The ascent of Apple Pie Hill

Yes­ter­day the kids and I took a road trip to Apple Pie Hill, a sum­mit of loose gravel that tow­ers over the South Jer­sey pinelands from a dizzy­ing height of 209 feet above sea level. A fire watch tower on the sum­mit adds another few dozen feet, enough to get a vis­i­tor over the tree­tops. On a clear day it’s said you can see the sky­lines of Atlantic City and Philadel­phia. For­tu­nately for me it was an quin­tes­sen­tially beau­ti­fully fall day–clear and crisp. It was easy to spot the cities, both thirty-two miles away (mostly to the south and mostly to the west respec­tively) and here’s blowups of the two resul­tant pho­tos:
Trip to Pine Barren's famous Apple Pie Hill
Sand road to Apple Pie Hill Trip to Pine Barren's famous Apple Pie Hill Trip to Pine Barren's famous Apple Pie Hill Trip to Pine Barren's famous Apple Pie Hill
More pic­tures, from left: Sand road to the hill, the fire tower, the view down through the steps of the tower (the kids were left in the car), two year old Fran­cis eager but thwarted attempt to repeat Papa’s climb up tower. Click indi­vid­ual pho­tos for enlarged and geo­t­agged ver­sions. More pho­tos of this and out stopover at Atsion later in the day on yesterday’s Flickr page.

For those inter­ested in repeat­ing our jour­ney, here’s a map show­ing our route up and back. I was mostly wing­ing it, depend­ing on these direc­tions from NJPines​land​sand​Down​Jer​sey​.com start­ing from nearby Chatsworth NJ, self-styled “Cap­i­tal of the Pine Barrens.”

Other map views: View Larger Map | Satel­lite with Route Map

Banking on reputations

I was referred to a web­site the other day that barely exists, at least
in the way that I see sites. It’s home­page was built entirely in Flash, was com­pletely invis­i­ble to search engines and barely func­tioned in Fire­fox. Domain​tools​.com gave it an SEO score of zero (out of a scale of one hun­dred). It’s Google PageR­ank was three out of ten, mak­ing it less vis­i­ble that my kid pages.
But this was a web­site for a high-flying web devel­op­ment house, a
com­pany that works with some of Philadelphia’s most promi­nent and
well-endowed cul­tural insti­tu­tions. Their client work isn’t quite as
invis­i­ble, but their web­site for Philadelphia’s relative-new $265
mil­lion per­for­mance arts cen­ter has a PageR­ank equiv­a­lent to my
per­sonal blog–youch!

I think there’s a les­son here. Promi­nent cul­tural insti­tu­tions don’t look at Google (and SEO–friendly
devel­op­ers) because they’re big enough and well-known enough that they
assume peo­ple will find them any­way. They’re right, of course, but how
many more peo­ple would find them if they had well-built web­sites? And
what’s the long-term vision if they’re rely­ing on their estab­lished
rep­u­ta­tion to do their web marketing?

It’s per­haps impos­si­ble
for a net-centric start-up to repli­cate a hugely-endowed cul­tural icon
like an orches­tra or bal­let, giv­ing some degree of insu­la­tion to these
insti­tu­tions from direct inter­net com­pe­ti­tion. But if these non­prof­its
saw them­selves in the enter­tain­ment busi­ness, com­pet­ing for the lim­ited
atten­tion and money of an audi­ence that has many evening-time
pos­si­bil­i­ties, then you’d think they’d want to lever­age the inter­net as
much as they could: to use the web to reach out not only to their
exist­ing audi­ence but to nur­ture and develop future audiences.

Are the audi­ences of high brow insti­tu­tions so full of hip young audi­ences that they can steer clear of web-centric marketing?

Talking like a Quaker: does anyone really care about schism anymore?

Over on my design blog I’ve just posted an arti­cle, Bank­ing on rep­u­ta­tions, which looks at how the web­sites for high-profile cul­tural insti­tu­tions are often built with­out regard to nat­ural web publicity–there’s no focus on net cul­ture or search engine vis­i­bil­ity. The sites do get vis­ited, but only because of the rep­u­ta­tion of the insti­tu­tion itself. My guess is that peo­ple go to them for very spe­cific func­tions (look­ing up a phone num­ber, order­ing tick­ets, etc.). I fin­ish by ask­ing the ques­tion, “Are the audi­ences of high brow insti­tu­tions so full of hip young audi­ences that they can steer clear of web-centric marketing?”

I won’t bela­bor the point, but I won­der if some­thing sim­i­lar is hap­pen­ing within Friends. It’s kind of weird that only two peo­ple have com­mented on Johan Maurer’s blog post about Bal­ti­more Yearly Meeting’s report on Friends United Meet­ing. Johan’s post may well be the only place where online dis­cus­sion about this par­tic­u­lar report is avail­able. I gave a plug for it and it was the most pop­u­lar link from Quak­erQuaker, so I know peo­ple are see­ing it. The larger issue is dealt with else­where (Bill Samuel has a par­tic­u­larly use­ful resource page) but Johan’s piece seems to be get­ting a big yawn.

It’s been super­seded as the most pop­u­lar Quak­erQuaker link by a light­hearted call for an Inter­na­tional Talk Like a Quaker Day put up by a Live­jour­nal blog­ger. It’s fun but it’s about as seri­ous as you might expect. It’s get­ting picked up on a num­ber of blogs, has more links than Johan’s piece and at cur­rent count has thir­teen com­menters. I think it’s a great way to poke a lit­tle fun of our­selves and think about out­reach and I’m happy to link to it but I have to think there’s a les­son in its pop­u­lar­ity vis-a-vis Johan’s post.

Here’s the inevitable ques­tion: do most Quak­ers just not care about Friends United Meet­ing or Bal­ti­more Yearly Meet­ing, about a mod­ern day cul­ture clash that is but a few degrees from boil­ing over into full-scale insti­tu­tional schism? For all my bravado I’m as much an insti­tu­tional Quaker as any­one else. I care about our denom­i­na­tional pol­i­tics but do oth­ers, and do they really?

Yearly meet­ing ses­sions and more entertainment-focused Quaker gath­er­ings are lucky if they get three to five per­cent atten­dance. The gov­ern­ing body of my yearly meet­ing is made up of about one per­cent of its mem­ber­ship; add a per­cent or two or three and you have how many peo­ple actu­ally pay any kind of atten­tion to it or to yearly meet­ing pol­i­tics. A few years ago a Quaker pub­lisher com­mis­sioned a promi­nent Friend to write an update to lib­eral Friends’ most widely read intro­duc­tory book and she man­gled the whole thing (down to a totally made-up acronym for FWCC) and no one noticed till after publication–even insid­ers don’t care about most of this!

Are the bulk of most con­tem­po­rary Friends post-institutional? The per­cent­age of Friends involved in the work of our reli­gious bod­ies has per­haps always been small, but the divide seems more strik­ing now that the inter­net is pro­vid­ing com­pe­ti­tion. The big Quaker insti­tu­tions skate on being rec­og­nized as offi­cial bod­ies but if their par­tic­i­pa­tion rate is low, their recog­ni­tion fac­tor small, and their abil­ity to influ­ence the Quaker cul­ture there­fore min­i­mal, then are they really so impor­tant? After six years of mar­riage I can hear my wife’s ques­tion as a Quaker-turned-Catholic: where does the reli­gious author­ity of these bod­ies come from? As some­one who sees the world through a sociological/historical per­spec­tive, my ques­tion is com­ple­men­tary but some­what dif­fer­ent: if so few peo­ple care, then is there author­ity? The only time I see Friends close to tears over any of this is when
a schism might mean the loss of con­trol over a beloved school or campground–factor out
the sen­ti­men­tal fac­tor and what’s left?

I don’t think a dimin­ish­ing influ­ence is a pos­i­tive trend, but it won’t go away if we bury our heads in the sand (or in com­mit­tees). How are today’s gen­er­a­tion of Friends going to deal with chang­ing cul­tural forces that are threat­en­ing to under­mine our cur­rent prac­tices? And how might we use the new oppor­tu­ni­ties to advance the Quaker mes­sage and Christ’s agenda?

Baltimore and FUM from sessions to the static web to interactive discussion.

One thing I love about the inter­net and blogs is that they’re open­ing up dis­cus­sions in the Quaker world. Infor­ma­tion and dia­log that was once con­fined to a small group of insid­ers is opened up to what we might only-half jok­ingly label “the laity.” The lat­est few entries to Quak­erQuaker show this in operation.

Last month’s annual ses­sions of Bal­ti­more Yearly Meet­ing (the regional body for Friends those parts) were marked by an impor­tant report from its rep­re­sen­ta­tives to Friends United Meet­ing, an inter­na­tional body of Friends that Bal­ti­more belongs to but has a com­pli­cated rela­tion­ship with. Atten­dees at the yearly meet­ing ses­sion heard the report, of course, and news trick­led out in var­i­ous ways (one vis­i­tor IM’ed me that day with the briefest sketch).

Enter the inter­net. At some point Bal­ti­more put the report up on their web­site. The infor­ma­tion was there but there’s no oppor­tu­nity for dis­cus­sion as the BYM web­site has no com­ment­ing fea­ture. I posted the report up to Quak­erQuaker and within a few hours, Johan Mau­rer was on top of it. Johan used to be the chief exec­u­tive of Friends United Meet­ing and a wide expe­ri­ence with Friends from across the Quaker the­o­log­i­cal and cul­tural spec­trum. He’s also an active blog­ger and he posted a reply, What is really wrong with FUM, part two: the Bal­ti­more YM report, that I find par­tic­u­larly use­ful. His blog has com­ments. I’ve put Johan’s post up on Quak­erQuaker and we now have a forum to try to tease apart the range of issues in the Bal­ti­more report: lead­er­ship, the­ol­ogy, inter­na­tional rela­tions, etc. How cool is that?

PS: I linked to the Wikipedia arti­cles on Bal­ti­more and Friends United Meet­ing. Has any­one else noticed Wikipedia makes a much more acces­si­ble intro­duc­tion to Quaker bod­ies than their own websites?

Spontaneous trip to Longwood Gardens

Spontaneous trip to Longwood Gardens
Last week we left Julie’s church to find a beau­ti­ful late Sum­mer after­noon so we took an unplanned road trip over to Pennsylvania’s Long­wood Gar­dens. It’s not par­tic­u­larly close but it’s beau­ti­ful and its car-free acreage makes it very kid-friendly so we have mem­ber­ships there (thanks to Martin’s Mom these last two years!). Below: scenes from Longwood’s Fall model train exhibit, orchid room and water­fall.

Longwood Gardens trip Longwood Gardens trip Spontaneous trip to Longwood Gardens