What I am up to!


So I think as of September 1st my life will officially start. I thought I’d write a post about what I’m up to now and what I’m planning for this year.

So firstly I have a Job working at http://www.heidmar.com. This is a shipping company that is part-owned by Morgan Stanley. I currently have a low-level IT Job in their UK office in London. This includes doing basic stuff such as fixing printers and installing new machines and general office admin but also some more advanced stuff working with Microsoft Sharepoint. Every month I will work for one week (so 5 days) which will be fantastic as most of the stuff I absolutely need to do there is fairly mindless. You need someone with some IT knowledge to, for example, upgrade a computer to Windows 7 but once I’m started I have to pretty much repeat the same stuff over and over. Whilst the stuff that I will end up doing a bit off, (Sharepoint) will be more mentally taxing, this helps me work on what I will be doing for the next 3 weeks a month back in Manchester (So yes I will be commuting!)

The Tribes Online

I will be starting a company that will build a website building package for Churches. Currently most church website are like “Online Brochures”. They tell you largely static simple one-way information such as the service times, the location and who works in a church. They will sometimes be pretty and sometimes look ugly (Which is usually the only measure of a “good” website) in a similar way to brochures. The power of the internet is not in publishing but in communication. E-mail is by far the most successful Internet technology and wikipedia is much more succesful then the old Encyclopaedia Britannica. Wikipedia provides a community that can collaborate to build content, whereas the old Encyclopaedia merely published information. I want to provide churches with the tools to build a website that harnesses the power of the Internet for internal church communication.

Throughout this year I will be learning how dynamic websites are built and laying the foundations of our company for a friend of mine called Robert Mumford to join me next year when he has finished his computer science degree at Manchester.

What will this include?

I will be building up this blurb so this is just my first draft! However we’ll provide many tools to help connect a church internally. Throughout the weeks I will blog about these features in more detail.

  • Website building package:- We won’t build websites for people. We will build a piece of software that allows people to easily set up their own websites without too much technical knowledge. This is similar to wordpress.com and we will be building on top of a package called Drupal. This package is great because it is really easy to build on top of and modify. There are a bunch of well-known websites that use it including bbc, whitehouse.gov and htb.
  • Totally free:- This software is “Free and Open-source Software” (FOSS). This means not only will it cost no money to download and use but users of our software can also see all the code. This means geeky members of churches that know how to program can help get involved by developing the solutions to their church problems themselves and then submit that code back to us so that it becomes part of the package. This means that if our software becomes succesful there is a potential for hundreds of people to be involved in making this great. The rest of the community call this “Free as in Beer and Free as in Speech”. The Google Android phones are based on linux, this is an example of software that is FOSS.
  • Dynamic:- The big issue I have with churches is that the content is one way. We want to build software that allows churches to communicate with each other more effectively. So obvious ideas include allowing people to ask questions and comment on all the sermons that are posted up? Or maybe have online prayer? Or maybe having a youth group where people can all write their own apologetics like with CARM?
  • Communities:- Dynamic websites like Facebook help communities to form. However churches already have a community… it’s the church! This software is aimed at helping connect people already within the church to other people within their own real-life community.
  • Collaborative:- This word is what Microsoft Share point is aiming at. Getting people to work together on things. We want to build tools to help volunteers and staff to work together on projects effectively. This means church members could collaborate and work together creating fantastic youth weekend-aways or we can enable multiple staff members to collaborate easily on one contact database? Or Church-wide calendar that helps all the staff know what is going on?
  • Company:- The software is free. But I think that many churches will not have the time to set up and maintain their own website. They might not have a technically minded congregation member to manage basic things like setting up a webserver, or maybe they do have one but that person just doesn’t want to give up their free time doing what they do throughout the week. For those people (and others) we’ll set up a company where people can host their sites with us or pay for support contracts on maybe a monthly basis. This should fund the development of the product. It is a similar model to that of Canonical (the company behind Ubuntu) and Acquia that is behind Drupal.

Here are some examples of features we might implement.

  • Pretty publishing tools – So people with no IT skills can edit the pages the are responsible for in a similar fashion to Microsoft Word.
  • Online Address Books – Can be built into a tool that will manage the congregation generally.
  • Rota organisation – Band Rotas, Choirs or even Teas and Cofees
  • Event management – Including pretty looking Calendars, both random events and things like Sunday Services.
  • Resource Libraries – Sermons, Videos, Articles or Bible Studies
  • An Internal Church focus- It would be easy to advertise ourselves as “The Facebook for Churches” but really we’re not aiming for that. We’re more the Microsoft Sharepoint for churches, which is much less catchy! Facebook is powerful because everyone is on it. We don’t want to do this nor need to. There already exists mychurch.org or ukchristians.net and online versions of specific features of our future software. For example, you can easily go online and find “Prayer Wall” websites and watch people pray. Our software though is about empowering an individual church. We want to take a community of human beings that already exist and help use technology to build those real-life relationships. Our software will help people already praying with each other to connect more easily, regularly and closely. We will not be satisfied if we just build clever technology, these solutions need to grow the church in real-life. We’re here to supplement and encourage, not replace the church!

How will I go about achieving this?

  • Software  – We’ll be working on Drupal
  • A Wiki / Community – It is easy to get excited by technology that looks good but serves no real purpose. So we want to make sure that our software is built by starting with problems that exist within the church already and trying to solve it with technology. If a paper phone book does the job we don’t want to replace it just for the sake of it but solve internal church problems that have not been currently solved. So to do this I want to create a wiki, this will allow people with no technical skills to be involved in designing and developing the solutions in plain-english, so programmers can turn those ideas into a reality. Then we want to use this wiki to provide documentation so people with very little IT skill will be able to use our software effectively.
  • A Company – The software will be called “The Tribes” and the company will be “TheTribesOnline.com” handling the commercial side of things whilst .org will handle the free side of things.

So back to my life

Sorry if this is a bit of a mess. I’m still working on the best method of communicating these ideas! So I’ll go back to talking about me. The reason why I’m particularly excited by this work set up is because I have enough money to live on provided by my Heidmar Job so I can focus quite heavily on the church stuff for some time to come. However, these jobs also compliment each other fantastically. Whereas Heidmar will exclusively use Microsoft products that churches probably can’t afford and I will be using free opensource software. Many of the concepts that I am trying to get into the church are there in Heidmar. Heidmar will require their websites to look good, be intuitive to use and have good documentation. Heidmar need a website that helps facilitate good collaboration. So although a feature of Sharepoint (such integration with Outlook) will not be ported into my Church work, answers to questions such as “What does a user want to see on their homepage?” are useful to both.

I’ve had my first week of working on this stuff. For now I’m mainly learning lots (including how to programm a little!) but its been fun so far.

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