Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Culture: God Blog Conference 2006 - Saturday Morning Session

The Saturday morning sessions at GodBlogCon 2006 was devoted to some small group sessions with practical training.

I attended the session on web design presented by Kevin Wang of Zeit Studios.

Kevin gave some perspective thoughts about blogging that go beyond the design of the page by saying, "Design in not merely ornamentation and bloggers are more than minds."

He said the main goal of the blogger has to be establishing trust with her/his audience. There are three components a person must sense before the trust someone.
(1) They must believe the other person is concerned.
(2) They must believe the other person is competent. i.e. they know what they are doing.
(3) They must believe the other person is capable. i.e. demonstration of ability beyond the theoretical.

God is maximally all of these three things.

As bloggers who are followers of Christ, we need to cultivate those traits in our lives.

In terms of design concepts, Kevin's mantra is: "Share with the rich and sell to the poor."

What he meant is that some in your audience are "rich" in the sense they are, for whatever reason, already sympathetic to what you have to say. Others are "poor" in that they are not quite ready to trust what you have to say.

As such, your web layout on the main page at the top has to keep in mind these two ideas. For the "rich" you want to make it easier for them to find more of your content. For the "poor" you need one or two key items to hopefully "sell" yourself to them as worth trusting.

A fairly common layout is the top part of the page having a navigation bar where the "rich" can easily access more of your content. On the right is often the "about me" section where the "poor" can check you out and see if they will gain more confidence about what you have to say.

Generally, people's eyes are drawn to the right. Thus, stuff you might want to carry more weight with the reader you may want to put on the right hand side.

In terms of color usage, not surprisingly, red draws attention while blue is more pleasant.

Kevin asked the bloggers to share their URLs so we can all see them on the projection screen.

James Kushner asked for some input on the two blogs he is involved with:
Mere Comments - I see they have already taken to heart some of Kevin's suggestions! The layout we saw on Saturday had some ads that you couldn't quite tell were ads.
Salvo - This is a case where the designers knew the impression they wanted to make right off the bat. It looks really intellectual! And it is supposed to be! Kevin roamed around the site and suggested they clean up some of the flash animation menus and it looks like they have done so.

Ted Slater writes for The Line. I met Motte Brown on Friday night who also writes for this blog. In any case, Kevin liked their layout: clean and easy to get around. I have to say though, tonight, when I clicked some items on the navigation bar, the links are dead. I don't know if it is uust me or they have been tinkering with the site. I'll have to email them about it.

Elizabeth Taylor writes over at Daily Inklings. She has made some changes to her layout. Looks like she has gone with a much simpler template. Very neat, very clean.

Carnivorousfish is a new blogger and chose a simple template. Kevin recommends beginning bloggers use the pre-made templates. He said they are put together by people with good design sense following many of the guidelines he mentioned.

The last part of the time together was a roundtable discussion. The main idea to come out of that was that "war" metaphors might not be the best ones to describe what it means to be a Christian blogger. St. Paul uses a metaphor of the armor of God and there are definitely times when Christians will defend a point of view, correct an error or advocate an idea. However, many other metaphors exist in the Bible to describe the kingdom of God such as sower/seed/soil, fishers of men, the church as a body. Thus, Christians who blog can see themselves in that light rather than "lone snipers."

All felt that what makes a Christian blog is content. In the final analysis, if we are striving to be more Christ-like in real life than that should translate into the content and manner by which we blog. What many felt could be developed was more community building. Just as in real life we have people we are a part of in our actual churches, we might strive to make some more efforts in building small communities with other bloggers.

We acknowledged that there is a tension between trying to combine efforts with some structure and individual creativity. Another tension is fostering community with bloggers of different flavors of Christianity yet not diluting the definitions such that outright error is accepted.

All in all a terrific conference. I felt encouraged. It is great to see the people behind the blogs. Had some nice conversations with some local bloggers like Brenda who summarized the conference nicely, in this post. Over dinner, I had the chance to talk with Brant who has posted detailed summaries of the panels at GodBlogCon (just scroll down a bit on his main page).

Also quite enjoyable were conversations with the youthful and energetic students of the Torrey Institute. I feel better about the future knowing these folks will be taking their training and passion to the world in a handful of years.

Hats off to the organizers Dustin and Kevin! Good job!!

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