Thursday, September 27, 2007

YouTube Nonprofit Program

YouTube announced a new Nonprofit program that allows accepted nonprofits to obtain their very own nonprofit channel on YouTube (blog announcement). This is a great opportunity for nonprofits (and presumably churches) to communicate with donors, friends of the organization, and even potential guests/visitors in a very cool way. I see this as more powerful than simply creating your own channel, as it identifies the church as an institution focused on bettering our world. It also puts us in front of a crowd of people who may not really know what churches do. Is your church making an impact in the local community? This would be a fantastic way to communicate how God is working, and how others can get involved. What are some other ways you can think to leverage this tool?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


I just received an email from the publishers of Pixelmator announcing the software is now released, and I wanted to pass it along. I'm not sure if I mentioned it before, but I have been looking forward to it for a while now. It is a simple image editing tool similar to Photoshop Elements. Elements is a great tool, and edits images very well, but I was excited to see a different approach to an interface. The demo is now available, and from what I can tell, its only limitation is that it automatically shuts down about 5 minutes in. I haven't spent enough time to officially review it, but here are some things I noticed.

- Undo keeps undoing. As you know, in Photoshop Command + z undoes, then redoes. Undoing more than 1 thing requires the use of history.

- It has layer. Sounds basic, but I've used a few of these "simple image editors" before that don't give you that freedom. A must for anyone who has experience with Photoshop.

- Clean interface. Yes it is lacking the power of Photoshop, but man...this thing looks clean.

- Layer effects. Not only does it have layers, but you can apply effects to them. Very nice.

- Has quick masking. Nice little semi-advanced tool for the Photoshop familiar user.

- Key commands are the same as Photoshop (and InDesign, and Illustrator). Nice to not have to apply a new key set when working casually. That has been the biggest failing of Pages on the Mac for my personal use. Its so frustrating to hit a key expecting a tool to pop up and not see it. I still use it and appreciate it, its just annoying.

- Image color/lighting adjustments. Has most of the powerful tools you'd expect when subtly adjusting colors and tones in images. Nice to have.

Overall, a great little tool for the person like me who uses Photoshop at work, but can't afford it for home. The software is $59 right now, and I'm excited to see how it develops with updates and such. Enjoy.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Rethinking Podcasting and Notes

Podcasting isn't news, but I have always been a bit confused at how the church uses the medium. The vast majority of churches simply rebroadcast what the congregation already heard that week in church - the sermon. While this is very beneficial for those who were out of town or overslept, it isn't really that beneficial to those who attended that week. Obviously there are some advantages to doing this, and I know I subscribe to a few church podcasts to hear services of churches I love, but aren't in my area. But I want to challenge the mindset of "podcasts are for sermons". To do that, I want to present you with a simple piece of free software, and a really cool tutorial that got me thinking.

First, the software. It is called iPod Notes, and it is a very simple tool to use. 3rd generation and newer ipods support iPod notes, but often aren't used. This simple program helps you create and manage notes easier. Now, who really cares about notes? Lets chat about the tutorial.

I found this on the macworld site from 2004, filed unders "secrets". It goes through the process of linking to audio files in your library by using some basic HTML tags in your notes. I love their example of giving a new ipod to a significant other, having them start at a note with a message that then links to romantic songs to enhance the experience. Fantastic!

Now, on to application. How can we levereage this concept in the church? I would love to see a simple study based on the weekend service. Lets say you do a mini devotional on a specific topic. More often than not, there is more than one verse that contributes to a better understanding off the topic. Instead of simply listing the verse, or even putting the reference, why not link to a narrator reading the passage? It could be a very interactive way to engage people in a totally new way. This technology has been around for quite some time, yet I haven't heard of a church leveraging it yet. Podcasting is mainstream, but, in my opinion, it lacks the interactivity that younger generations love. What applications can you think of for this clever little technology?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A Handfull Online Freebies

A few quick things today. First, as this is a blog, I thought I'd pass along a blog management tool that I use that is easy and free - Google Reader. Now, I know other software can manage blog rolls, and safari even has it built in, but call me a sucker for Google. It is easy to set up folders so all of the blogs you read that have similar content can be organized. Very simple, but very helpful. Now when I stumble across a blog I like, I can add it to my feed and never have to remember to check it. I do however, have to remember to check Google Reader.

Another solid product put out by Google is Google Analytics. The stats I received from a previous hosting company were painfully bad. Basically, the only information I could find was how many hits the site had each week. Enter Google Analytics. While it tracks more than I care to know, it presents it in a very clear and easy to access way. My favorite part is the map that shows you where in the world people are viewing your blog from (and where they came from on the web). A great way to track the effectiveness of your online and print marketing. It is very easy to install as well. Just paste some code that Google generates for you at the bottom of each page on your site, and you are good to go.

To complete the Google trifecta, I have to mention Google Docs. As I was playing around on my new iPhone, I discovered that Google Docs now works for Safari. I haven't played enough to know of stability, but it has now become a much more serious contender in the world of word processing (for me anyways). Something Google Docs just added to their corner is a presentation document that works like a watered down PowerPoint. Now, Google docs, for those of you who haven't used them, are by no means a replacement for all the features of Microsoft Office. But that is why I like them. I don't need 95% of what Office does, but I love the things that Google Docs does better - like file sharing. When you create a document, you are able to assign privileges to various people to be able to access and edit it. Google Docs then tells you what has been edited and by whom. It is a fantastic way to collaborate with multiple staff members on specific projects, share schedules and time sheets through their calendar or spreadsheet application, or whatever other creative solution you have for it. Because all it takes is internet to access it, it allows you to access all your information wherever you have the internet.

OK, enough with the Google stuff already. Another nice web tool I was introduced to just this week is called Picnik. I searched around for other options when it comes to online image editors, but I couldn't find anything as nice as Picnik. It is very simple, but is also very effective. It gives you some pretty robust features considering it is a web based application. The kicker for me is that it interfaces perfectly with flickr, Picasa web albums, and Facebook. I love that I can load my gallery from any of these three sites, edit photos for lighting and a few other basic things, and save it to be viewed in those galleries. Fantastic! No more downloading images to the desktop, opening up Photoshop for a simple correction, then uploading it back where it needs to be. Easy and fast.

Finally, another product that was introduced to me this week is called Pixer. This really is one of those applications where you say "where have you been all my life" when you first meet it. Now, this one is a free download, so I guess technically it isn't an "online" freebie, but you'll forgive me once you read how they describe this simple little tool on their website:
Pixer is a little application that helps you to rescale Png, Jpeg, Tiff, Pict, bmp and Photoshop images in batch.
You had me at "rescale Png". Great tool for automating the mundane task of resizing images.

Hopefully some of these nice little tricks are beneficial to you and can be integrated into your work flow. Know any other neat and helpful bits of software? Let me know and I'll be sure to post them.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Why Story Works

It seems that telling "your story" is all the rage in today's church. I get tired of hearing "journey" and "narrative" every time someone opens their mouth in the church, and I think the terminology is grossly overused. The content behind the buzzwords however, is the truest example of the health of the church. A Biblical church should be balanced in the way it approaches three things - "Ministry to God: Worship, Ministry to Believers: Nurture, and Ministry to the World: Evangelism and Mercy" (Systematic Theology, Grudem). So how does this relate to story?

Story is perhaps the most powerful and effective way of communicating the fruit that is being produced in your church. It also communicates another powerful truth of Scripture - we are not all called to the same impact. While the church is to be balanced in the three points above, the individual is not. Each individual is gifted and interested in different aspects of God's calling (which is the beautiful thing about the body). Stories show how a gifted evangelist can use his or her Gifts in a powerful way to reach people for Christ, while the story of one gifted in mercy can exhibit Christ's love to those in need.

A healthy church should be able to find stories that articulate each category mentioned above. Ok, so what? We have a healthy church, and we know people that balance our church. Great! But are you sharing those stories with the congregation? There is a big difference between a church that is about something and a church that is doing what they are about. Stories are a barometer for you and your congregation to ask, "are we doing what we are about?" If so, then stories about the fruit of your ministry will encourage further growth. If not, something needs to be tweaked or changed to cultivate the bearing of fruit.

As creative minded people, we have been gifted with the ability to solve problems in unique ways. I encourage you to figure out the most effective way to use stories in your work. What does the congregation of your church need to hear? How is God using the people in your congregation to Worship, Nurture, and Evangelize? I'd love to see some of the things you have learned in the comments. How do you use stories?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Idea Management

As creative types, we often have "inspiration" come to us in ways that simply aren't relevant to the projects we are currently working on. I tend to get ideas about icons or logos while playing video games, but those ideas rarely have practical application in terms of my current project load. So, if I am lucky enough to remember the idea when an appropriate project comes up, I'm excited about it. However, most often, I completely forget this moments of "genius" and lose the idea.

Recently, through the Accidental Creative podcast #71 (great listen if you haven't heard it already), I was introduced to a program called DEVONthink. The concept is rather simple - create a database that stores just about anything in it, and equip it with keywords and a powerful search function. I love the concept because it doesn't require me to leave my "creative state" to create file folders and figure out my file structure for ideas. I can simply enter my idea, attach some keywords like "stock photography idea, design inspiration, branding, church marketing, etc'. This then makes for some powerful search results. I can search "stock photo idea" and come up with an interesting combination of thought processes that can yield yet another idea. Very cool.

So, the point of this post is not to plug any one solution specifically, or even to provide an in depth review the options. Rather, it is simply focused on informing you of the different types of software out there as each caters to a different bunch. Here is a brief breakdown, but with some simple research you can find which software meets your needs best. Also, there may be a few others that I am not aware of, so feel free to mention/link them in the comments.

Yojimbo - $39
Yojimbo is my personal preference for a few reasons. It is cheap and simple. It is not as robust as many of the options you will find (noticeably lacking video/audio support), but it does everything I need it to. The price tag and my limited needs make this my best option. I will say that .mac is the only reason I choose this over Journlr.

DevonTHINK - Office Pro $139, Pro $79, Personal $39
I don't know the differences in the feature sets, but as I tried out Office Pro, it was by far the most robust of the idea management type software solutions. It sounds like it has some great features, it syncs with .mac if that is a desire, and it sounds like it has the most powerful search.

Journlr - Office $25, Personal $10 donation
I really liked Journlr, and would choose it as my solution if only it had .mac support. They have nice media support, and a clean interface (though to be fair, most of the programs look exactly the same). Not a bad option if you only have one machine that you anticipate using it on. The software also has blogging built into it. It also sounds like it has great features designed specifically for writers. Worth a look.

SoHoNotes - $39.95
SoHoNotes almost sold me. It has a large amount of powerful features, but is packaged in a way that keeps it from feeling too overwhelming. The only issue I had (as well as a good friend of mine) is that the software didn't work. We had issues with menus blurring together and the software crashing often. Not sure if that demo is indicative of the actual performance of the purchased product, but this software is worth a look assuming the stability issues are solved.

With all of these products, you will see a ton of overlap. They are all designed to to basically the same thing. Where they vary is in the forms of media they support, their effectiveness of search, and some extra features like blogging and .mac sync. Overall, all of these software solutions are a great way to consolidate much of your information in a way that is easy to find later.

Monday, September 10, 2007


No doubt most of you have heard of (or regularly use) iStockphoto. It has proved to be a great and affordable resource for many churches across the country. While it regularly delivers many of us from the last minute crunch that often besets the church designer, it doesn't always prevent us from having to shoot our own photography to solve a design solution. That being said, I would encourage those of you who do shoot custom photography for those larger projects to upload them in iStockphoto to be sold. Not only will you be providing design solutions to churches around the country, you will also be putting some cash back in your budget...or credits if you'd rather.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Painter Alternative

Painter is a fantastic program for getting that thick, gloppy paint look for an illustration or background element, but it isn't exactly cheap for those of us who don't use it regularly. I was recently introduced to Art Rage, a simplified painter-like program that does everything I need it to - including save me money. At only $25, it is worth the purchase if you find the need for a textured look in some upcoming projects. They have a great demo that gives you access to enough of the tools to get a good feel of it, so check it out. An illustrator friend I talked to who use painter doesn't think Art Rage has everything he needs to eliminate the need for Painter, but it does handle some things better (in his opinion). For the other designer however, it is enough to create some great textured elements for your next design project. Enjoy. I'd love to see your thoughts about the two programs in the comments.