stock photography, rather than goofy cartoon drawings. Check out the Creative Commons images on Flickr or Stock.xchng for good resources.

Include pictures of empty rooms. What’s welcoming about an echo-y chamber? Put some people in there!

Use flashy splash pages. They look like ads and have the same effect. People click off splash screens and never get to the meat inside. It’s like going around with two hats on. The top one doesn’t matter and makes people think you’re nuts.

Use a microscopic font. You know how on TV ads, they put all the stuff they don’t really want you to read, but are required by law to display, in teeny text at the bottom of the screen? It’s because no one can see it, and they ignore it even if they can. Small font does the same thing to your website, but the whole website.

Honestly, tell me how readable this is.

Usability


Shroud donation processes in mystery.
Heavens, if people want to give you money, make it easy for them. Here, take this big bright Donate Now! button and put it on your homepage. (Right-click and choose Save As.) A gift from Talance to you.

Donate Now!

Glom onto every widget you can find. A real danger with the proliferation of widgets and plug-ins and add-ons is that you have a website that looks like a carnival. All flash, no focus. Choose wisely with anything you add onto your site, and make sure it follows your directive of achieving your goals.

Add 50 items – or even 10 – to your menus. People’s eyes cross when they see more than seven items in a menu, so stick with that magic number.

Put the most important info at the very bottom of the page. People look at the top left of web pages to pick up the most important information. If there’s something you really want people to read, put it up there and now down below.

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June 23, 2009 at 1:08 pm Leave a comment

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