Some Google Fu – Getting searches to work for you.

Searching

[image from macten]

Knowing how to find things is a good skill to have in this information based society.  Knowing how to find things fast is even better.  There is a world of information at our fingertips but knowing how to access it quickly is a valuable skill.  Why?  Because there’s so MUCH information that you can easily waste hours of time looking for something.

Occasionally, not always, but every now and then someone will email me or ask me a question that they’ve been trying to find the answer to and I’ll flip open my laptop, fire off a few keywords to Google and come back with the answer.  Nifty.  But what BLOWS ME AWAY is how often I’ll get, “WOW, that was fast!” Ummm…yeah, how slow were you expecting it to be?  Which makes me wonder, does this person know how fast finding out stuff can be? Or are they still stuck in analog?

So I decided I’d write a quick article with a list of a few tips I’ve picked up a long the way for using our favorite neighborhood information finder to get what you’re looking for without wasting a lot of time.

1. Try the dump first, then refine.

Whenever I’m looking for something I always put as many words to describe it in the search box as possible.  Why?  Because I don’t have time to read through billions of pages!  Always remember that the more keywords you enter in that search box, the fewer results you’ll get – and the more likely the result you are looking for will show up.

Now, sometimes I’ll have too many words in my initial query and I’ll get too few results returned.  That’s okay, then it’s time to start refining by removing the less important words from my initial dump.  Keep doing this until you find what you need.

Nine times out of ten I’ll find what I’m looking for using this simple method.  Far too often, people start with fewer words and then work up to more.  Don’t do it.  Finding results that way will nearly always take longer than doing it the other way around.  Dump, then refine.

2. “Quotes” are your friend.

Whenever you put quotes around a phrase in the search box you are telling Google to only look for results with that exact phrase.  This is an incredible time saver when you are looking for quotes from a particular author or information on a specific item.  Google has gotten smarter at figuring out phrases from word dumps but I find that putting those phrases in quotes nearly always speeds up your finding the results you need in your search session.

3. Get to know the special sauce

One of the ways of refining search is by using various search operators (the “special sauce”).  To be honest I use these rarely because Google’s search engine is so good at finding what I want.  But on the times that I do use the special sauce its just another way narrowing down the results.  Wanna know what the special sauce is?  Check out the Google Cheat Sheet and the “Advanced Operators Reference

4. Dress appropriately when needed

I’m still surprised that some people don’t know the unique things you can do with the Google search bar that, although isn’t readily apparent, is a great way of getting specialized information.  Depending on how you “dress up” your query you can discover everything from the current weather in a city to answering math problems, getting sports scores, doing unit conversion, and all sorts of stuff.  And the best thing?  What you need will be right there with the results list, you won’t have to click through to another site.  For more on how to dress up, see “Explore Google Search

5. Put up a “do not cross” sign.

Oh and this is such an important thing to remember. Set a limit on how many pages of results you’ll check.  As a rule of thumb, for hard to find/rare types of queries I will maybe look through 5 pages of results before refining my query and that’s ONLY if the first page turns up at least one helpful result.  For “should be easy to find” types of queries I will only look on the first page of results – any more pages and my query probably isn’t specific enough.

Why do this?  If you don’t, you’ll always go to the next page believing that there will be a nugget buried there that you’ll miss if you don’t check.  Listen to me.  It’s NEVER there!  Don’t waste time – put up a “do not cross” sign and if you come to it, then it’s time for a new query.

Hopefully these tips help improve the quality of your searches and decrease the time it takes you to find what you are looking for!

How I Keep Track of Printed Articles [EverNote Usage]

For nearly 10 years now I’ve been gone through many different systems of organizing and keeping track of the printed material I read (that is magazine articles, photocopies, pamphlets etc.).  I used to just keep the magazines I read in boxes, but then my stash got too big and it would take me forever to find something I remembered reading.  However, this is the system I used for nearly 5 years.

Next, I started keeping only articles I thought were worth keeping and keeping a database/spreadsheet of the articles on my old Palm IIIe.  It was a system that worked quite good for about two years.  I would file the articles in a binder alphabetically and by number (using stick on tabs) and then in the database I’d include keywords and short blurbs from the articles with the article information.  To find articles around a subject I just had to do a search and then I could locate the article in my “article binder”.

Then disaster struck when my Palm PDA died and the backups I had made were all corrupt.  So… I lost my index and the value of my article file plunged.  By then I had discovered WordPress and thought I’d try to keep a private repository of articles online.  Here’s where things got really ridiculous time-wise because I decided that I’d type in (yes, manually type) the articles that I thought were worth keeping.  Needless to say, the backlog of articles I had to enter piled up fairly quickly.  This was mitigated a little bit when I discovered that in many cases I could find the articles online and just copy and paste but there were still a lot of steps involved.  The advantage of this route, of course, is that finding information greatly improved.  This disadvantage was the incredible time investment involved in keeping up with my reading.

Let me just take an aside for a moment.  Why was/am I doing all this?  The main reason is I wanted a way to find and access things I’m reading when I remember them and also be able to properly attribute what I remember.  There have been many times over the years I’ve been in ministry where I’ve been doing some leadership teaching, or preparing a message, or writing an article and I remember something I read in a magazine that would apply and I’ve been able to locate that and use it.  Sure, as the years went by, the internet became a VERY valuable resource for illustrations, quotes, and ideas but to this day, nothing beats  a cultivated, filtered stash of personally reviewed material.

About a year ago I discovered Evernote and all I can say is it is a gift from heaven.  Evernote, has made keeping track of the articles I read (especially print articles) SOOO easy and way less time consuming than any of the other systems I’ve used in the past.  Here’s the new steps for filing articles:

  1. Mark articles/quotes I want to keep in things I read using post-it tabs
  2. Scan and email articles to my custom Evernote email address (I get my Admin Assistant to do that now but even when I did it, it didn’t take long).  I’m fortunate that I can email right from the photocopier at work.  If I didn’t have that ability I would just scan into a folder that you can setup Evernote to automatically read from whenever something is saved to it.
  3. That’s It!

Evernote Logo

Here’s why it works so well.  Evernote is a note capturing utility that you can use to keep track of material from all kinds of resources.  You can manually type notes in, drop files into it, add pictures, drop in screenshots, clip whole websites etc.  One of the cool ways of getting stuff into Evernote is via a custom email address linked to your Evernote account.  Anything you send to that email address gets added to a note.  Now, you can title and tag each note but it’s not even necessary because here’s where the power of Evernote kicks in – text recognition in images.  Yes, that’s right!  When you add pictures/images to your Evernote database all the text is recognized and indexed.  When you do a search for a term or phrase, all the images/text matching the search criteria will be returned!  My only criticism?  I WISH Evernote was around years ago!  Oh, and one more thing – everything you add to your Evernote account can be accessed either on your local machine or via the internet because all your notes are synced to the “cloud”.  So now, even if I don’t have my own computer I can look up the articles I’ve saved AND I can also rest easy knowing there is a built-in backup of all my notes.

{disclaimer: I was NOT paid anything to write about Evernote.  Yes, they are that good.}

A Gate for the Net

One of the things I do is write a quarterly column for the Communication Magazine of my church district (Western Ontario District of PAOC)The magazine is called Connections and it is sent out to over 500 credential holders and leaders and the title of my column is ‘Tech Pass”.  I usually write about various software/web apps and technology tools I come across that I think are useful for churches and ministry. For a copy of the latest magazine you can get it from the wod.paoc.org website.

The internet is an awesome tool and incredible resource.  In the last 10 years or so it has grown from humble beginnings as a hobby-for-some into a multi-media delivery & application platform that many of us wonder how we’d ever get along without!  However, along with the good things the internet brings us is also the bad – things like viruses, spam (not the ham wannabe, but those annoying Viagra like ads you get in your email), and evil websites (sites that promote crime, pornography and the like).

One of the common questions I get from people who are newer to the internet is how to protect your computer from the “evil” found on it.  In this article I’m not going to address the virus and spam problem but I would like to focus on some tricks that will help you put up a “gate” to keep unwanted internet stuff out.

Before I do that however, a brief lesson on how the internet works (yeah, I know, you always wondered didn’t you?  Well humor me for a bit… Oh, and one caveat – I’ve really simplified things here, so you technical folk keep that in mind…)

First off, every computer that is connected to the Internet is part of a network (of computers), even the one in your home.  For example, you may have a modem at home that your internet service provider (ISP) provided you to connect to the internet – or your computer at your office may be connected to a local area network (LAN) that in turn at some point is connected to an ISP that your workplace contracts with for internet service.  Either way, when you are connected to your ISP you are connected to their network.   The ISP in turn may be connected to another service provider and is a part of that network.  In simple terms the internet is simply a network of networks.

I’m going to skip a few steps in the story (really, you’d want me to…).   We all know that there are different Internet Service Providers (as in Rogers, Bell etc.) – now, what happens is that all the ISP’s in the world agree to connect to each other via what’s called Network Access Points or NAPS.   In the real internet, dozens of large service providers interconnect at NAPS in different cities, and all the data flows between the networks at those points.  In this way, every computer on the internet is able to connect to another computer.

However, in order for computers to successfully communicate with each other there has to be some way of knowing where the data is to go to and for responses to know where to come back to.  This is where IP addresses come in.  IP stands for Internet Protocol and every machine on the internet has an IP address.  An IP address is a number something like this – 212.27.52.1

In its infancy, the internet consisted of a few computers hooked together with modems and telephone lines.  You could only make connections by providing the IP address of the computer you wanted to connect with – that was fine when there were only a few computers to connect to (hosts) but eventually that became unwieldy as more and more “hosts” came online.

In 1983, the University of Wisconsin created something called the Domain Name System (DNS) which maps text names to IP addresses automatically.  So for humans, it became much easier to remember www.iwanttogohere.com instead of the IP address of iwanttogohere.com’s host computer.  This easy to remember address is known as a “Domain Name”.  When you type a Domain Name into a browser address bar it first goes to a Domain Name Server (which usually defaults to what your ISP is providing as a Domain Name server) where the address is compared against a database to see if there is an IP address connected with it.  If the IP address is found then your computer goes to that IP address and makes the connection.  If it’s not found then the server will “talk” to other Domain Name Servers and see if any of them know where iwanttogohere.com points to.  If no results are found that’s when you get a “this page not found” message in your browser.

Take a breather – you’ve come a long way through those paragraphs!  That is (very roughly) how the internet works.  Why did I explain all this?  Because the service I want to tell you about is called OpenDNS.com. Hmmm – recognize anything in that name?  Yup, it’s got “DNS” in it.  Want to take a guess at what it does then?  Go ahead, then read on.

OpenDNS.com is better than nearly any other internet filtering type of application you can download or run on your system because it isn’t software.  Instead, OpenDNS.com is merely a Domain Name Server which you can use for sending ALL your internet requests through (did you guess right?  Good for you! Email me and let me know and I’ll send you a prize).  Essentially, after setting things up, what you do is instruct your computer to check the OpenDNS servers for the IP address of the domain names you want to visit instead of your ISP’s DNS server.  The power of OpenDNS kicks in at that point because not only will it check for the IP address but it will also screen that IP address against any “rules” that you set to make sure it’s something  you consider “safe” to visit.   You can also use OpenDNS to track all the website activity from your computer.

I’ve used OpenDNS.com at home for about two years now to keep track on what my kids are doing on the internet and also to block them from visiting certain types of sites.  It has been the easiest, and most thorough tool I have ever used and I highly recommend it.

How easy is it?  Well if you go to this page -> https://www.opendns.com/start/ and follow the instructions  you should be able to start using opendns.com in only 2 minutes (they even use pictures to explain it…nice, pictures are always good). However, it will take a little bit longer to fine tune the filters the way you want.

Really, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have some sort of “gate” on your computer to protect you from the “evil” of the internet – especially when it’s this easy.  You may want to recommend it to the families in your church and even consider using it on your church network (IT guys – OpenDNS.com has some great instructions on their site for you).

For some of you this won’t be new.  I was reminded recently of OpenDNS.com when I received a question about it from one of the readers of this column (thanks Ingrid D.!) and it was mentioned in a WOD email blast, but nevertheless for those of you who haven’t tried it out I encourage you to do so.

BONUS TIP:

Most search tools on the internet have some sort of advanced selection options where you can turn on safe searching.  For example – I do a lot of image searches using Google’s Image database – However, I make sure I set the “SafeSearch” filter to “strict filtering” – otherwise there is the chance that some searches will return some raunchy images that are not something I want to see.  To do this, just make sure you click on the “Advanced Image Search” text next to the search box.  The SafeSearch options are at the bottom of the list.

What inspires you to write more often in your blog?

It’s kind of timely that just over a week after launching my new theme on UnfoldingNeurons.com with a desire to write more posts I come across two great articles talking about how to be inspired to write.

John Saddington wrote 10 Types of Blog Posts That Helped Me Blog 3 Times a Day for a Year. I had the privilege of meeting John at the ChurchCrunch one year birthday party before a conference I recently attended.  He’s fairly new to the blogging scene but let me tell you as a blogger he has come a long way in a short period of time.  In the words of Micheal Hyatt at the party, “I’ve never seen a more productive person”.  So, this article quickly caught my eye.  If such a busy person as John can blog so frequently, so consistently – how does he do it?  Here’s some of the types of blog posts that stood out to me as things I could do very easily here:

  • Date Specific – picking a day to do a regular systematic themed post (i.e. desktop of the week etc.). Not sure how I’m going to do this yet (or what theme/topic I’d do) but it is something I could do.
  • The Super Simple Post – Things that have been appearing among a few blogs that I read is something called “Caption Please” where a picture is posted and an invitation is given for readers to leave what they think the caption should be in the comments.  I think “The Super Simple Post” can just be links you find or great quotes as well.  Another super simple post that I use is my weekly twitter digest.  Every Sunday my blog will pull all the tweets I made in the past week and automatically publish them as a digest post.  The only danger with this is if you don’t write for a while it really makes your blog look stale and artificial.
  • The Series Posts – Splitting up a long post into shorter chunks as a part of a series.  This is actually a technique I’ve already used here and one of the reasons I wrote my Organize Series Plugin for WordPress because it makes this a lot easier to do.
  • Guest Posts – Maybe someday I’ll invite people to be a guest writer here on Unfolding Neurons.  I think its better suited to niche type blogs that are more focused on certain topics than Unfolding Neurons is. Nevertheless, I’m sure I could invite people to write a post fitting into one of UnfoldingNeurons.com’s meta categories.
  • Humor or Satire Posts.  Those who know me know that my humor is rather dry.  I  find it hard to write humorously because I’m so flipping choosy about my words (woops did that slip out?)…

Go on and check out the full article for all of the different types of posts John makes on ChurchCrunch.

The other blog post I came across today written by Diana Adams for the Bit Rebels blog.  Her post titled, Get Inspired to Update Your Blog! has 7 helpful hints for writing and posting more frequently.  Here’s a few:

  • Start your love affair with words – get excited about the different words and combinations of words that you can use to evoke a masterpiece.  I agree with her that there is magic (I’d call power) in words.
  • Remember your why. This, I think is key.  If you can’t articulate why you’re blogging then its very hard to be inspired to write.  It’s kind of similar to something Jon Acuff said at the recent “Off the Blogs session” I attended at the Catalyst Labs event, “Don’t blog unless you have a story to tell” (paraphrased).  In other words, if you don’t have anything to say then you won’t know what to write.
  • Every post doesn’t have to be profound.  You don’t have to have something that the world is going to stop over.   It is the profound posts that take ages to write.  This is where I get stuck on quite frequently.  I set out to write a short post on something and end up writing an essay – oh, I’m such a profound guy…

Again, jump to her post for the rest of the goods.

Unfolding Neurons 4.0

Something Old, Something New

I seem to have a penchant for spending more time on the structure and looks of my blog rather than focusing on writing.  I just never seem to “like” what I put up.  I’m hoping that changes with the latest shell I’m using!

For UnfoldingNeurons.com 4.0 I’m using the excellent theme called, “Arclite” by Digital Nature as the base.  I’ve decided to step away from theme frameworks for a bit.  I’ve spiffied it up a bit with some new plugins, some custom coloring and layout and a brand new logo.

I’ve also come up with a new tagline for my blog, “Darren Ethier and the quest for Clarity”.  Really, clarity is a quest.  I started UnfoldingNeurons.com way back in May of 2006 partly because I wanted to try out this blog thing and mostly because I wanted a place to sort out and “dump” all the stuff I think about – hence the name of the blog.   I haven’t really posted as much as I’d have liked to because somewhere along the way my focus shifted more to developing websites for other great people and organizations and I have done more coding than writing.  Still, the new theme represents what I really want this blog to be about.  Finding clarity in my thinking,  in what I learn, and in what I teach.

I’m really hoping to amp up my writing in the coming year and get out some of the draft posts that have been piling up!  One of the features of the new design is a featured articles section (see the “Articles” link in the navigation menu).  Over the next week I’m going to pore through the work I’ve already written and mark the good stuff for publishing on that page so if you want the cream of the crop you can head on over there.

I’m still working out some bugs and tweaking with the design but for the most part I’m happy with the new design – this is probably the blog design I’ve liked the most out of all that I’ve used.

Let me know what you think of the new UnfoldingNeurons.com in the comments!

All a twitter

I wrote this back near the end of May for a column I write for called “Techpass” that is part of the “Connections” mag published by the Western Ontario District of the PAOC.  Anytime now (and I think it already is) the July issue (published quarterly) of “Connections” will be out and about with this article in it.  Even after only two months there are some things that I think are a bit “dated” in this but I republishing it here on my blog so readers of that article can comment, respond if they want!  Actually, anyone can comment/respond now if they want..well you know what I mean.  Oh, one more thing – I have posted about twitter here already, if you want, check it out.

Have you heard of twitter? No, I’m not talking about the word to describe the language birds use to communicate with each other. Twitter is an online app that was launched in 2006 described as a “free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables users to send and read other users’ updates known as tweets. Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 characters in length which are displayed on the user’s profile page and delivered to other users who have subscribed to them (known as followers)” (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/twitter). Twitter has made it possible to make these short posts (and receive follower updates) using email, sms (texting), via the web, or even various other services (i.e. facebook etc.).

The whole premise of twitter surrounds the question prominently given to the user, “What are you doing now?”

At first glance, using twitter appears to be a pointless exercise. I mean, who really wants to take the time to write mini-updates through their day about what they are doing? Not only that, but come on, do I really want to follow somebody’s play-by-play account of their daily life? Yet, for some reason twitter has grown from just a handful of users when it first launched to around 475,000 in February 2008 and has reached over 7 million users only one year later. Clearly, there’s something that’s happening with this social experiment that is attracting a lot of users.

I decided I’d focus this quarter’s issue of TechPass on twitter because I think there are some potential good uses for it in the church and for us as pastors (KEYWORD – potential) in the tools we can use to understand, communicate and engage with people in our world.

Here’s what I’m going to do with this article. I’m going to throw out some ideas that I’ve come across from churches/pastors using twitter. Please know in advance that I haven’t actually tried all these ideas myself. Perhaps, there may be an idea or two that you’d like to try and think might be a worthwhile experiment in your own context. If so, let me know how it goes!!

  • One of the main uses of twitter is to maintain a church account for posting quick updates about what’s happening at the church. The real-time nature of twitter means that people following the church twitter account will get near instantaneous updates when items are posted (I’m planning on starting a twitter account for my church starting in the fall)
  • Some churches also use twitter to communicate short testimonies of something God has done, or articles worth reading, or links to full posts made on the church website (or church blog…you did read my last article didn’t you?). It even can be a great way to get prayer requests out (and Praise reports).
  • Pastors, or even people in the congregation can tweet live from church events (or a designated individual can post to the official church twitter account) and there can be not only a live “picture” recorded of what’s going on but it’s also useful for feedback, and archiving what’s happening. I twittered the last district conference (and yes I even tweeted the very important human “wave” that we serious conference attendees participated in…) (get a zeitgeist of your church)
  • Staff can use twitter to get an “inside” picture of what makes each other “tick” and the passions and interests they have (and vice versa let those that follow you discover your interests and passion). I know from experience that when you follow people you know of on twitter, after a while you get the sense that you know them a bit better because you get a bit of a picture into the things that happen in their lives. It’s also a way of getting quick feedback on a question you may have or sharing quick links to articles/resources you find. We currently have 4 staff members using twitter (including me) here at WPA and it’s interesting some of the insight I’ve gained just from the tweets they’ve made.
  • A variation of the above is of benefit to pastors in following people who may use twitter in their church. It’s a good way to get a “pulse” for the things that are grabbing your people’s attention, the trends in their thinking, etc.
  • Some churches have even tried opening up their Sunday services to twittering and broadcasting the tweets (filtered of course) on the big screen. I don’t think our church is there yet but is it a neat idea for making a service much more interactive? Or maybe it would just make things WAY too distracting… (for more on this see the post “Twitter Church“)

One of the caveats with twitter is that it is a community driven service. In other words, none of the benefits of twitter would be realized if the people you want to communicate with aren’t on the service. But for engaging people who do use twitter (an increasing number it seems) then twitter is a great tool.

This article is really just scraping the surface when it comes to giving examples of how some churches and pastors are using twitter and comes no where near outlining everything about the service and how it’s being used around the world. Still, I do believe twitter is something worth keeping on your radar as another potential communication tool for the church.

By the way I’m on twitter (but I don’t do a play-by-play of my day!). I’d love it if a bunch of us WOD folk would sign up at twitter.com and follow each other. Imagine the vibrancy of communication at our fingertips (especially for getting breaking news/prayer requests out?) – follow me at twitter.com/nerrad.

BONUS:

Some twitter lingo to be aware of:

TWEET – when someone makes I post using twitter they are said to have made a tweet, or “tweeted” (I’m laughing with you).

@nerrad – The “@” symbol is used in a tweet to reply to another user of twitter. These tweets are NOT private.

RT – means “retweet” which is placed before or after a tweet that you copy/paste from someone else to give it broader exposure (because you thought that tweet was great).

Direct Message – Twitter provides a way for you to direct message someone. The direct message shows up in their twitter stream but ONLY to them (this is PRIVATE from every other user of twitter)

#wodconf – the “#” symbol is used to indicate a ‘tag’ (usually called a hashtag) which is simply a way of categorizing the tweet. For instance in this example I used “#wodconf” whenever I tweeted something related to district conference. This is useful because you can then look up later all the tweets with that tag that were made by yourself (or anyone else using that tag).

(One more thing: If you enjoyed my last article on keeping a blog there is a book I just finished that does an excellent job communicating the benefit of blogging for churches and pastors. It’d be a great book to read in helping you make a decision on if it’s worth the investment – The Blogging Church: Sharing the Story of Your Church Through Blogs by Brian Bailey)

Test post from new BlackBerry App

I got the announcement about the new blackberry app for WordPress being released to the wild and decided to download it (link is for ota downloads) and give it a try. And so, here is this post.

So far it’s looking like it’s on track to be another useful addition to my curve. Remember though that it’s still only in beta so mileage may vary.

NOTE: I just posted this as a draft using my BlackBerry and then touched it up via my laptop to add the links – there’s still no easy way to add links in the app.

Why I think every church and pastor should blog…

This post was published as an article in the “Connections” magazine which is a periodical put out by the Western Ontario District of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (with whom I hold my credentials).  I publish a regular column for this magazine called “Tech Pass”.  If you are visiting this post from that article please leave a comment at the end!

Hopefully by now, most of you reading this post have heard the term “blog” and have some idea of what it is. If not, then it’s time to get away from the monastery for a bit…

The simplest definition of a blog is that it is a place on the internet where an individual publishes their thoughts. When blogging first started it was viewed as the online scribbling of people with too much time on their hands – people writing about what they eat for lunch or their cat, “Scratchy”. However, blogging has become a journalistic phenomenon worldwide that is even beginning to overtake printed media and large news organizations as the purveyor of ideas, news reports, and articles.

A big reason for the prolific spread of blogs is that they put the power of publishing in the hands of anyone within reach of a computer and internet access and make it as easy as sending an email.

To expand on the definition I gave of a blog above, a blog is a regularly updated website with content organized by date and the most recent post on top. The typical blog contains short paragraphs or posts on various topics, with links to other blogs and online conversations. Readers are usually able to add comments. Most blogs make it easy to stay up-to-date by allowing you to subscribe and receive updates and changes as they are made (see the “.rss” article I wrote in previous edition of TechPass).

I decided to take the space in this TechPass column to write a little bit about why I think it’s a good idea for your church (and pastor[s]!) to have a blog:

Reasons to have a blog:

1. Blogs help establish a sense of community.

…Especially among the younger generation. Of course this sense of community doesn’t happen overnight but when the blog is contributed to regularly, and the readership base grows, that sense of community begins to follow.

Of course, community as pursued in the church isn’t something that will happen just because you have a blog! But what it does do is supplement what people hear in the pulpit and experience through the week. It helps to personalize and define the community you are trying to create as you communicate with your blog.

2. Blogs give you a world-wide presence

The internet has global reach. It is entirely possible to create connections with believers and non-believers all over the world that would never have been created otherwise when you and/or your church blog.

3. Blogs are interactive

Blogs provide an opportunity for people to comment on what is posted and in this way conversations can be carried out that might not take place in other environments. Readers can give feedback and the comments and conversation could even provide the ideas for future ministry!

4. Blogs are EASY and FREE form of publishing.

…and they help to develop your communication skills (i.e. writing/speaking).

5. Blogs can aid discipleship and conversion.

They can continue the teaching begun on Sunday. This is a biggie. As a pastor there have been times where 80% of the research going into the sermon for a service doesn’t make the cut for what I actually preach. Blogging provides an outlet for that extra research and can help people go “deeper” into what they heard on a Sunday.

Not only that but the conversations that take place on your blog (via the posts you make and the comments that follow) might even be instrumental in providing the extra nudge for someone to put faith in Christ.

A blog is also an incredible way of communicating your vision as a church. Rather than just a static page stating what the church’s vision is – a blog provides the opportunity for continually emphasizing and sharing that vision in various articles communicating the ideas, the testimonies, and the stories of that vision unfolding in your church.

6. Blogs can introduce searching people to your church.

More and more people are using the internet to “check out” churches before they attend. A blog can give those searching people an opportunity to learn a bit about the uniqueness of your church and – this is a biggie – if the church’s pastor blogs, people will get a chance to “know his/her heart” before they “hear his/her voice”. A blog provides the opportunity to introduce yourself to people who haven’t even come through the door yet.

7. Blogs can communicate the continuing story (that people sometimes don’t hear).

One of the realities of being in leadership at a church is that you see and hear way more than what most of the congregation sees and hears. Some of that is good, and some of that is bad. However, a blog gives a venue for you to share some of that behind the scenes stuff. Sometimes, even sharing the bad (in a good way) can help illustrate the truth that really the church (or you as a pastor) isn’t perfect (sorry to burst your bubble) but God is – so when GOOD stuff happens it becomes readily apparent that it really IS God who made it possible!

Dangers to be aware of:

I believe every church should have some sort of blog. However, there are some cautions that should be acknowledged:

1. Your blog shouldn’t be your only means of connecting with people.

This applies especially to pastors. Don’t think just because you are writing about something and publishing it to your blog that people are getting it. Even among the people who read what you wrote, most of them won’t get it. What you write must complement what you live. You’ve still got to work on investing in relationships.

2. Once it’s published its forever on the internet – be careful what you write!!

Make sure you reread what you wrote before publishing. Let me repeat: make sure you reread what you wrote before publishing. It’s that important. Once you publish to your blog – it is now live to the world and WILL even persist if you delete or edit your post later. The reality is that people who subscribe to your blog feed (automatically offered on every free blog software) will see what you publish almost immediately. Search engines will “read” the new post and a cached snapshot will be saved on their servers (so even if you delete the post it will still show up in search results). A good question to ask before posting is, “Would I say what I’m writing in front of the Deacons?” Well, you know what I mean (wink).

3. Can be a time waster.

Make sure you balance carefully how much time you spend in crafting that blog post against the other things that you do. Is it worth a time investment? I believe yes. BUT, and this is a big but, it isn’t worth investing most of your time. The best thing to do is get into the habit of just posting “drips” – short paragraphs of insight on a frequent basis that challenge your readers, give insight to your thoughts (or your church), and ask questions that encourage conversation.

How to get started:

The best way for your church to do blogging is to have it integrated with your church website. Of course, this may not always be possible. In those cases you can link from your church website to one of these free online places to host your blog:

Blogs to check out:

To see how others are doing it – here’s a few blogs you can check out.

http://blog.marshillchurch.org/ (Mars Hill Church Blog)

http://www.newspring.cc/blog (NewSpring Church Blog)

http://perrynoble.com (NewSpring Lead Pastor’s blog – Perry Noble)

http://waterlooassembly.org/wpa-newsposts/ – (Waterloo Pentecostal Assembly Blog – this is the church I pastor at…we’ve still got a ways to go but at least it’s a start!)

http://revkevinrogers.blogspot.com/ – Kevin Roger’s Blog (pastors NewSong Church in Windsor, Ont)

I wish I could have included more churches/pastors from our district with blogs but none have entered my radar – if you know of any leave a comment below with a link to their blog!! I’d love to add some more Canadian Christian bloggers to my feed reader – if I get enough new interesting links I’ll make sure it’s get published in some format!

Till next time…

Some free resource links

  • http://www.blanksheetmusic.net/ – great website for quickly designing and printing off blank sheet music templates for all your music writing needs (Worship Team resource)
  • http://sumopaint.com – free online image editing software (it’s amazing what kind of image editing you can do via this website).
  • http://photl.com/ – free stock photography
  • http://faxzero.com/ – use this to fax something for free anywhere in Canada or the US while on the road or when your fax machine is down (now really – you still fax stuff?).

New Look: Unfolding Neurons 3.0

Time for a change around here.  A change that’s actually been in the works for quite a while.  I started working on a new theme for Unfolding Neurons at the beginning of 2008 but got sidetracked by changes in my life and never could get back to working on the theme I was developing (realized I didn’t like it anyway).  Part of the prep for the new look involved restructuring my blog and doing a major decompress of all my categories.  I eliminated over 40 categories I was using and decided I would use categories for the major themes in my blog and tags for all the other ways of describing what I write.

When I saw what was coming through the pipes with WordPress 2.7 I decided that rather than developing a theme from scratch, I’d take a look at what other good themes are out there and modify one to suit my needs.  That’s when I came across the excellent “Hybrid” theme framework by Justin Tadlock which he developed with WordPress 2.7 in mind.  What I like about Hybrid is that it is a framework that you can build child themes off of and if Justin updates Hybrid I can switch in the update without having to worry about the custom changes I’ve made for my site.  Unfolding Neurons 3.0 is actually built off of a child theme for Hybrid that Justin created called “Old School“.

I’ve still got more ideas for how I want to display posts around here but at least I’ve got the basics down.  Some of those ideas include styling  posts in certain categories a certain way and emphasizing “Asides” differently than other posts.  I also want to remove the Organize Series posts from the main loop on the front page and maybe move them to the sidebar.  But that might not be such a big problem if I can start posting more frequently here…which is something that I hope to do now that my blog has a fresh new look 🙂  If you are a reader of Unfolding Neurons (or just a lurker for Organize Series stuff) – let me know in the comments what you think of the new look!

Bluehost problems update

Hilarious (in an annoying way)…here’s what I sent off to support after my site went live again.

Thanks for putting my site live again.  What is the threshold at which my site would be deactivated and how can I monitor to make sure it’s within that threshold?  I really don’t want to be deactivated without warning again…especially when I have had the same site up and running for almost a year without any problems!

Thanks for the quick response and help

Important question to ask you might think!  I don’t want to be caught unawares with my websites being deactivated with no warning.  Here’s the “friendly” response I got from support today…

There isn’t a specific threshold.  Your website can not cause performance problems on our server.

Bluehost
Abuse Department
888-401-4678

Terms of Service – https://www.bluehost.com/cgi/info/terms.html

Notice they put the link to the terms of service in there.  At first I took it as meaning that it is impossible for my site to cause performance issues with the server (as in their service is robust enough to handle anything we throw at it)…but am starting to realize that what this is really saying is, “too bad, if we decide your site is doing something to our servers you’re out of luck and we’ll shut you down”.  Uh, oh.  This is absolutely RIDICULOUS!  They’re telling me that there is no way for me to know if I’m causing problems for the shared server I’m on until they decide my website is causing performance issues and they shut me down!

Further, I did a quick scan of their terms of service and here’s the only thing that I could see may be related to the previous sequence of events…

  1. “UNLIMITED” USAGE POLICIES AND DEFINITIONS
    1. What “Unlimited” means. BlueHost.Com does not set an arbitrary limit or cap on the amount of resources a single Subscriber can use. In good faith and subject to these Terms, BlueHost.Com makes every commercially reasonable effort to provide its Subscribers with all the storage and bandwidth resources needed to power their web sites successfully, as long as the Subscriber’s use of the service complies with these Terms. By not setting limits on key resources, we are able to provide simple, consistent pricing to our Subscribers as they grow their websites. As a result, a typical website may experience periods of great popularity and resulting increased storage without experiencing any associated increase in hosting charges.
    2. What “Unlimited” DOES NOT mean. BlueHost.Com employs complex mechanisms to protect its Subscribers and systems from abuse. BlueHost.Com’s offering of “unlimited” services is not intended to allow the actions of a single or few Subscribers to unfairly or adversely impact the experience of other Subscribers.BlueHost.Com’s service is a shared hosting service, which means that multiple Subscriber web sites are hosted from the same server and share server resources. BlueHost.Com’s service is designed to meet the typical needs of small business and home business website Subscribers in the United States. It is NOT intended to support the sustained demand of large enterprises, internationally based businesses, or non-typical applications better suited to a dedicated server.BlueHost.Com will make every commercially reasonable effort to provide additional resources to Subscribers who are using their website(s) consistent with these Terms, including moving Subscribers to newer and bigger shared servers as necessary. However, in order to ensure a consistent and quality experience for all Subscribers, BlueHost.Com does place automated safeguards to protect against any one site growing too quickly and adversely impacting the system until BlueHost.Com can evaluate said sites resource needs.
    3. Unlimited Hosting Space. BlueHost.Com does not set arbitrary limits on the amount of disk space a Subscriber can use for the Subscriber’s website, nor does BlueHost.Com charge additional fees based on an increased amount of storage used, provided the Subscriber’s use of storage complies with these Terms. Please note, however, that the BlueHost.Com service is designed to host websites . BlueHost.Com does NOT provide unlimited space for online storage, backups, or archiving of electronic files, documents, log files, etc., and any such prohibited use of the Services will result in the termination of Subscriber’s account, with or without notice.
    4. Unlimited File Transfer. BlueHost.Com does not set arbitrary limits on the amount of visitor traffic a web site can receive or on the amount of content a Subscriber can upload to his/her/its website in a given month, nor does BlueHost.Com charge additional fees based on increased use of bandwidth, as long as the Subscriber’s use of the Services complies with these Terms. In most cases, a Subscriber’s web site will be able to support as much traffic as the Subscriber can legitimately acquire. However, BlueHost.Com reserves the right to limit processor time, bandwidth, or processes in cases where it is necessary to prevent negatively impacting other Subscribers.
    5. Unlimited Domain Hosting. BlueHost.Com does not set arbitrary limits on the number of domain names a Subscriber can associate with the Subscriber’s web hosting account

I use WordPress on all my hosted sites and have done so for over a year.  I don’t use any of my webhost space as backup space.  I am not a heavily visited destination for the internets (but have had some spikes up to 700 visitors/day related to my Organize Series plugin).  What bothers me most about this fiasco is that there was no warning given to me that my website(s) were causing performance issues on the servers and I’m not being assured that there will be any warning given in the future.

I know he won’t, but I’m hoping Matt Heaton, the CEO of Bluehost sees this.  I really don’t want to have to go host shopping again but I will.

(I post things like this because finding a good webhost is really difficult these days… Bluehost was awesome for me until this past week.  I gladly welcome any comments from any BlueHost employees – your support channel is of very little help in this case…)