Outreach gets people to your meetinghouse / Hospitality keeps people returning.

Over on Twit­ter feed came a tweet (h/t revrevwine):

seo - Google SearchTo trans­late, SEO is “search engine opti­miza­tion,” the often-huckersterish art of trick­ing Google to dis­play your web­site higher than your com­peti­tors in search results. “Usabil­ity” is the catch-all term for mak­ing your web­site easy to nav­i­gate and invit­ing to vis­i­tors. Com­pa­nies with deep pock­ets often want to spend a lot of money on SEO, when most of the time the most viable long-term solu­tion to rank­ing high with search engines is to pro­vide vis­i­tors with good rea­sons to visit your site. What if we applied these prin­ci­ples to our churches and meet­ing­houses and swapped the terms?

Out­reach gets peo­ple to your meet­ing­house /
Hos­pi­tal­ity keeps peo­ple returning.

A lot of Quaker meet­ing­houses have pretty good “nat­ural SEO.” Here in the U.S. East Coast, they’re often near a major road in the mid­dle of town. If they’re lucky there are a few his­tor­i­cal mark­ers of notable Quak­ers and if they are really lucky there’s a highly-respected Friends school nearby. All these meet­ings really have to do is put a nice sign out front and table a few town events every year. The rest is cov­ered. Although we do get the occa­sional “aren’t you all Amish?” com­ments, we have a much wider rep­u­ta­tion that our num­bers would nec­es­sar­ily war­rant. We rank pretty high.

But what are the lessons of hos­pi­tal­ity we could work on? Do we pro­vide places where spir­i­tual seek­ers can both grow per­son­ally and engage in the impor­tant ques­tions of the faith in the mod­ern world? Are we invi­ta­tional, bring­ing peo­ple into our homes and into our lives for shared meals and conversations?

In my free­lance days when I was hired to work on SEO I ran through a series of sta­tis­ti­cal reports and redesigned some under­per­form­ing pages, but then turned my atten­tion to the client’s con­tent. It was in this realm that my great­est quan­tifi­able suc­cesses occurred. At the heart of the con­tent work was ask­ing how could the site could more fully engage with first-time vis­i­tors. The “usabil­ity con­sid­er­a­tions” on the Wikipedia page on usabil­ity could be eas­ily adapted as queries:

Who are the users, what do they know, what can they learn? What do users want or need to do? What is the users’ gen­eral back­ground? What is the users’ con­text for work­ing? What must be left to the machine? Can users eas­ily accom­plish intended tasks at their desired speed? How much train­ing do users need? What doc­u­men­ta­tion or other sup­port­ing mate­ri­als are avail­able to help the user?

I’d love to see Friends con­sider this more. FGC’s “New Meet­ings Tool­box” has a sec­tion on wel­com­ing new­com­ers. But I’d love to hear more sto­ries about how we’re work­ing on the “usabil­ity” of our spir­i­tual communities.

Bike To Work Day 2012

Insanely, I decided to par­tic­i­pate on Bike To Work Day despite liv­ing 32 miles from Philadel­phia. It took 3:20 hours but was fun and not too scary. The night before I looked up Google Dri­ving Direc­tions for bicy­cles and when I found it gave me an inter­est­ing route I decided to fol­low it. Much of the ride was eigh­teenth cen­tury stage­coach roads and a road fol­low­ing along­side the old Read­ing Rail­road Seashore Line.

In album Bike to Work Day 2012 (19 photos)

At home, wait­ing for enough day­light to set out.

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Facebook consulting explained

Over the last year or so I’ve been asked to do an increas­ing amount of Face­book con­sult­ing. Most weeks I get a cou­ple of emails ask­ing for help and ask­ing how this sort of con­sult­ing works so I thought I’d explain my experience.

First off: Face­book is not all that hard. Putting a great-looking Face­book page up to sup­port your group, cause or school doesn’t require any pro­gram­ming. But it can be con­fus­ing, partly because Face­book is always in-process. They keep adapt­ing it and tweak­ing it. If you bought a book on Face­book cam­paign­ing a year ago, it would already be out of date.
My first job is to ask a few good ques­tions about what you want to do on Face­book and then set up the begin­nings of a site. I spend too much of my time already on Face­book but I also keep up with a lot of Face­book blogs and have recent copies of such won­der­ful tomes as “Face­book Mar­ket­ing for Dum­mies.” In most cases my job is to rec­om­mend a Face­book strat­egy based on best prac­tices and then to start up a Face­book Page for you. There are cer­tain flour­ishes I can give, such as pick­ing a good icon or mak­ing a cus­tomized tab for first-time vis­i­tors. But the real value of Face­book is clients shar­ing infor­ma­tion directly with their audi­ence so my most impor­tant work is get­ting you excited about doing it your­self. I’m really just a cheer­leader for you.
I typ­i­cally spend any­where from two to eight hours help­ing a client put together a Face­book page. If it looks like a project on the small end of the scale, I just charge the expected amount upfront. I do keep track of my time: if we go over a lit­tle bit, I let it slide; if we still have a bit of a bal­ance then I’m there for ongo­ing ques­tions. Face­book con­sult­ing is not the core of my busi­ness but it can be a nice break from a big six-month devel­op­ment project and it’s helps with the cash­flow. I’m also a nat­u­rally curi­ous fel­low so I like learn­ing a lit­tle bit about the kinds of things.

Bradley J Winkler LLC

Bradley Winkler LLC Home RemodelingIn early Decem­ber 2009, I got a call from a prospec­tive client who wanted me to build a web­site for her husband’s home improve­ment busi­ness. The catch? She wanted it to be a sur­prise Christ­mas present! She started col­lect­ing pic­tures from his clients and I went to work with a sim­ple but expand­able Word­Press site. Reports are that Brad was thrilled!
See it live: http://​www​.bradley​win​kler​.com/

Mike’s Precision Carpentry

Mike's Precision CarpentryMichael Oliv­eras is a long-time union car­pen­ter mak­ing the entre­pre­neur­ial jump and start­ing his own busi­ness: Mike’s Pre­ci­sion Car­pen­try, serv­ing the New Jer­sey, Penn­syl­va­nia and Delaware from his shop in Ham­mon­ton, NJ. He came to me look­ing for a web­page to adver­tise his new enter­prise.
It’s a sim­ple design, a typ­i­cal small-business site of half-a-dozen pages. The color scheme matches his busi­ness cards for a bit of brand­ing. Oliv­eras faced a prob­lem typ­i­cal for new busi­nesses: a lack of good pho­tos. The work he’s done for many years is not tech­ni­cally his own (per the employ­ment con­tracts) so for now the pic­tures are a mix of the few jobs he has done on his own and a few stock images. I’m sure he’ll have a well-rounded port­fo­lio before long and we’ll be able to fill out the site with his own work. In the mean­times, he added a cou­ple of great pic­tures of him and his fam­ily on the “About Us” page to give it that per­sonal touch.
See it live: www​.mike​s​pre​ci​sion​car​pen​try​.com

Slim Goodbody Facebook Fan Page

Facebook Branding: Slim GoodbodyPop­u­lar children’s entertainer/educator Slim Good­body is one busy guy: most week­days of the school year find him spread­ing the mes­sage of good health in his trade­mark body suit (“When a Body needs some­body there’s nobody like Good­body!”).

He’s been doing this work for decades now and has a vast store­house of videos, prod­ucts and fans.
Slim came to me to build a branded Face­book presence.

A typ­i­cal work­load for a Face­book brand­ing project is:

  • Set up the Page;
  • Coör­di­nate with the client for a good pro­file graphic;
  • Adding a num­ber of pho­tos and videos;
  • Help set up a post­ing strategy;
  • Pro­vide phone sup­port to answer ques­tions on best practices;
  • Give feed­back on cam­paign (like Facebook’s “Insights” stats)

For Slim, we decided to rely on Facebook’s native apps as much as pos­si­ble. This became espe­cially impor­tant when Face­book shifted it’s feed lay­out (yet again) to focus less on user streams and more on an algorithmically-determined best posts. The more inte­grated your site is with Face­book, the bet­ter chance your pieces will have of show­ing up on Fan’s user streams.

We used Face­book Markup Lan­guage (FBML) to cre­ate cus­tom Page tabs for inte­gra­tion with his exist­ing online store and list­ing of tour dates. We would have liked to use FB’s Events appli­ca­tion but it doesn’t allow for the vol­ume of tour dates nec­es­sary to cover a busy enter­tainer like Slim Goodbody!

See it live: www​.face​book​.com/​s​l​i​m​g​o​o​d​b​ody

Elisabeth Olver, Artist & Painter

Elisabeth Olver ArtistElis­a­beth is a painter and artist who spe­cial­izes in orig­i­nal acrylic paint­ings and giclee prints of nature and South Jer­sey beach scenes. Her exist­ing site was attrac­tive, but it didn’t have online order­ing and she wasn’t able to update it herself.

We put together a fea­tures list and then went through a round of con­cept screen­shots which I built in Adobe Fire­works and Pho­to­shop (you can see our work here!). Design in hand, I built a cus­tomized Mov­able Type site. A spe­cial­ized tem­plate allows her to enter infor­ma­tion about the each piece: medium, theme, price and the URL to it’s image (most of which are hosted on Flickr). Mov­able Type pulls these together into var­i­ous cat­e­gory and indi­vid­ual art pages, with automatically-generated Pay­pal “Buy” but­tons for avail­able pieces. We stressed search-engine vis­i­bil­ity so there are many cat­e­gories and they all cross-link with each painting.

Visit: Elis­a­beth Olver

Can social networking tools free us from email?

The NYTimes has a piece by an IBM employee who has largely freed him­self from email by con­sciously using what­ever social net­work­ing tool would be bet­ter at mov­ing the con­ver­sa­tion for­ward, whether it’s IM, wikis, or even (gasp!) the tele­phone. This line stood out for me:

I have had con­tin­u­ing sup­port from my man­age­ment in this effort, because I’ve been able to prove how much more I can accom­plish by answer­ing a ques­tion, and post­ing it on a blog, for exam­ple, than I can by answer­ing the same ques­tion over and over. I still help peo­ple, but in a more open and col­lab­o­ra­tive fash­ion. Other peo­ple can join in the dis­cus­sions — maybe they will have a bet­ter idea than mine.

This is exactly how I try to describe the blog­ging phi­los­o­phy in the busi­ness world. Don’t think of the blog as another chore that needs to be added to your already over­whelmed to-do list. Instead, think about it as another com­mu­ni­ca­tion tool so it becomes a seam­less part of your ongo­ing work. This will no only help work flow, but help give your blog an hon­esty and approach­a­bil­ity it wouldn’t have if you thought of it as sim­ply another mar­ket­ing piece.

New School/Old School in Web Design

Web 2.0 tools have changed the bound­ary lines between techies and pro­gram staff in many non­prof­its over the past few years. At least, they should have, though I know of var­i­ous orga­ni­za­tions that haven’t made the con­cep­tual leap to the new roles.

OLD SCHOOL: Webmaster

Let me explain by talk­ing about my own chang­ing work role. Even a few years ago, I was a paid staff web­mas­ter. You could divide my work into two large cat­e­gories. The first was techie: I man­aged server accounts, set up required data­bases, designed sites. I got into the HTML code, the PHP, the Javascript, CSS, etc.

The other was con­tent: when program-oriented staff had new mate­r­ial they wanted on the web­site they would email it to me or walk it over. I would put in my work queue, where it might sit for weeks if it wasn’t an orga­ni­za­tional pri­or­ity. When it came time to add the mate­r­ial I would boot up Dreamweaver, a rel­a­tively expen­sive pro­gram that was only acces­si­ble from my lap­top and I would put the mate­r­ial onto the web­site. Need­less to say, with a process like this some parts of the web­site never got very much attention.

At some point I start sneak­ing in a con­tent man­age­ment sys­tem for frequently-changed pages. This seemed very hack­ish and not good at first but over time I real­ized it greatly speeded up my turn-around time for basic text con­tent. But the orga­ni­za­tions I worked for still relied on the old model, where staff give the web­mas­ter con­tent to put up.

NEW SCHOOL: Web Developer

Nowa­days I’m a web devel­oper, a free­lancer with an ever chang­ing list of clients. I typ­i­cally spend about a month putting together a site based on a con­tent man­age­ment (like this) or auto­matic feed sys­tem (like I did for Philadelphia’s William Penn Char­ter School). I do a cer­tain amount of train­ing and while I might add a lit­tle con­tent for test­ing pur­poses, I step back at the end of the process to let the client put the mate­r­ial up them­selves. I’m avail­able for ques­tions but I’m sur­prised about how rarely I’m called.

Here’s two exam­ples. Steady­foot­steps is a blog by an Amer­i­can phys­i­cal ther­a­pist in Viet­nam. When we started, she didn’t even have a dig­i­tal cam­era! I gave her advice on cam­eras, started her on a Flickr account, set up a fairly generic Mov­able Type blog with some cus­tom design ele­ments and answered all the ques­tions she had along the way. She went to town. She’s put tons of pic­tures and embed­ded Youtube videos right in posts. Here’s a non-techie who has con­tributed a lot to the web’s content!

Penn Char­ter is a school that was already on Flickr and Youtube but wanted to dis­play the con­tent on their web­site in an attrac­tive way. I pulled together all the magic of feeds and javascripts to have a media page that show­cases the newest material.

They’re very dif­fer­ent sites, but in nei­ther instance does the client con­tact me to add con­tent. They rely on easy-to-use Web 2.0 ser­vices: no spe­cial­ized HTML knowl­edge required.


I got an email not so long ago from an old boss who man­ages a monthly mag­a­zine. Her site has been rad­i­cally rebuilt over the years. Dreamweaver is out and con­tent man­age­ment is in. They use Dru­pal, which my friend Thomas T. of the Philadel­phia Cul­tural Alliance tells me won the recent pop­u­lar­ity con­test among non­profit techies. This is great, a def­i­nite step for­ward, but what con­fused me is that my old boss was ask­ing me whether I would be inter­ested in return­ing to my old job (the suc­ces­sor who over­saw the Dru­pal upgrade is leaving).

They still have a web­mas­ter? They still want to fun­nel web­site mate­r­ial through a sin­gle per­son? Every staff­per­son there is adept at com­put­ers. If a phys­i­cal ther­a­pist can fig­ure out Flickr and Mov­able Type and Youtube, why can’t pro­fes­sional print design­ers and editors?

My hourly rate ranges from two to five times what she’d be likely to pay, so I turned her down. But I did ask why she wanted a web­mas­ter. Now that they’re on Dru­pal it seems to me that they’d be bet­ter off switch­ing from the web­mas­ter to the web devel­oper staffing model: hire me as a free­lance con­sul­tant to do trou­bleshoot­ing, staff train­ing and the occas­sional spe­cial project but have the reg­u­lar full­time staff do the bulk of the con­tent man­age­ment. I’d think you’d end up with a site that’s more lively and updated and that the cost would about the same, despite my higher hourly rates.

I’ve heard enough sto­ries of places where sec­re­taries have come out of the shad­ows to embrace con­tent man­age­ment and have helped trans­form web­sites. I’m the son of a for­mer sec­re­tary so I know that they’re often the smartest employ­ees at any firm (if you walk into an office look­ing for the expert on advanced Excel fea­tures you’ll surely find them sit­ting right there behind the recep­tion­ist desk).


I’m try­ing to join the band­wagon and use Dru­pal for a upcom­ing site that will have about a dozen edi­tors. But there’s no built-in WYSIWYG edi­tor, no lit­tle for­mat­ting icons. Sure, I myself could eas­ily hand-code the HTML and make it look nice. But I don’t want to do that. And it’s unre­al­is­tic to think I’m going to teach a dozen over­worked sec­re­taries how to write in HTML. The inter­face needs to work more or less like Microsoft Word (as it does in Mov­able Type, Cushy­CMS, Google Docs, etc.)

Most Dru­pal sites I see seems from the out­side like they’re still old school: staff web­mas­ter through whom most con­tent fun­nels. Is this right? Because if so, this is really just an insti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion of the con­tent hack I did six years ago. Can any­one point me to lively, active Dru­pal sites whose con­tent is being directly added by non-techie office staff? If so, how is it set up?