Thinking Out Loud

October 12, 2013

The Corruption of Online Journaling

Filed under: blogging, writing — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:27 am

What if instead of keeping a written diary or journal, someone offered you a free software package that allowed you to do the same at your computer; and instead of storing your writing on your computer and having to transfer files every time you bought a new machine, it allowed you to store your thoughts in the cloud, where they could also be accessed by friends and family?

bloggingdogs-thumbThat’s the theory behind the original weblogs — later shortened to blogs — such as the one you’re reading right now, and names like Blogspot and WordPress, and SquareSpace became synonymous with being able to do this in a time when the new meanings of words such as “share” and “like” hadn’t been fully developed. Blogging also replaced the Bulletin Board (or BBS) means of posting information to a wider audience (which is why foreign spammers often use the word ‘board’ in their message) and also absorbed people whose sense of online community was previously developed in online forums or chat rooms (in an age when that term didn’t only have sexual connotations).

In the last 12-24 months however, we’ve seen a big change not only in blogging, but in the various other forms of social media that have arrived more recently. As I said a few days ago, you can only be creative on so many fronts at once, and some great writers online have gravitated to fortune-cookie-length writing on Twitter, while others simply say it with pictures on Instagram. But as time goes by, platforms get corrupted as the purveyors of the free programs need to show revenue to satisfy their personal bottom line or the demands of shareholders.

Thus, you’re seeing advertising on this page you never saw before. At least I think you are. I use Firefox as my browser with the AdBlock add-on, so I don’t see advertising here or anywhere else. But WordPress will remove it entirely if I pay them $30 per year. Or at least, $30 for this year, with fees certainly due to rise. And on the Facebook page for my small business, that company is now asking for $5 every time I write something, or $30 per post, if I really want it “boosted.”

My online diary lately, for lack of a better word, has been my Twitter account. But even there, the emails I receive from them seem obsessed with the idea of me building a following, and sometimes I get people following me on the chance I will go to their Twitter and follow them, and then quietly un-following (there’s no email notification for that) once enough time has passed, or they realize they didn’t really care what I had to say.

blog-awards-humbleBlog comments (even the good ones) and Twitter ‘follows’ are essentially a new form of spam. Not in all cases, but many times.

We want to be heard. We want to be seen. We want to be somebody. We want to have significance.

Of the writing of blogs there is no end. Literally. In my quest for daily content at Christianity 201, there seem to be as many blogs — even faith-based ones — as there are grains of sand on the beach. The promise to Abraham is fulfilled, online.

So many voices screaming into the wind.

Still, words communicate. People are listening. You can have a part in what they hear. If the Butterfly Effect can be proven, it can be proven online. Someone writes something and the internet gods are smiling and the article goes viral. Got a video that reached 25,000,000 views? You’re tomorrow’s next author. (To be clear, not undeservedly so; not everyone makes it to Thomas Nelson.)

As I write this, I am active on WordPress (4 times over), Twitter, and manage a Facebook Page (for our business, under my wife’s account) and YouTube. Each has a different audience and a different purpose. I do, in fact write to be heard. I do want people to listen because I feel I have something to offer. But I recognize that I am one of millions of voices screaming into that windstorm.

However, I also recognize that the social media landscape changes rapidly from month to month (even day to day) and if God puts it into your heart to be a communicator — or an influencer –  you have to navigate the current and be willing to adapt.

May 24, 2013

Comments, Spam and the Art of Self-Promotion

Filed under: blogging — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:27 am

Everybody seems to have a cause for which to speak
Loudly from the rooftops they proclaim the thing they seek…

-o-o-o-

Long before starting this blog, I was a regular reader of others. I’m not sure when I had the first impulse to leave a comment, but there was no doubt some issue on which I felt I was both qualified and passionate, and so I clicked the ‘leave a comment’ button. There I encountered a dialog box (aptly named in this case) which looked something like this:

Name:
Email (won’t be published):
Website:

The first two fields were mandatory, but I had nothing to put on the third line. Later, I would start a page which was annexed to the religion page at USAToday, but it was several years before I would start what became the project you are now reading.

-o-o-o-

Blog commentsOnce this page was up and running, I continued to read what others were writing, and the conventional wisdom was, if you want to bring readers back to your page, and build traffic, you need to leave comments on other blogs. There is a sense in which this works, but again I tried to limit myself to subjects on which I felt qualified to offer an opinion, introduce a secondary source or quotation, post a witty remark, or simply express my passion on a particular issue. However, it was evident that this wasn’t hurting traffic at all. Was I selling myself out for the sake of building audience?

“Go to the most popular Christian blogs;” I was told; “And leave a comment regularly.” Of course, part of this is based on the idealistic notion of building blog community. That online fraternity does in fact develop, but here it’s limited to a handful of people; people whom I should say I am better for having met, if not in person, via the next best alternative.

-o-o-o-

WordPress bloggers: Have you ever actually looked at the spam comments that Akismet filters out? Blogger Clark Bunch recently received a massive template that is used by many such spammers, which someone had erroneously sent him as a single comment. Reading the text of those comments gives you a different perspective on the comments you do get.

My thesis is that there is a sense in which all of us have been partially corrupted by the goal of self-promotion. In a world filled with so many voices — and so much noise generally — we all want to be heard; we want to feel we’re making a difference; we want to voice ideas we feel are significant.

-o-o-o-

A few weeks ago the impulse must have returned because I found myself on the website of a distinguished author and professor who was writing about the impact of book reviews. Before I could take an extra minute to reconsider, I had left a comment, completely missing that he was referring to what academics call ‘peer reviewing’ which is entirely different than the book reviewing we do here. Furthermore the comment was somewhat lame. Why on earth did I feel I needed to say something?

I quickly tracked down contact information for him, and asked him to remove the comment. He was more than willing to oblige.

-o-o-o-

Deliberately using the contact information from others’ comments is not a bad thing. On at least ten different occasions in the past five years, there have been days when the Wednesday Link List was rather lean. I’ve surmised that if I’m looking for colorful content, the type of people who regular read Internet Monk, or Stuff Christians Like, or Pete Wilson are probably up to something interesting.

Similarly, there are times when I simply want to return the favor with people who regularly contribute here. So I’ll drop by the blogs of people who leave comments here and reciprocate, provided I have something significant to say.

-o-o-o-

I was originally going to title this piece, “All Comments are Spam.” There are certainly days when I feel that everybody seems to have an agenda or a book to sell. But that title would have been insulting to some of the regulars here who, it must be said, comprise the majority of comments.

Decades ago, a friend gave me the book, How to Sell Yourself by Joe Girard. Like the movie Snakes on a Plane, once you know the title, you know what the book is about, and there is a sense in which in order to pursue what the world calls success, you have to adopt the principle of promoting yourself.

Around the exact same time, I was sitting on the grass at one of those large outdoor summer festivals, when Scott Wesley Brown drew attention to the wording of Psalm 75 in the King James version:

Psalm 75 (KJV)
6 For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south.
7 But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another.

Who knew the Bible covered promotion, marketing and merchandising?

-o-o-o-

A couple of days ago at Christianity 201 (there’s some cross-blog promotion) I mentioned a quotation that I also posted on Twitter (there’s some cross-platform promotion) from Skye Jethani (guess it’s only fair to give him a link, too). While he doesn’t address commenting specifically, I love what this says:

Many books should be articles. Many articles should be blog posts. Many blog posts should be tweets. And many tweets should not be.

So true.

-o-o-o-

At the same outdoor festival, I also learned this verse from Proverbs:

Proverbs 16 (NIV)
2 All a person’s ways seem pure to them,
but motives are weighed by the Lord.

Ultimately, it often comes down to what motivates our actions, not the actions themselves. Maybe my comment is actually quite valid, as are the comments of people here at Thinking Out Loud. But as I learned with my comment on the professor’s website, I need to take an extra minute to ask myself why I am weighing in on a particular topic. As the C201 article I mentioned above states, scripture seems to suggest that a theology of reticence; a time to keep ones thoughts to themselves.

…Oh, by the way, your comments are invited!

April 18, 2013

Add to Bookmarks

Places to go, people to meet:

The Bridge Chicago

The Bridge Chicago

I’ll let them describe it:

The Bridge Chicago is a new ministry project from Mission:USA. On this blog, we’re drawing on decades of experience in front line ministry to provide help and materials to people trying to reach others for Jesus in their own communities.

The materials you find on this blog include media that you can purchase. The purchase price helps cover the cost of making it, and supports missionaries raised up from within the inner city who do not have other means of raising support.

There is a wide spectrum of music and interesting articles to hear and see at The Bridge.  Be sure to bookmark this site.

Click here to view The Bridge Chicago.

Faith Village

Faith Village

Make sure your flash player is up to date; the street is your navigation bar. After viewing the streetscape on the landing page — use your cursor to go further down the block — you have many choices where to go next, and the possibilities seem new each day. 

There are articles to read at Java Juice Blog House, videos in The Grove Theater, sermon podcasts in CityPod Studios,  leadership articles at Watermark Workshop, food ideas at Café on the Square, parenting advice at Momzie,  talk tech at Converge, discuss cultural trends at Denison Forum, and no surprise, you can buy books at the Faith Village Bookstore.  You can engage in social media in The Lofts at Faith Village either as an individual, a group or even as a church. There’s a whole space for youth 13-18 called Revolution called revultn; and also one for college kids (that looks like a frat house) called Epic House.  There are academic sites at Faith Village University.

There are also some parts of Faith Village still under construction.

This website is somebody’s labor of love to be sure. It sets the bar just a little bit higher as to what an ideal internet site can do. But who is behind this? The last stop on the second streetscape is Dallas Baptist University. Is that a clue? Is this some Christian college’s masterminded recruitment site? If it is, sign me up.

Click here to view Faith Village.

February 13, 2013

Wednesday Link List

ASBO Jesus - Fifty Shades of Grey

As you can see above; after a six-month break the UK cartoon ASBO Jesus is back (click image to link).

  • David Murrow at the blog Church for Men is running a series of posts at his blog on things that were formerly unheard of which are now suddenly OK; thinks like: Being gayextramarital sex, and less provocative topics such as informality and slacking. (Actually, I found that last article most interesting.)
  • At least check out the first part of this one: A play-by-play review of what can only be called a church service for atheists.
  • Matt Redman walks away with not one, but two gospel/CCM Grammy awards, for the song 10,000 Reasons, though one of them was so close, a tie in fact with Israel Houghton.
  • CNN talks to two characters central to the new TV show, Sisterhood, a reality show about pastors wives in Atlanta, Georgia.
  • Are you familiar with the term, “first world problems?” If not check out this blog post and accompanying video.
  • A pastor wrestles with wanting to preach the funeral service of a close parishioner, but having to be in Zambia, Africa at the same time.
  • Steve McCoy offers various types of advice to parents, including some things you might not have thought of intentionally teaching your kids.
  • And on another parenting note, preparing sermons and Bible studies may constitute time in the word, but it can substitute for time in the word with your wife and kids; or for those of you who aren’t married or don’t have children, the personal time in the word God wants to have with us.
  • What do you do when someone tells you they are  “having trouble ‘gaining access to the leaders” at their own church’”?  Maybe they just believe too strongly that only those at the top can help them.
  • Cooking the books? A 59-year old church bookkeeper is charged with stealing a quarter million US dollars.
  • The weekend weather in the northeast meant the cancellation of many church services, but that also means the week’s offering was $0.00. What can be done when it’s a snow day at church? Here are some suggestions.
  • Can’t wait for your weekly fix of Andy Stanley? North Point has a local 30-minute show that comes on after Saturday Night Live in Atlanta with repackaged sermon content. Check out Your Move.
  • This is a sequel to the ‘damaged goods’ item we linked to last week: Emily Maynard looks at the ramifications of loss of virginity for Christian girls.
  • Virtual Recording is looking for people who want to be the voices of various characters in a dramatic Bible. Learn how you can audition.
  • No, it’s not a new video; but how often do you get to see a Jesus Toaster actually making a piece of Jesus toast?
  • Social Media Department:  A new site billed as “a Christ-centered devotional and social networking platform… with unique features for prayer, and great tools to help you stay connected with the people you care about;” check out Faithbuddy.com
  • A Canadian Christian journalist can’t get any action from her bank until she takes to social media, and then she gets a response within hours.
  • Once again, for Valentine’s Day, here’s our annual link to Biblical Ways a Man Finds A Wife.
  • Randy Alcorn tells of his dad’s experience with bulging wallet syndrome.
  • If at about this point in the list you’re thinking you’d like to read an inspirational devotional article, you can’t do better than The White Harvest
  • One more time, here’s the link for the response to one of the most popular and discussed pop music songs of all time; the Reimagine song at YouTube
An all-dressed-up Matt Redman collects two pieces of hardware at the 2013 Grammy Awards

An all-dressed-up Matt Redman collects two pieces of hardware at the 2013 Grammy Awards

February 27, 2012

Thinking Out Loud — Anniversary Edition

Filed under: blogging — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:06 am

And then we were four. 

Just under 1900 posts.

Just think of how many people get saved every day just looking at the home page.

Or don’t.

I decided to check the blog’s dashboard to see what other meaningful statistic I could parade out before you on this solemn occasion, and I found this:

Akismet has protected your site from 294,600 spam comments already.

I don’t know how that compares with the big boys, but I’m honored just to think that on 294,600 occasions Russian models and manufacturers of imitation European handbags found this particular blog so worth spamming.  And while the rest of the blog stats may pale in comparison, just think how quickly they are about to rise now that we’ve used the phrase ‘Russian models.’

So, as so many said last night, “I’d like to thank the Academy…”

If you want to know more, you’re welcome to read the 3rd Birthday Post, the 2nd Birthday Post, or even the dreaded 1st Birthday Post; all of which will somewhat explain how we got to this point.

And be sure to keep reading; as the Lord wills, there’s more to come. 

Here once again, is a banner tribute to some of the other blogs with the not-so-original same name:

November 8, 2011

The Christian Blogosphere: Where it All Began

The closest thing we’ve had to being in a small group in the last seven years has been a group of people who were all involved in various church-planting and alternative church situations.  Because we were all from different cities, we tended to meet monthly and a couple of those relationships survived past the lifespan of the group.    It’s not for lack of desire, just all manner of time pressures; and lately our worship team has become our surrogate small group.

In the days our little group was meeting, there was frequent discussion about various things people had posted on their blogs.  The words ‘missional,’ ‘emergent,’ and ‘emerging’ were on everyone’s minds and in our part of the world, we were greatly influenced by the writing of Australian author and seminary professor Michael Frost.

So I started reading Christian blogs rather infrequently, then stepped it up a notch by leaving comments here and there.  My first blog was started somewhat accidentally in a remote corner of the religion page at USAToday.  For all I know it’s still there.  My wife started a couple of them, and then when I decided to take the plunge, I went with e4God.com as my blog host — which now exists with a  different form and function — just before they were rather severely hacked.

So I was intrigued to read this piece about twelve of the original Christian bloggers, written by someone who would know, Andrew Jones aka Tall Skinny Kiwi, whose blog turns ten years old in just a few days. 

When I first started Tallskinnykiwi in 2001, I was the only Christian blogger I knew of. Very soon I had discovered a few more faith bloggers on Blogger.com and by encouraging a few of my friends to start blogging about religion, the number grew. By November 2001, I had a list of 12 “theoblogians”. Nobody had ever created such a large list of Christian bloggers. Imagine  . . .  a WHOLE DOZEN OF THEM!!!!

[here's the link again to click for that list]

Social media has changed considerably, especially with Twitter and Facebook.  Some communicate strictly within the YouTube community, and my youngest son communicates the most to his two closest friends on a game platform called Steam.  But if you want to get into lengthy details on any given subject, the blog still remains the best way to get your message out there, and with CMS (content management systems that don’t require you to account for every pixel on your page), CSS (cascading style sheets that make every page of your blog identical), and a limited knowledge of HTML (the acronym is intimidating to most non-techies), you can have a blog that looks fairly good, and with tagging (listing key subject interest areas contained in your daily post) you can attract a variety of readers especially when the keywords you choose aren’t in the actual story or editorial itself.

There’s a world of discussion taking place out there that’s just missing one thing: Your voice!  The blogroll here (at right) is one place to start, or the list under “Aggregator” for the various Alltop pages which list the five most recent post for the top “church” “Christianity” or “religion” bloggers.

The online world is no substitute of real live fellowship, but it provides connection for people for whom that isn’t possible right now for various reasons, or people who go to church regularly but don’t connect with their “tribe” at weekend gatherings. It also allows you to be selective, to get into the topics that drive you. Finally, it allows you to connect with people whose lives are different from yours; which can only help to broaden your perspective on the worldwide family of faith.

December 27, 2010

Not All Tweets are Mindless

Randy Morgan writes this past week of joining the Twitter-ers.    Well, reluctantly:

One of the reasons I’ve resisted using this medium for so long, is that some people “tweet” some pretty inane things.  Call me unkind, but I don’t care what you order at Starbuck’s.  Another pet peeve of mine is people quoting people who quoted someone else.  I would think if I had nothing to say, I simply would not tweet.

But then he came across Bob Goff who seems to have taken a higher road when it comes to the 140-character limitation.

Goff is an attorney who founded Restore International, a non-profit organization which was established to address the atrocities and injustices committed against children.  Besides traveling around the world to save children, this guy is totally quote-worthy.  He almost single-handedly restored my faith in Twitter.  If you don’t follow Bob Goff, let me share a few of his most recent tweets…

“Gold? Incense? Myrrh??? I wanted a bike”

“Jesus never hides, but even wise men needed to look for Him”

“We all get a chance to be Innkeepers; who we let in can make us wise men too

“The gospel story is just as much about the beginning as the ending; us too

“We get to be Christmas; we don’t need to just celebrate it”

“I love that Christmas isn’t an event; it’s an invitation

“Our faith doesn’t just happen; some assembly required”

“The whole world is holding its breath, hoping that you will be incredible

“Eat, drink and be helpful

“Do everything that you can to put yourself in the position of doing everything that you can

“Take off your shoes; God is present. We may not know all of the steps to take, but we usually know the next barefoot one

“Stop loving people like we’re on probation; do it like you’re on the honor role”

Unfortunately, Randy didn’t include the @name, or should that be #name?   Don’t know.  But I did find this.   It’s great to find people out there who are raising the bar; who want to be influencers.

So today’s question(s) to fellow-bloggers:   Do you have an epic post?   Do you think Bob Goff has the right idea?   Are you willing to join me in committing to stepping up our use of social media to publish the occasional item of richer substance?

P.S.:  You can always link from here to Randy’s blog anytime using the blogroll at right, look for Blog: Your Best Life Later.

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