Tag Archives: technology

Interfaith iPhone/mobile app: FaithNews – Multifaith News and Events

During the Faiths Act Fellowship, I was hosted by Islamic Networks Group (ING), an educational organization that promotes religious literacy and mutual respect. When the Fellowship ended, I came on board as a consultant. One of the first projects that I wrapped my head around was a mobile app. The CEO wanted a mobile app focused on multifaith/interfaith happenings in the world. As we talked about features, the list of “things this app will do” grew and grew. And so, after months and months of research and development, ING is proud to present “FaithNews – Multifaith News and Events“, now available for free download at the App Store. Here’s the description that we use:

Interfaith multifaith iPhone mobile app

Did you ever want to wish your neighbor happy holidays, but weren’t sure when his or her religion has holidays or what to say? Have you ever blanked on the Hebrew word for charity? Are you planning a luncheon and need to know when Ramadan ends so you can feed your Muslim guests? Multifaith News and Events has all that and more.

It’s not simply a calendar of holy days, or a dictionary of important religious terms. This app comes with over 200 interesting facts – some trivial, some wildly important – about the five major world religions represented by ING’s Interfaith Speakers Bureau: Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism.

The general concept for this app is to allow users to easily acquire daily news and information surrounding religion and interreligious issues.

These include:

  • Daily aggregation of news articles on religious pluralism from several different news publications. Topics include religion in the workplace, religion and civil rights, 1st Amendment (freedom of religion) issues, etc.
  • Multifaith calendar highlighting religious days of observance. Holidays will contain brief descriptions as well as links for more information.
  • List of religious events and conferences around the country.
  • Basic and often surprising facts about the world’s five major religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism and Islam. For added interest, related facts will link to each other; for instance you can easily see how fasting works in both Judaism and Islam.
  • Information about Islamic Networks Group and its educational programs.

Designed and developed by Magnicode, Multifaith News and Events is the go-to app for interreligious information, events and more.


Ted Haggard says “The internet is forever.”

ted haggard
Ted Haggard

Ted Haggard, as some of you may recall, was the head guy of the National Association of Evangelicals as well as pastor of New Life Church. He was a pretty popular dude. That is, of course, until a sex scandal took him down. Now he’s back on the upswing – he’s happy, his family is back together and strong, and life is looking up.

At least that’s what I gathered from a nice interview with Haggard in the Denver Post. It’s a bit like most of the interviews with Haggard post-scandal, where he talks about much better things are now, but he does speak some knowledge that really stuck out to me:

The Internet is forever, and that changes what happens to you. There is no such thing as time, and there is no such thing as distance on the Internet. In the old days, when someone made a mistake or got into trouble, they would move a few hundred miles away, wait a couple of years and start again. You can’t do that anymore. You can Google me today, and you’ll pull up things that were written in the heat of the crisis when nobody had any facts yet.

Saying that the internet is forever seems a few years too late, but he qualifies it by realizing that we are changed by that fact. Whether it’s being more careful with party pictures or guarding one’s tongue, there is a definite change afoot. This is nice, but it’s the next bit that really made me think. We’ve known for some time that the Information Superhighway (throwback alert!) has shortened the distances between us to near zero, but the idea that there is no such thing as time on the internet is new to me.

Haggard’s right – If I write an especially inflammatory post, it will, theoretically, be visible ten or fifty years from now. Lots of thing are time-specific but can retain value after the fact. That’s what he’s talking about. The details of his scandal, although very old news by now, is still a current result for search.

Moral of the story: The internet compresses space/time and sucks in copious amounts of information. Is it just a black hole? :)

Photo courtesy of Flickr user feastoffun.com

Multitasking? Let’s call it “project management”

Not gonna happen

Multitasker? I call bullshit.

My last post was an accidental review of PBS Frontline’s “Digital Nation”, where some really savvy reporters travel around listening to tech-heads and educators and regular folks trying to figure out, in grand Double Rainbow fashion, what our reliance on technology in daily life really means. I had intended in that post to expand on the larger issues; I found, however, that the only thing that I wanted to talk more about was a subject near and dear to many people: multitasking.

If you ask the people who know me well, they’ll likely say “Oh yeah, Tim’s a crazy multitasker. He keeps, like, 400 tabs open on his browser and is usually running five different programs at once, and using all of them. Let’s not even start in about his tweeting.”

True. I do have a penchant for tabs (at the time of this writing, 23 across two browser windows) and I do tend to run multiple programs, more so that they’re ready and waiting than anything else, of course. What concerns me is that, like some of the interviewees for Digital Nation, people assume that multitasking is somehow equal to multitasking well. Again, I call bullshit.

Digital Nation refers to a Stanford study where researchers made students take some oddly simple tests where the expectations shifted every few seconds. They could track the “switching times” in the subjects. Those who said they rocked at multitasking sucked at multitasking.

I am not ready to give my generation so much credit as to say that our brains’ hardwiring has changed to allow us to truly do many different things at once. There’s a gulf of difference between monitoring a large Twitter stream while checking interesting social news and monitoring a large Twitter stream and writing a complex report. I don’t care what you say – you can’t do it.

Accuse me of being a multitasker. Do it. I dare you.

You’re wrong! Here’s what I’m good at: I can accomplish tasks at seemingly blinding speed because I navigate computers and the web pretty quickly, often together. Once I learn a process I can usually speed it up a bit. I use hotkeys. I start, finish, and package small projects with great efficiency because I know how to constructively cut away and work on another when I get bored or stuck.

What I cannot do well is multitask. Think about the word itself. I cannot type a text message with my left thumb while I scroll through a Wikipedia article looking for the one chunk of text to paste into my new post, which I’m writing at the same time. Oh, and don’t forget the podcast that I’m listening to.

There is a clear dividing line between being able to do the impossible (multitask) and doing something quickly and well. It doesn’t help that most of us are gluttons and try to do far more than we’d normally be able to, anyway.

So I ask us out there, especially my Millennial brethren, what are we really saying when we’re good at multitasking? Imagine walking into a job interview and being asked about it and having the humility to tell them the truth. In one fell swoop, you’re demonstrating integrity and answering a tough question. Now that’s multitasking, damnit.

Photo by Flickr user Thomas Hawk

PBS Frontline – Digital Nation

Jumping Brain by Emilio Garcia
Are our brains changing?

“Over the past 20 years, the net has changed from a thing one does to the way one lives.” – Doug Rushkoff, Digital Nation

I made it a point to sit myself down for 90 full minutes and watch PBS Frontline’s “Digital Nation”. The video played in full-screen so that I couldn’t even see my various notifications pop up. Aside from one stray text message to my girlfriend, I even stayed off the phone. Given the subject matter at hand, I think that this is an entirely commendable thing, given that the digital native- HEY LOOK A FUNNY CAT VIDEO!!1! OMGZADORBZ!!

Ahem. The subject matter of Digital Nation is familiar to us. Is the internet making us stupider or smarter, and depending on how you answer that, which kind of stupider or smarter is it making us? Is multitasking real, and are the Gen Y/Digital Native generations really prepared to make it in a world where talking on the phone, emailing, and IMing all happen at once? Aside from a too-long chapter at the end dealing with our military’s Predator drone fixation (dehumanizing combat through computers), the film really put together all the contemporary issues and laid them out before us, with nifty researchers and thought leaders all weighing in. Note: “Digital Nation” was released in February 2010 – a bazillion tweet-years ago – so even its scope of things is limited.

Is the future of the internet and our life on it scary?

Hells yes it’s scary. I was born near the far end of Gen Y (1983), where we really only dipped our toes into the web-water midway through adolescence. It wasn’t really until my junior/senior year in college that I developed a healthy addiction (not shy about using that word) to all things digital. Some of the Millennials interviewed during the film were the kind that I like to make fun of: folks who “can’t live without” their mobile device, students who have not recently, and probably never will again, read a full book, and game-addicted loners.

That being said, I have had gaming problems in the past, spend far too much time reading online when I should be buried in a book, and just recently took the plunge into smartphoneland. Check out my pre-Droid X post about the Incursion Lifestyle.

But the people in the film seemed to be taking this stuff way too far. They were asked “Are you a kick-ass multitasker?” Naturally, they all responded “YEAH!” because they can tweet, email, chat and read SparkNotes all at the same time. I call bullshit, and so do researcher at Stanford who show that the time that it takes for the brain to switch tracks slows the mind down so far as to make analytic reasoning more difficult.

The bright side of being connected

It wasn’t all doom and gloom, of course. Many of the guests (including the loopy creator of Second Life) extolled the virtues of the connected life. There was surprisingly little chat about the great ways in which the social web has helped us get to know one another. Even though the film has a big section on WoW and Everquest gamers connecting IRL, there was no discussion of the advent of social media and what it means for journalism, disaster response, and activism (sometimes all at once!).

The overarching tenor of the film, for me, seemed to be the idea that we truly are moving towards, if not a fully bifurcated existence, at least one where our internet selves take the place of our real selves very often. All in all, it was a remarkably simplistic overview, perfect for the casual viewer, but not enough to make me either smash my “personal computer” or fully wire up Lawnmower Man style.

I don’t know where it’s all headed. I just hope that we can get along responsibly and with integrity, online and off.

“Jumping brain” courtesy of Flickr user lapolab.

Living “off” the web – The Incursion Lifestyle

tim with his droid x
I fully expect this to happen.

My Droid X is in the mail. It’s a phone that happens to do internet things in a groovy way. It can also spawn multiple copies of itself that morph into common household appliances. I made up that last part. Having a smartphone (in the Droid’s case, a superphone) will change the way that I use the internet. Here’s how I think this will happen.

We’ve heard that the internet is quickly moving toward a social, semantic, app-driven culture of quick satisfaction and ex nihilo networks of limited temporal convenience that form and dissolve according to the whims of users. That’s a mouthful, but I agree with it almost entirely. Moving backwards…

Networks of Convenience

One of the big ideas in Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations is that networks arise for a common purpose and then either continue or die out. What if ATT users began a campaign to purposefully overload the phone/data lines and shut it down? Even users on other services could play along. It would be like a DDoS attack, but covered by one’s monthly fees. :) Granted, this would be counter-productive for everybody, but it would show the power of quick organizing. When the campaign ended, say at the end of a 24-hour period, folks could go back to being regular iPhone users, and ATT could go back to teh suck.

Apps Rule Everything Around Me

Apps are, by their very nature, tiny bits of useful material. Some mimic certain websites, others carry information meant to replace a given website entirely. Why go to Webster’s dictionary online when you can have the whole thing in the palm of your hand? Apps are often one-off tools; we use them then we pack them away. I check in on Foursquare, tweet something, then upload a photo to Facebook. And I’m done – the phone goes back in my pocket. Apps enter the social web and exit, making incursions, if I may, as they are needed.

What Do You Mean By That?

Our mobiles are going to help us better “teach” the web to learn what we’re about, what we need, what we like, and what we’re up to. Every time we scan a QR code, checkin, or upload a purchase through whatever that website is that does that (I can’t remember), we are building out the trajectories of meaning around us. Somewhere, a machine is crunching those data, trying to figure out the next pattern – and what to sell us on Wednesdays.

Don’t Just Stand There Talking To Me – Talk To Me!

Once I finally get my Droid in hand, I’ll be able to carry on back-channel conversations and substream chat during events (specifically Tweetups and conferences) that I otherwise would have missed. Mobiles and the apps installed on them make it possible to interact on two layers. For the rare occasions when I’ve been able to connect my iPod to a nearby wifi network, this kind of “other-place” is astoundingly fun.


I have a wireless network at my home. I’ve found that when I’m reading books or making crafts or cooking,  having my iPod on hand (next to my phone, of course), makes it very easy for me to quickly drop in and drop out with regards to the web. It’s not simply a question of not wanting to scroll through an entire news article, which I don’t at all mind doing. It’s that I can, through apps and the way that things are now, accomplish what I want quickly.

When we’re out and about using mobiles, we don’t so much live in the internet as we make quick incursions into its various streams. If anything, mobiles have given us oodles of more freedom; I understand that this statement is old hat, but consider it in light of everything that I’ve just said. Mobiles are, by their very nature, contributing to less time spent truly “online”. It almost goes without saying that you’re less likely to follow the next 20 shiny blinky things if your mobile isn’t yet set up for that – someday, undoubtedly, it will be.

Incursions are less likely to contribute to distraction when we’re working. For those of us who have to manage multiple dialogue/creative streams at once, the ability to select when and where and how we dive into the web is freeing indeed.

*** This post is part of the “Blog Every Day Challenge“, which I have undertaken in homage to John Haydon, a captain of social media and inbound marketing for non-profits. A few months back he did the same thing. Granted, all of his posts imparted some kind of value to his readers (and he has many). I’m blogging about the same old stuff. Don’t call it “general interest”, because I think that it goes without saying that humans should generally be interested in what I’m doing. :) ***

Digital Social Contract, Part 1

digital social contract - the internet king
The Internet King

A lot of writers talk the web’s effect on how we communicate and collaborate and all kinds of other things. I’m more concerned with how the web is changing society and what it means for our future togetherness and apartness. Let’s drag up the old term “social contract” and stick the word “digital” in front of it.

I’ll paraphrase the Wikipedia definition: Social contract describes a group of theories that try to explain the ways in which people form states/countries and/or maintain social order. It is implied that people give up some rights to a government or other authority in order to receive or maintain social order through the rule of law.

The most popular social contract theorists (Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau) realized that it was better for a person to be threatened by a stationary bandit (a single king, parliament, ruling body) than by roving bandits (warlords, brigands, renegade counties). Makes sense – we sleep better if we have a short list of possible sources of death. The great thinker Max Weber gave us the notion of a “monopoly on violence” that characterizes modern states. It is more applicable, I think, to describe it as a monopoly of force or power.

People abhorred the “state of nature” before the formation of modern states. Life back then was, as Thomas Hobbes wrote, “nasty brutish, and short”, and to escape it we exchanged certain freedoms and status quos for protection and prosperity. It was simply smarter to be a part of a collective entity than to remain outside of it – you gained more by joining the party than staying outside. What does this mean for our digital lives today?

The basic idea is this: joining the internet/digital party (representing the social contract) is not absolutely necessary, but it’s certainly attractive. This goes for individuals as well as businesses. How many blog entries have you seen that list pros and cons of social media, or approaches for convincing reluctant supervisors to let you open a Twitter account for the company? One of the first big things that corporations learned on the social web was that the brand was no longer entirely in their hands. However, by joining the conversation and recognizing that a greater power is at work, those companies profit.

The same idea goes for us small people, too. Many of us work online in the knowledge economy, but even for those of us who don’t, the internet still provides ample opportunities to network, find new employment, and supplement one’s education. I’ve tried writing about this stuff before, speaking at first of what I used to call the digital contract, then discussing prescriptive analyses of social media and governance. Two other bits worth skimming are some quick thoughts about the modern nature of empire and the diffuse, scattered notion of authority at play in international politics.

So where do we see this going? Will the rush to the intertubes hearken the birth of a new digital contract, or will we return to the state of nature, where status updates fall in the forest with no one to hear?

Book review: Quick Bites by Rick Bakas

quick bites - social media
This is a real picture of my face and Rick’s book

We have all seen blog posts like these:

10 Strategies to be a Better Blogger

9 Social Media Power Tips

15 Ways to Engage Your Audience Online

744 Beautiful Uses for Bacon

Rick Bakas, the Director of Social Media Marketing at St. Supery Vineyards, has written a book that effectively encapsulates, expands upon, and thoroughly collects all those wayward posts into one easy-to-read format (OK, so that bacon post probably doesn’t exist, but if it did, Rick would write it).

Quick Bites: 75 Savory Tips for Social Media Success is Rick’s attempt to make sense of all the competing lists of “things you ought to do to make social media work”, and he does it swimmingly. He’s a branding expert with years of experience, so it’s not like these are all untested hypotheses; they are strategies that work. All 75 tips are presented with simple descriptions and examples.

I won’t list any of the “quick bites” here – you can buy the book for those – but I will say that if you can imagine the types of things that would appear in such a collection, you’ll find them in Quick Bites. There are more than a few surprises, so don’t expect that you already know it all. Rick’s got a great way of presenting a lot of the more common and common-sense social media strategies in nuanced, multi-dimensional ways.

It’s a pretty quick read, but I think that even those of us familiar with many of the social web’s tools will refer to the tips within for a deeper understanding of the why and the how of online communication. Bingo bango bongo pongo go buy the book.

*** This post is part of the “Blog Every Day Challenge“, which I have undertaken in homage to John Haydon, a captain of social media and inbound marketing for non-profits. A few months back he did the same thing. Granted, all of his posts imparted some kind of value to his readers (and he has many). I’m blogging about the same old stuff. Don’t call it “general interest”, because I think that it goes without saying that humans should generally be interested in what I’m doing. :) ***

Bridging Babel: New Social Media and Interreligious and Intercultural Understanding

My friends over at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs have put together a sweet project called Bridging Babel: New Social Media and Interreligious and Intercultural Understanding.

I got hooked up with the project at the Interfaith Youth Core‘s conference last October. I was presenting a workshop on social web tools and the interfaith movement. I met Melody Fox Ahmed, Director of Programs and Operations at the Berkley Center, and we’ve kept up correspondence since then. The report is really cool, quite in-depth, and very useful for looking at the ways in which dialogue and action will happen online.
It’s also totally dope because they quoted me a few times in the report. :) Here’s a video with the undergraduate researchers talking about the highlights. I recommend checking out Bridging Babel – it’s worth the read.

*** This post is part of the “Blog Every Day Challenge“, which I have undertaken in homage to John Haydon, a captain of social media and inbound marketing for non-profits. A few months back he did the same thing. Granted, all of his posts imparted some kind of value to his readers (and he has many). I’m blogging about the same old stuff. Don’t call it “general interest”, because I think that it goes without saying that humans should generally be interested in what I’m doing. :) ***

What can Millennials really bring to the table?

emo millennial on beach

emo millennial on beach

What are Millennials good for? How can we (you) use them (me)? Christina Smith from YourMembership.com, Inc. recently posted on the Nonprofit Technology Network’s blog to look into that question. It’s called “Tapping into the Strengths of a Generation – The Millennials“, and it’s a good place to start. What follows are my comments on the post, with a few tiny changes (items in bold are Christina’s quick descriptions):

I love starting comments with “As a Millennial…”

As a Millennial, I feel strange being both involved with the recruitment/development of my own kind and being one of myself. Whew.

Christina, you are right about us, but  I’ll add a few additions/clarifications.

1. They are technology-savvy. Tech-savvy can mean a lot of things. Many of us are “on” Facebook for a lot of minutes each day, but there is a substantial gap between “tech-savvy” and “tech-involved”, i.e. we play around a lot, but might not have a good idea of how to utilize these tools (that to us are commonplace) to do good.

2. They need to feel appreciated. Appreciation is nice, but it can take many forms. Simply being told that we’re doing a good job can be super important. Then again, many of us grew up under circumstances where we weren’t always awarded the participation prize. Millennials (the striving kind) are hard on themselves because they understand the weight of potential that is put upon them by others and, of course, their own goals.

Then again, we are easily distracted. Hey, a bird!


Really – 6 hours/day on the internet does not equal social media or web tool mastery. We still spend a lot of time screwing around and doing what could occasionally be described as “personal development reading” and the like. So regarding the last point, watch the praise. Too much can make us feel like we’re pulling a lot of weight with each status update, which might not necessarily be the case.

4. They want to be a part of something big. Millennials really do want to be a part of something big. We’ve come of age in an era of movements and we see ourselves as contributing members of many different, progressive initiatives. Growing up “globalized” makes it easier for us to see these movements as truly international and participatory.

5. They don’t believe in doing things because they’ve always been done that way. When we look around, the people leading us in these programs are usually from a different generation. For that reason, it’s really easy for us to want to do things in a “new” way, digitally or otherwise. But in many cases, what we need is the guidance of older generations in building coalitions and making face-to-face connection possible. Left to our own devices, who knows? We Millennials are exceptionally motivated; give us a target and we’ll run at breakneck speed towards it, sometimes breaking our necks.

As Christina notes, there are 60 million Millennials out there. We are, for lack of a better word, important. <insert winking smiley face here> A common criticism of our generation is that we are self-absorbed. In some ways this is true. As constituent parts of the planet Earth, we are concerned that we’re growing up in a world that is, in some ways, heading downwards. If you want to appeal to us: Make it sexy, make it quick, make it sharable, and most of all, make it matter.  Give us a call to action.

From: Beth’s Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media: Frank Barry, Guest Post: 4 Keys to Building a Successful Nonprofit Web Site

I especially liked #4, which is one of the things that I’m proud to have helped The 1010 Project with:

4) Make Yourself Easy to Find on the Social Web

Sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube (know about the new nonprofit call to action), LinkedIn and Flickr are becoming exceedingly important to any nonprofits online presence. It’s likely your organization is already using one or more of these social networks to engage with supporters, spread your message or raise money. Chris Brogan likes to call these places “outposts”. Your main website should highlight your presence on these sites so that your readers can connect with you in social ways online – they want to get to know you and they want to see that you are doing creative things in fundraising.

via Beth’s Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media: Frank Barry, Guest Post: 4 Keys to Building a Successful Nonprofit Web Site.

In my experience, “outposts” can make or break a nonprofit’s web-presence.