Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Article Review: Church of Jaminology website

by Ben(Jamin) Davey

Church of Jaminology is a blog created with the aim of educating and provoking discussion and thought about religion and how people relate to one another and their environments, and to expose people to ideas they wouldn’t normally seek out on their own. The writing style is intended to be accessible to a wide range of readers, using humour to entertain while educating. It has a plain black and white page design, relying on the use of inserted pictures to give colour to each article. The page is updated at irregular intervals. In this essay I will assess each of these factors in relation to their effectiveness in achieving the blog’s aims.
The Church of Jaminology started out as an irregular commentary of my own religious studies (both academic and personal) for my friends on Facebook. After a lot of encouragement from that small audience I agreed to make a public blog with the same theme and the private religion went public. My theory is that since people tend to fear the things they don’t understand, helping them to gain an understanding of the “other” in a safe context may in some way help them to overcome their fear.
The combination of subtle humour and interesting facts is intended to make accessible to readers religious and spiritual ways of thinking which they would not normally consider. The historical reference to an eleventh centenary Catholic ritual recognising homosexual life partners is just one example of a fact which can be used to challenge people’s preconceptions of religious values. I try to use humour to present these facts in a way which is unthreatening. Reader feedback on the Facebook entries suggests that this approach is effective. The website hasn’t yet had sufficient user feedback to assess whether it is effective in that medium.
The simple black and white layout of the page with a single medium width column is meant to give the feeling of a respectable broad sheet newspaper article. I also included a feature to allow readers to post responses to each article, since the discussions following the posts on Facebook were often more interesting that the post itself and provided inspiration of future posts. It is also important for readers to feel that they can respond to what has been said, which is one of the main benefits of the internet over older forms of mass media in producing a public dialogue on important issues. So far the level of audience participation in the public forum has been much lower than on Facebook. This might be because people reading an article on an individual’s website tend to shift into a passive learning position, whereas the Facebook context had a lower power distance and was more familiar, allowing readers to feel more comfortable to add their own thoughts.
My intention was to make the master layout relatively blank and allow for each post to be visually defined by the images inserted at the beginning of each major point. The images and the white space on either side of the text are intended to allow readers to feel relaxed and take breaks from reading as they go through the articles. While this is a good idea in theory, it has resulted in a lot of extra work in sourcing relevant images for each post, which then results in fewer posts. On the other hand, a lot of the page’s traffic has come through Google image search so there are certain benefits to the image heavy format.
Another issue on the topic of images is copyright ownership. The majority of images used in posts have been sourced from artist submitted Creative Commons collections, but in some cases the original artist is unknown. This isn’t such a problem for a personal Facebook post or a blog with a limited readership, but when the number of daily viewers jumped from five or six to over two hundred, the issue of intellectual property on a publicly accessible site suddenly became very real and simply not knowing who produced an image is not an acceptable excuse.
Converting the site into a video blog seems to be the strongest solution to both the issues of audience participation and the need for visual images. This approach would require a rethinking of the page layout as there would be a reduced need for the blank canvas approach to each article when there is a standard format of a single video window in the centre of the screen. Using a social video networking site like YouTube is likely to increase audience participation and discussion, and also make it easier for viewers to share the content over other social networking sites. When the goal is to stimulate discussion, the transition into video seems an essential next step.
The final issue that needs to be considered is scheduling regular updates. It wasn’t something I even considered when it was a private blog. I just updated when I had something to say. After seeing blog views spike after each update it seems clear that a public site needs regular small updates to keep the audience involved. The new format will have a scheduled weekly update with extra posts being prepared in advance for weeks when I just don’t have the time to prepare something.
This review has identified the areas where the current approach is working are areas where can be improved. While keeping the goal of encouraging people to think about religion, discover their own beliefs and understand the views of others, the Church of Jaminology can use the above strategies to increase its audience base in a legally responsible way and make the world a less scary place.

Davey, BD 2010, “Church of Jaminology”, [accessed 22/08/2010]

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