Last night I attended a 'launch' gathering for bloggers of the new UMC.org. The web meeting itself was interesting - I simultaneously logged on and called in, and the meeting used Acrobat Connect to guide us through a presentation of the site while we listened to commentary over the phone from Matt Carlisle, Larry Hollon, and Stephen Drachler. The phone connection was a little iffy - feedback and random background noises made it hard to communicate clearly. After the presentation, there was time for Q & A - not many questions were asked - I didn't ask any myself - but I think in part this was because 1) The presentation was clear and the features are somewhat self-explanatory and 2) Until you get a chance to actually check out and use the new site yourself it is not clear what you might want to ask.
So - the new site...
The main feature of the new site is that it contains a social-networking component, which is being hosted/run by 7 Villages. Apparently, some annual conferences (that are cooler and more technology-hip than mine) have already been using 7 Villages, and the hope is that more UMC groups will begin to hook into 7 Villages as a major piece of their web ministries. I've made my page, as well as a 'village' for my annual conference. I'm pretty excited about this site - it's certainly no myspace - some of the features of myspace are missing, and member pages aren't as dynamic and unique, but I think this may change over time as people begin using the site more. Right now things are a little - bulky, I guess I would say - hard to navigate. But there is a lot of potential there, and I'm excited to see what direction it takes.
Other features: Overall, Hollon and Carlisle talked about their process for design and their focus on being user-oriented vs. institution-oriented. They've focused on making navigation easier, making connecting with people and ministries easier, and making local ministries more apparent and more at the center of attention.
Serve: Another new feature allows users to search for volunteer opportunities and for users to submit volunteer opportunities. I think this is a great idea. In the past, I've been searching for a VIM trip opportunity for myself, and found it difficult to find any place where all trips are listed. Still to work on here - the search features should be expanded. I want to be able to search for opportunities by date, or by age-group, etc. Carlisle (or Hollon, I can't remember) mentioned that a recent Christian Science Monitor article notes an increase in global volunteerism - 29% of people volunteered in 2005, an increase, a 30-year high actually. Interestingly, the age-groups volunteering: older teens, baby-boomers, and senior citizens. People want hands-on ways to make a difference.
Pray: You can now submit prayer requests online, which are directed to the Upper Room Living Prayer Center. A more interactive prayer center might be interesting, where people could respond to one another's prayers - a feature like this was shared at the Web-Empowered Church workshop at the Congress on Evangelism - anyone have a link to that feature?
Other features include a still-being-added-to Methopedia, which is a bit skimpy now, but could be quite useful when more articles are added, and a section for local church leaders, giving resources for different positions and ministries. Also, churches now have more freedom to enter their own information and images and details in the find-a-church feature, which is the most-hit feature in the site. I definitely need to update my church's page!
I think this is definitely a positive new direction for the site. A work in progress, for sure, but what isn't? Check it out, and let me know what you think.
Cross-posted at the Methoblog.