Tel: 905–690–4709 dk@tfwm.com - Darryl Kirkland, Publisher

Ministry Moblogging

ANOTHER WAY TO BROADEN YOUR OUTREACH NETWORK

Streaming of media to mobile devices, also known as mobile broadcasting, has become a regular tool for major television broadcasters looking to share content with potential viewers and seeking to build interest in and loyalty to their program offerings. Moblogging and mobile broadcasting have proved successful technically and also as effective social networking tools. The community-oriented nature of these technologies makes them a perfect fit for ministries and congregations, and now is the time for houses of worship to begin using mobile technologies to enhance participation in the life of the church.

“Moblogging” may be a new term to many people, but the practice of mobile blogging has been growing both in popularity and in utility for the past several years. It builds on the now-familiar concept of the Web blog, which allows anyone with an Internet connection to share their news and thoughts through regular postings comprised largely of text but increasingly including still and moving images. A “moblog” is an evolution of the blog; it’s simply a blog published directly to the Web from a mobile device, typically a camera-enabled cell phone or PDA. Users of these devices e-mail text, photos and/or video to their own mobile blog, which in turn can be viewed by others via computer or mobile device.

The ability to capture images and make them available almost immediately via the Web takes media sharing to a new level of convenience. The phenomenon of moblogging has been driven largely by its connection to social networks, most of which offer a mobile component that people can use to connect with one another. In some cases, sites feature contests for the best video or offer practical tools for sharing pictures, slide shows from friends, or video playlists. Instead of looking at the Web using a computer, users of mobile devices access all these types of media through WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) sites, which are growing ever more rich in features and thus becoming more visually engaging and attractive. Newer generations of cell phones and PDAs often have built-in software that enables the display of animations and other dynamic elements on moblogs.

While it may still be most popular with the younger generation, moblogging has emerged as a valuable new avenue of communication across a broader demographic range. Much like text messaging, it has become a socially accepted vehicle for rapid communications – particularly for those constantly on the go – both for social activities and more regularly for business applications, too. As more and more people turn to the Internet as a primary source of news and information, the potential of moblogging expands, as well.

Mobile broadcasting and moblogging have a great deal of potential for religious organizations because they evangelize the cell phone and mobile device. They offer ministries a direct line of communication with their congregations, and they also provide members of the congregation with a way to interact with one another. Anyone who has a cell phone can be reached with the worship message. This message may be news about what the church youth group has been up to lately, or it may highlight with video the ongoing achievements of church mission workers, whether performing outreach locally or across the globe.

The sharing of video and pictures adds a personal element to communications, and with moblogging this media is available in very near real time. For a person looking for advice on buying the perfect car, perfect pair of shoes, or perfect house, for example, the ability to share video from a mobile device enables instant feedback on the purchase decision. The same immediacy of communications allows users to exchange ideas about their religious and spiritual lives or work.

Though it once took some time to attach video to a text message, many phones on the market today can take advantage of higher network speeds enabled by 3G (third generation) communications and the much greater speeds of wireless broadband services. All major manufacturers of mobile phones offer models with 3G capacity, and in fact the design of many mobile devices has been adapted to make consumption and creation of mobile media easier and more enjoyable for the user.

In addition to larger, brighter screens, more intuitive navigation schemes, and much larger data storage capacity, mobile devices being released today offer image-capture functionality rivaling that of some stand-alone cameras and video cameras. The combination of increased bandwidth availability and higher transfer speeds with better camera-phone technology allows for a quality of video that makes mobile content very compelling, both in terms of visual quality and practicality in daily use.

While video sharing may be an edgier or cooler way to spread the religious message, and thus a way to reach younger church members more effectively, it’s a tool that today can be used to reach out to all variety of church members. For those who are unable to make it to worship services, whether due to health, travel, scheduling, or other obligation, mobile broadcasting and moblogging make it easier to stay in touch with their faith. Mobile communications also provide a link to the church beyond weekly services.

Moblogs can be updated at any time and viewed at any time, allowing members of the congregation to be more involved in the life of the church at their convenience or according to their spiritual needs. Likewise, video posted to WAP sites can be accessed by members on their own time and schedules. As membership in religious organizations ebbs and flows, mobile communications provide a valuable way for ministries to reach out and stay connected to as many people as possible. Though this video is a readily available resource for church members, it remains a non-intrusive and user-selected vehicle for spreading the ministry’s message.

Just as important as the church’s ability to share video and pictures is cell phone users’ ability to respond, providing feedback to the messages they receive. The highly interactive nature of moblogging is critical to the life of social networks, and it offers the same benefits for religious groups, which too can build closed virtual communities surrounding their shared thoughts, goals, experiences, and beliefs. Sharing of pictures and video in the mobile space provides constant access to the life of the church, anytime and anywhere. It also can help individuals get involved more personally in the life of the church and take in religious messages at their own pace and respond to those messages as they wish – privately or more publicly – within a controlled framework.

Ministries once relied primarily on weekly worship services to relay church news, share the word of God, and deliver inspirational messages. By making video available to mobile users, ministries can target specific groups of people within the church with messages that service their concerns or interests. Or, the message can include the entire congregation. It may be a youth group update or a special holiday message to everyone in the church. In either case, the personal impact of hearing a well-known voice and seeing a familiar face can make mobile video a very powerful type of one-to-one communication.

The mobile element of this communication is critical not only because of its convenience and compelling nature, but also because it makes the ministry’s message accessible to billions of mobile users around the world. Links accompanying this video content make it easy for viewers to visit the ministry’s Web site and learn more, request further information or even make a donation. For churches it serves as another way to get people to come to their sites. If a person is curious about a church but doesn’t have the time to visit, or is apprehensive about approaching, then he or she can use mobile media as a way of understanding the church, its mission and its community.

Ministries already broadcasting services or special events, or even just using audio and video within their services, can leverage the media they’ve created to reach out to church members in a new way. Video content for mobile devices is often edited down from much longer productions and, in its new form, tends to last from 30 seconds up to five minutes. Typically, mobile users will watch these “mobisodes” as they move between other activities in their lives.

Delivery of mobile media depends first on the church or ministry’s ability to produce short made-for-mobile content, and then on its ability to make this content available within the mobile realm. While larger churches or broadcast ministries may have the infrastructure in place to develop short media clips, the delivery of media via a mobile channel may not be an area in which they wish to dedicate internal technical resources and staff time. It certainly is possible to post video on existing social networking sites, but new services offering professional editing and delivery services – and even fully branded “private label” mobile content sites dedicated to the ministry – not only guarantee a certain production standard for video, but also add to the quality of the experience for the end user, providing a more personal interface and a more controlled environment in which members can safely discuss their thoughts about the ministry’s message.

At this time, the simplest way for a ministry to reach its members with mobile content is to use a third-party service dedicated to transcoding and streaming of media in the appropriate format and bit rates for different device and network types. Each mobile device is like a different type of computer, and video must be fine-tuned to work across all these devices. Just as in the early days of the Web, when Web site creation was the domain of techies and tinkerers, the area of mobile broadcasting remains complex. In time, better software will enable less-sophisticated users to create and deliver high-quality content, but in the mean time, churches and ministries can take advantage of existing turnkey services to ensure that the media they distribute is accessible and of a quality worth watching.

Dedicated mobile broadcasting services distribute content through a few different applications. The first is IP-based, so any mobile phone with access to the Internet will have service. To ensure accessibility for church members using older devices, this type of service also delivers media to an expanded base of mobile phones using BREW, J2ME and other mobile software languages. Often, the provider supplies additional software downloads that help maximize the experience on the end user’s mobile device.

Though the actual delivery of mobile content can be complex, ministries have a variety of options in using mobile communications to connect and stay connected to their congregations. Whether ministries work with a third-party provider to create their own social networking sites or simply launch moblogs that keep members in tune with church life, the end result is that both the church and its members can use current technology to gain more intimate access to the worship experience.