Echo Conference 2010 | #echo10

I loved Echo last year and I expect it to be even better this year. As cool as the breakout sessions and keynotes are, the best thing I expect to take away from Echo are the conversations that I will get to have with leaders who are right in the middle of the same things I am in the middle of.

Internet ministry leaders usually have to settle for a few sideshow breakouts at most conferences since we don’t have our own national gathering…I would say that Echo has become THE gathering for internet ministry.

I’ll be leading a conversation on Internet Ministry

Church in Two Minutes: Delivering a Complete Story on Internet Time
The internet and social media are fantastic platforms for spiritual content, but we have to redefine what a ‘church’ experience is for the internet. We can’t simply serve up the same content that we deliver in a real life experience. This is an amazing opportunity to redefine how we communicate the Gospel to our culture and I think we haven’t quite nailed it.

This will not be a presentation, but an open conversation, so come prepared to ask questions and help us come up with some answers. After all, even the veterans of ministry on the web have only been at it a few years.

 

Music That Shaped Me

Music is a big part of my life. My wife is a serious music fan with really good taste. My kids are way into some good music like the Fleet Foxes, Monsters of Folk, Gorillaz and Spoon. I often find my daughter dancing around the house with her iPod singer here latest favorite.

As my kids come into their own in terms of music taste and start figuring out what they really like without mom and dad pushing music on them, I was thinking back at the music the I first got into when it was up to me to hit play.

Theses are the tapes that I wore out in my Walk Man when I was a kid in the early to mid eighties:

Pink Floyd | the wall
I’m pretty sure that I snaked this from my brother Mike when he wasn’t looking, or maybe he wisely slipped it into my Walk Man knowing he was mentoring the taste of a future Floyd fan. ¬†Either way, to this day, this is one of my favorite albums and rarely does a week go by that I don’t listen to a few tracks.

Bon Jovi | slippery when wet
Don’t hate, this album rocked your world too. What can you say about it other than it is loaded with hits that were are catchy and easy to listen to.

Dire Straits | brothers in arms
Not sure how I got my hands on this, I think it was my dad’s. This album was an early seed being planted that would make me want to play guitar.

What were some of the first albums you got a hold of as a kid?

 

‘The Word of God’ | I feel like I can’t trust that phrase anymore

Bare with me for a minute as I work through some thoughts.

Say it any which way you like:

‘The Word if the Lord’ ‘The Word of God’ ‘God’s Word’ etc…

I think this phrase has lost its meaning, or at least at this point in time it has so many meanings to so many different people that I can’t be sure what they mean by it. When I hear someone say it, I have to either stop them mid sentence to clarify what they mean or just go head and make a judgment call in my head about what I think they mean.

These are the two meanings that I think most American Christians have in mind when they use this phrase:

It’s the Bible
Probably the most popular meaning for Christians and not entirely wrong. But I think God is bigger and we can probably agree that He speaks to us in more ways than just the Bible. Also worth mentioning is the fact that the Bible we know has barely been around for 500 years.

It’s My Interpretation of the Bible
Be honest with yourself, there is a good possibility that your interpretation of the Bible could be wrong. For what it’s worth I can’t have a conversation about Biblical theology with anyone who can’t start by saying they are unsure on at least a few points.

I’m I the only one that has a pause when hearing this phrase? Thoughts?

Turtles helping turtles, it’s a beautiful thing

I found my self watching this YouTube video of a turtle helping another turtle get turned back over after getting stuck up side down. Yes I know they are actually not turtles but are in fact¬†tortoises, for the sake of my fingers I will¬†hereto fourth¬†refer to them by the slightly shorter term ‘turtle'; and let’s be honest you and I both call everything that looks like a turtle a turtle; but I digress. Turtles aren’t known for their speed, so as this event slowly progressed on the video I filled the time by scanning through the comments below on YouTube. I noticed two things; one that was encouraging and one that was infuriating.

#1 | Even in a silly video of a turtle turning over a turtle a spiritual conversation happened
People were pointing at the fact that we need each other and that some ‘creator’ must have given the turtles some kind of instinct. The video stirred up feelings of solidarity that are ingrained in all of us and it was beautiful…in a YouTube sort of way. People are willing to engage in spiritual conversation online, there’s opportunity there if we are real and honest….and careful.

#2 | Even in a silly video of a turtle turning over a turtle Christians found a way to be jackasses
At some point the E word was dropped (evolution) and it brought out the hellfire from a few Christians who were¬†obviously¬†placed on this earth ‘for such a time as this’ to flame some poor person in a public forum and win huge God points. Someone give that guy a badge or something!

People, the story is so much bigger than that tiny little interaction on a website. Yet, that tiny little interaction will set whom ever you were trying to ‘convert’ back years on what could potentially be a spiritual journey towards God. Let’s get on the same page folks.

This is how you present the gospel

Stop trying to convince people to believe in God…because they already do.

I don’t know if Jeremy Rifkin intended to present the Gospel, but he did. Maybe it’s just me, because this is how my brain works. You may think you hear a pluralistic doctrine, but this talk doesn’t complete the story…it is merely a springboard to which the conversation can be completed. You can’t introduce Jesus until you can get this far in the conversation. I don’t know anything about Rifkin, I assume he is an atheist/humanist. I imagine your first reaction will be to consider what he is saying that is wrong, but look for the common ground you may have with this conversation.

Internet Campus Answers | Part 2 – Streaming Basics

I get tweets, emails and phone calls weekly from people asking various questions about how we rock the internet campus at Gateway Church. It’s probably a good idea for me to put those thoughts and answers in one place.

Read the rest of the series – internet campus answers

The foundation of an internet campus is the content itself which comes in the form of streaming video. There are a lot of options out there when it comes to streaming video and there are a few things to consider, not the least of which is the decision of going live or ‘taped’. I can’t speak to all of the other options, but I can speak to what we have done and are doing at Gateway Church.

How streaming video works

If you have ever worked with video, then you know that the files in question are big. Streaming video across the internet is not as simple as putting up a web page on your average web hosting account at GoDaddy. If you put a video on your average server like the one your church’s website is sitting on, it would be fine for a few viewers to watch, but once it starts to get hit by even 100 people at one time, it will bring that server to it’s knees.

This is where a Content Delivery Network (CDN) comes in. These are massive and robust networks of redundant servers all around the globe that can handle huge traffic and serve rich media at high speeds. Sites like YouTube, Hulu and Netflix all serve there video off of some sort of CDN whether it be their own network or a third party.

Here’s how it works, you upload your content, live or taped, to one of your CDN’s servers that is geographically closest to you and they distribute the media across their network from there. The CDN distributes the content in real time across a robust network of servers around the world. When a user visits your content, they are served the media from the nearest server to them.

Video Encoding Basics

This is a massive concept and I will try to boil it down to a few key concepts. I’m going to assume that the source of your video is at least standard definition or high definition video camera or switcher and you want to stream that content to the web. You may or may not be aware that the quality and encoding of the video straight off your camera is not optimum for streaming on the web. That is to say that the file size is too big.

Analogue to Digital

Basically you need to get your video from your camera or switcher into a computer. Generally this is done with hardware in the form of outboard firewire/USB devices or cards in the computer. One popular unit is the ADVC300 from Grass Valley.

You may already have a switcher that outputs firewire or USB which could mean you have all the hardware you need.

Encoding

Your video needs to be encoded in a way that makes it a small enough file to stream on the web.

Your workflow will look something like this:

Camera/source > Encoder > Upload > CDN > User

There are a lot of options out there that encode on the CDN side and this is not optimum since the speed at which you can upload full res video isn’t too good. That setup would look like this:

Camera/Source > Upload > Encoding > CDN > User

Basically you want to PUSH the same file specs to the web that your end users will view (so much as is possible). Any work that needs to be done to the video shouldn’t happen over the internet, that would reduce your performance and/or increase your cost.

The most common form of encoding is flash, for many reasons, primarily because it has the broadest user base and most of the popular streaming providers are setup to stream flash, usually with an h.264 codec. The good news is that the app you need on your end to encode is FREE! Head on over to Adobe and get Flash Media Live Encoder. I suggest getting a free UStream.tv or livestream.com account to fiddle around width. Search their forums and Google to get instructions on using Flash Media Encoder to stream live.

Streaming Providers (SMSP)

There are countless streaming providers out there and a lot of them do a really good job. You’re going to have to spend some time on the phone and maybe get some demos too. There are a lot of turnkey solutions where they roll in everything including encoding hardware in a package. This can be nice if your team has limited abilities. If you have a skilled crew you can opt for some of the more raw options and possibly save some cash. For what it’s worth we use Limelight Networks, great for us, not super easy for a rookie to step into.

SMSP aside #1- Don’t skimp, this is the backbone of your streaming experience. Ask around and see if the provider has a good record of uptime and customer service. Value engineering rarely pays off.

SMSP aside #2 – Beware of resellers who sell streaming services from bigger providers like Akamai or Limelight. Resellers are great if they provide an extra layer of support, features, hardware or even UI; 316 Networks does a good job of this. Resellers suck if all they are doing is reselling the same thing you could get cheaper by going straight to the source.

Those are the basics. Obviously there is so much more information in this area and it is changing all the time. With HTML5 coming into play now, things could really get interesting.

Next time I will get into the user interface side of Internet Campuses.

We’re coming to your house

In September we have an epic road trip planned and by ‘we’ I mean the team at Gateway Church. More specifically the web and video team.

So far it looks like about a 7000 mile trip lasting around two weeks.

Why?

A few reasons:

  • Connect with people around the country that are a part of our Internet Campus
  • Do some live broadcasting from a bunch of really cool churches with a bunch of really cool people
  • Shoot for some epic short films that need the setting of some of the locations we will be visiting
  • Document powerful stories of faith journeys and leadership
  • Broadcast some round table discussions about web ministry
  • Have a few No Perfect People Allowed gatherings

Tentative cities include: Nashville, Cincinnati, Chicago, Denver, Portland, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Diego and Las Vegas

If you’re in one of those cities, hit me up and maybe we can connect.

LOST series finale live blog | by someone who has never watched it

I’ve never watched LOST. That’s not to say that I think it’s a lame show or anything like that. It sounds like it was a really cool show. But here’s the deal; some friends told me way back when CSI got started that it was a really good show. ¬†So I watched it and discovered that CSI is one of the dumbest shows I have ever seen. So naturally when LOST started and those same friends said they thought it was great, I ran the other way never to turn back.

Here’s my experience with the series finale of a show I never watched a single episode of:

7:55 – Flip through channels to find something to watch. Settle on a show documenting people entering their cats in shows.

8:00 – Dang! that cat show ended. Guess I’ll watch LOST. Why do we have to spell lost with all caps? Here to forth ‘LOST’ will be known as ‘lost’

8:06 – Wait. What?

8:09 – How is that guy so fat still? Hasn’t he been ‘lost’ on an island for like three years? For that matter, everyone’s cloths are in pretty good shape too.

8:10 – Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout.

8:13 – So the fat guy is Buddha and Jacob is Jesus?

8:14 – Denim shirt guy is having trouble maintaining the southern drawl.

8:22 – The dog has a cool name.

8:25 – Check Google Reader. Then watch Cheat Commandos on www.homestarrunner.com

8:26 – The Inception trailer looks cool.

8:42 – Desmond kinda looks like Barry Manilow.

8:43 – That’s probably the same gold light from Marsellus Wallace’s brief case.

8:56 – I think I have this figured out. Remember, I’m the guy that figured out Fight Club in the first 8 minutes and got an A on the test on that book in english class in high school that I didn’t even read.

9:01 – Didn’t Zack Morris play in a band called ‘Drive Shaft’ on Saved by the Bell?

9:17 – Is there a guy named ‘penis’?

9:21 – Watch some Wine Library TV with @garyvee

9:23 – Fight Scene. In the rain. ¬†Shaky camera work to emphasize the chaos and drama. I have a feeling that dude isn’t dead.

9:32 – Trying to make sense of tweets like; “no way that just happened” and “I didn’t see that coming”, because to the untrained eye it would seem that literally nothing is happening.

9:47 – Back to Gary Vaynerchuck.

9:56 – Okay I’m going to be 100% honest. I have no idea what is going on.

9:59 – I think I would take my chances on the island rather than get on that sketchy plane. But that’s just me.

10:11 – Checking my clock cuz this was supposed to be over 11 minutes ago. Wait, apparently it’s got another 20 minutes.

10:21 – Jack; I am your father.

10:30 – I have a feeling this wasn’t a big shocker of a finale. Seemed like a greatest hits episode…kinda like on Friends or Full House.