Category Archives: Methodist Bloggers Meeting

Blogging Technology: Writing

Some hints on options for writing blogs, it follows on from 42: Blogging Technology: Reading.

This post is the result of a conversation during the UK Methodist Bloggers Meeting help 4 & 5 January 2008.

If your technical ability is such that you have considered writing your own blog application then this is not going to be very helpful.

Like my review of reading blogs this is going to be simplistic, there are many other possibilities beyond the limited options I am going to suggest.

I am grouping the options under three headings.

Free Hosted

By this I mean your blog does not cost you anything and it runs within a web application hosted by the provider. So you interact with it using your web browser using some blog administration pages. The two best known options for this are Blogger (part of google) and WordPress.com

Both these will work well and are used by millions of bloggers. There are limitations of course in terms of flexibility and power but they are still deservedly popular. If nothing else the price and lack of technical knowledge required make these very attractive options to start your blog.

Paid Hosted

The service I use (typepad) falls into this category. You gain some extra features and power and the ability to customise your blog rather more. For example you can use your own domain name as I do (blogger does also support this, obviously at that point it is not free and is a competitor to typepad). You can be certain that you can have an ad free blog with no visible branding from the service provider. Cost is between $5 and $30 per month (plus your domain registration costs).

I have been happy with this option for 42 since August 2003.

Self Hosted

This option may use free software, however, it is unlikely to be free as you are going to need web site hosting. It is unlikely that any free hosting will be sufficient (if only because you will want control over the domain name). It seems to be that by far the most popular software for this option is WordPress (yes essentially the same as used at wordpress.com) although there are thousand’s of alternatives.

This is more work to setup and manage but you get unrivalled control, the ability to connect seamlessly into other parts of your website and limitless options for customisation. I have considered this option for 42 a number of times, however, not actually ever made the jump. I have used it for other blogs and been happy with the results.

Conclusion

All these host good blogs and there are an infinite number of other options. Hopefully this gives a useful summary, but use the comments to provide more info or request more detail and it should gradually expand to be more comprehensive.

Blogging Technology: Reading

Some hints on how to use technology to save time and increase effectiveness when reading blogs.

This post is the result of a conversation during the UK Methodist Bloggers Meeting help 4 & 5 January 2008.

Blogs are web pages and so many of us read them normally within our normal Web Browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera etc). This works well and is of course the default for most of us when we end up at a blog page after a search on a search engine such as google. It also works well when exploring blogs (for example by following links within a blog post or when looking at a blogroll).

However, for regular reading of your favourite blogs this has a major flaw. The only way to discover if a blog has new content is by viewing it, very time consuming and inefficient (especially for both very active and very quiet blogs). Using this technique it is typically only possible to monitor a small number of blogs and even then it can be hard to feel part of the community.

The solution is at the heart of what makes a blog a blog. All blogs (essentially by definition) produce "feeds", sometimes called "newsfeeds". There are two main alternative formats for these which you may see mentioned "atom" and "rss". You will also see an icon for feeds such as . In simplistic terms a feed contains a list of new posts on a blog.

Feeds are of no (or very limited) use on their own, they are not designed to be human readable but to be read by computer software. So you use feeds in conjunction with a Newsfeed Reader. If you have not tried one before then I recommend that you start with either Bloglines or Google Reader. Both are free, both are web based (which means there is nothing to install on your computer). When you use either of these you can subscribe to any blog (or indeed any website with a feed) and the newsfeed reader will then track new posts for you.

Using either Bloglines or Google Reader (or one of the 1,000′s of alternatives) saves hours. When you login you will see a list of all the blogs that you have subscribed to. All the blogs with new posts will be clearly marked (it is very like seeing your email organised into folders and seeing which folders have unread messages in them). You can then read the new posts within that browser window (much quicker as for example I can see all the new posts from UK Methodists in a single list and just page down through it). You can also open any post in a new window or tab (for example if you wish to leave a comment, write your own post, or view the complete original formatting).

All newsfeed readers offer other facilities as well (searching, marking etc).

Beyond using a newsreader to read/monitor blogs (and currently I have subscribed to 230 in bloglines) the other big help in reading blogs is Blog Flux Commentful. You can see when I discovered it via a helpful comment from  Dave Faulkner on 42: Do blog comments work? Commentful makes it simple and practicable to contribute to discussions on blogs knowing that you can tell when extra comments are added. No more randomly going back to see if someone has replied to your comment. It is a huge time saver.

As with any well behaved web application commentful can provide you with a feed to monitor in your newsfeed reader (or you can use the plugin for Firefox). Other applications that can do this include facebook (all the notifications without cluttering up your email).

UK Methodist Bloggers Meeting: Programme

We have a mix of fixed and flexible programme so that we can be sure that we get the most from our time together. Within that the two key fixed elements are:

Friday Afternoon: Relating to the Connexion.

This session is led locally by Dave Webster from the Web team at Church House with Toby Scott contributing by remote conferencing. Within the overall subject the topics include:

  • Connecting the expectations of bloggers and the Communications team.
  • How
    we can support each other.
  • How bloggers are perceived by the press.

Saturday Morning: Coping with attacks on your blog

Led by our very own Turbulent Cleric who sadly has extensive recent experience to draw on. Feedback from a number of participants has indicated that this is a common problem for many bloggers.

UK Methodist Bloggers Meeting: Worship

Hopefully getting my priorities right for once, we have the Worship all sorted:

  • Friday noon: John
  • Friday evening: Olive
  • Saturday morning: Pam
  • Saturday closing communion: Richard

I am pleased with the mix for that as it provides some balance for the
two obvious biases in the conference make-up (too many men and too many
presbyters).

UK Methodist Bloggers Meeting: Participants

Just finalising everything up as the meeting starts at noon this Friday. We have the following bloggers attending for the whole 24 hours:

On Friday we are going to be joined by Dave from the Methodist Church Web team and virtually by Toby Scott from the Communications team.

On Saturday we are going to be joined by David (www.MethodistPreacher.com)

Note the great care with which we have chosen to go for quality rather than quantity :-)

Methodist Bloggers Meeting set – January 4th&5th 2008

We now have a fixed date and a provisional retreat centre booking for the 1st UK Methodist Bloggers Conference.

Put 4th and 5th January 2008 in your diaries.

Location: Community for Reconciliation, Barnes Close

 This is a very simple location for people driving as it is approx 2 miles from M5 junction 4. The instructions for trains and
buses also look simple.

Price should be £60 per person. That includes accommodation, meals (Friday lunch & dinner, Saturday breakfast), wifi Internet access and the conference itself.

Programme

Friday 4th January

Noon: Welcome & Worship followed by Lunch

Afternoon sessions

Evening worship followed by Dinner

Evening session followed by Night Prayer

Saturday 5th January

Morning Prayer followed by Breakfast

Morning Session

Holy Communion, finishing by noon.

Notes:

  • The conference centre is no longer available for our alternative date of 11/12th, hence the decision to go for the earlier dates.
  • The programme is not going to be all technical but relationship building and reflections on how we can work and relate to each other will be key elements. We are looking for Session Leaders and specific topics (as well as some chill time).
  • There will be some opportunities for specific technical advice and help but these may be done in smaller groups.
  • Volunteers to lead the various times of worship are welcomed so that we can represent some of the variety within Methodism. However, I would like us to consider some consistency/progression in scripture/theme so provide a coherent conference.

Questions/Bookings etc all welcome by email or comments below.

UK Methodist Bloggers Conference: Whats up Dave?

Well I have been very quiet since 42: UK Methodist Bloggers Meeting Status Update and yes there has been a reason for that, but I can’t tell you what it is or I will have to kill you (yes I am joking, you know that don’t you).

I have been waiting for some news that now seems will not come til early October. However, I can sense that bloggers patience is pretty limited (us being very immediate types of people).

So here is the scoop.

There is a UK Methodist conference being planned for post summer 2008 that may well include a "track" for Methodist Bloggers. There is a concern that if we have a UK Methodist Bloggers conference in January that the support for the other conference will be reduced. That would be a pity as the other conference (you know, the one I can’t tell you about yet) is much more significant in the life of our church. NB The "other" conference is not "The Methodist Conference" and it would be open to all who have expressed an interest in the "UK Methodist Bloggers conference" (space permitting). The other conference will be longer and mid-week which may restrict access for people in "proper" jobs.

At this point I can see 3 options:

  1. We wait until we can go public about the "other" conference and then decide whether to have "our" conference in January. That means waiting until approx 10th October.
  2. We decide that we will go ahead with "our" conference anyway as the goals are quite different, the timing and costs are different and we do not think it will reduce the attendance at the "other" conference.
  3. We decide that we will not "compete" with the significant and important "other" conference and so decide to throw our whole hearted support behind the mystery conference.

What are your preferences?

As for the rest of the arrangements:

  • Looks like we are slightly leaning towards 4/5 January as the dates.
  • Ruby and I have already exchanged fish on Facebook so I know she is unable to come (the fact that she is doing so much while working full-time amazes me). I have not checked with Martyn yet, but will do so. I would be very surprised if he did not attend the "other" conference although by that time he will be a past president.
  • I have volunteers to help with programme which is great.
  • I have not had much feedback on the times, so far Lunch to Lunch seems popular with the tiny number of people expressing a preference.

I find it exciting to be part of a denomination where lots of things are happening so that decisions like this need to be taken.

UK Methodist Bloggers Meeting Status Update

Summary:

42: UK Methodist Bloggers Meeting introduced the idea (and the comments explored it a lot).

42: First pass Dates for UK Methodist Bloggers Mtg started to collect feedback on dates.

42: Location for Methodist Bloggers Meeting explored some location options, shame that the post titles are so cryptic <grin>

Conclusions so far:

Date: January 2008 either 4th & 5th OR 11th & 12th

Nobody has ruled these out, more prefer the earlier date at present. However the second dates are probably better for people with kids at school (unless the blogger is a teacher I guess).

Mark both in your diaries for now and we will firm up ASAP so keep responding in comments to let us know how these suit you.

Location: My recommendation is the Community for Reconciliation, Barnes Close

A trinity of reasons:

  1. Location: They are in a very simple location for people driving approx 2 miles from M5 junction 4. The instructions for trains and buses also look simple.
  2. Price and facilities are both good for us. Current price is £54 per person and WiFi is available.
  3. They are very responsive. Somewhere that can reply to an email enquiry sent at 21:16 on a Saturday by 23:26 the same day is encouraging. Oh and they are available those 2 dates.

Content.

There are a number of items that have been mentioned. We will need to pull this together so we all know what we are signing up for. In my opinion it is quite important to get the structure and balance right. That means a good mix between worship, social, theological, technical, strategic, blogging and free time (not forgetting eating!).

Start and finish timing.

We have so far agreed to have Friday and Saturday. With longish travelling for some, should we make our programme start at noon on Friday and end with lunch on Saturday? An alternative would be a fuller 2 days. For example we could start at 10am Friday and finish at 4pm Saturday. That might mean some need an extra nights stay and it may be a concern for anyone leading worship on the Sunday morning (more particularly a concern for their congregations).

Reactions please.

Sessions.

Whatever other decisions we make about timing and sessions I believe we should wrap them properly in prayer and worship. So I suggest that we plan around morning, noon and evening prayer and that we end with a communion service. We can pair up to plan the acts of worship so that we get variety and not too much work for any person. We can always add more worship as the spirit leads anyway. If anyone would like to volunteer musical talent that would be great to know about.

When we get a bit more firmed up then we can start on the session details, who leads what etc.

Bookings.

I think I want to see about 10 pretty definite "count me in" statements before I actually book the conference centre. So sign up via comment, blog about it and start emailing all the methodists who blog but have not yet responded. Point them to here.

Over to you all.

Location for Methodist Bloggers Meeting

So far 42: UK Methodist Bloggers Meeting introduced the idea (and the comments explored it a lot).

Then 42: First pass Dates for UK Methodist Bloggers Mtg started looking at the details so if you have not yet indicated date preferences please go and do so NOW!

Now here are some thoughts on Location (which in the comments to 42: UK Methodist Bloggers Meeting indicated a preference for M5/M42 and cheap). Some options after a bit of googling:

  • Pick a Church, pay for an internet connection, sleep on the Church Hall Floor, 24 hour pizza delivery (please not!). More likely eat out Fri Night, cold pizza for breakfast, buffet for lunch. Total cost per person under £50 (if you eat cheap).
  • Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre. Bit closer to centre of Birmingham than we were thinking about, see multimap. Has internet access. Full board for 24 hours including meeting room is £85. No alcohol.
  • Community for Reconciliation Barnes Close I got an answer to my enquiry (within 2 hours 15 minutes, late on a Saturday night!). £54 per person and WiFi is available. Available for some of our dates (the first two).
  • Bromsgrove Hotel: Pedersen Hotels don’t know about Wifi. Cost around £110 per person.
  • Hillscourt Conference Centre in Bromsgrove, don’t know about Wifi. Cost £125 per person.
  • Travelodge – Tamworth M42 has a meeting room, does not yet have WiFi. Cost £26 per room plus all meals apart from breakfast, plus meeting room (plus detox needed after).

Feedback please. Are any of these promising? If not why not? Any more suggestions?

 

All my posts about the UK Methodist Bloggers Meeting are listed at:  42: Methodist Bloggers Meeting.

[Updates]

Added price and wifi support to the Community for Reconciliation option.

First pass Dates for UK Methodist Bloggers Mtg

Following 42: UK Methodist Bloggers Meeting there does appear to be interest in a meeting in early 2008. Location somewhere near M5/M42. Timing: a Friday & Saturday to attempt to make it possible for people whether they work during the week or weekend with minimal time off – plus it will leave some Methodists in Churches elsewhere in the UK.

Step one.

Which dates can you manage? Please respond in comments.

  1. January 2008: 4th & 5th
  2. January 2008: 11th & 12th
  3. January 2008:  18th & 19th
  4. January 2008: 25th & 26th
  5. February 2008: 1st & 2nd

All we need is something like

DaveW: I can do date choices 1,2,3,4,5

Step two will follow (sorry to be so boring).