Thursday, January 22, 2009

Websites I "can't" live without

I have been meaning to write a post on some of the web based tools that have become part of my daily routine. The web is full of a world of distraction and time wasting diversions. But, it is also full of some amazing and powerful tools that I find can make us more productive and more connected. I remember my first several computers that were basically stand-alone devices. Eventually they had modems, but they were just used to occasionally connect to the outside world. Now, for many - including me, our computers are simply a portal to the outside world. When the Internet is down, my computer sits idle.

As an early adopter of technology, I often spend time experimenting with new tools to see if they are a way to connect us and assist us or if they are simply another diversion that keeps us from doing what we really need to be doing. For me this is a spiritual and theological thing. I feel called to do some pretty specific things in the service of God and God's church. I believe that I should take advantage of whatever tools I can that help me do that better. Here are some of the sites that continue to be worth my time.

Facebook - - I know a lot of people see this is a just a waste of time but I am convinced that people will look back at sites like facebook (and myspace which I believe has lost its luster - but it did have its day) and see them as a paradigm shift for society. Although there is always a danger of online relationships taking time away from the face-to-face intimacy we are designed to share, I believe that social networking sites have the ability to bring us together in whole new ways. Unlike some users, I do not use facebook to make new friends, I use it to stay connected and reconnect with friends I have made over my entire lifetime. For most, gone are the days of growing up and living out our years in the same town with the same friends. Because of the number of times I have moved, compounded by the number of times my friends have moved, I have friends all around the United States and as far away as China. Facebook allows me to stay connected with friends, not just from different geographic regions, but also from distinct spheres of time from my life. On facebook, I live in a community where I interact with my childhood friends, my college friends, friends from my career in radio, my time in seminary, the three churches and have served at, etc. What is amazing is to begin to see the created web of interconnectivity when I begin to see that friends from one sphere are connected to those of another through something besides me. (Perhaps through Kevin Bacon.) All this is to say, if you are not a facebook user, you don't necessarily need to become one, but realize this is more than another waste of time - for good or for bad it is world changing.

Blogger - - This weblog is hosted by blogger, which doesn't much matter. I could have it hosted by a number of providers. I like blogger because it is free and it works for the way I publish. The amazing thing is this, through hosts like blogger and other free providers, anyone in the world who has access to a computer can publish words that can be read by anyone else in the world (with some exceptions due to government filtering - which is getting harder and harder for governments to do.) That is amazingly powerful.

Twitter - - I can't tell you how many people have told me, "I just don't get twitter." I understand, but I do get twitter and so do millions of others. Twitter allows you to express yourself: what you are doing, how you are feeling, your random thoughts, in 140 characters or less. It also allows you to follow other users who are doing the same. Who you follow is completely up to you. I don't know that I can yet explain the power of twitter. I thought is was a generational thing, but people are starting to break that barrier. The New York Times' David Pogue recently wrote about the site, if it is still a mystery to you, you might find his article helpful:

Twittering Tips for Beginners

Yammer - - Business, corporate and organizational users have begun to see the power of twitter for communicating but have found that it is to cluttered for that use. So, the birth of a new tool, yammer. Yammer is basically twitter for organizations. You have to have a corporate email address to post and follow others in your organization. If you don't "get" twitter, yammer seems even more strange. For twitter fans, it is a bold new day for communication. Some of the more techy folks at University UMC are experimenting and we like the results.

Gmail - - It is hard for me to remember what life was like before anyone could have their own email address without even having their own computer.

Toggl - - Now I have reached the level of the obscure sites that most people will never need or want. I meticulously track my work time. I oversee a tremendous amount of ministry and as I try to prioritize where I will focus my efforts, it is incredibly important for me to know where my time is going. At a church like University, you can spend a whole week just responding and reacting and never accomplishing any of what you might consider the most important things. Toggl does it for me on the web. God gives me 24 hours every day and I have to decide how to spend it. The more productively I spend it in the hours I dedicate to ministry, the more fruitful my ministry and the more abundant my time spent with my family, my friends and my God.

Simply Noise - - An amazing white noise generator. It just helps me concentrate, that's all.

There are many more powerful and important websites that I find my way to: youtube, wikipedia, Biblegateway, google, google reader, The Upper Room. The ones I wrote about today are just a few. What sites can you not live without?


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