In January, Birthright Israel NEXT launched its first iPhoneapplication, Mila-4-Phone. The application (app), a Hebrew-learning program that uses flashcards and includes audio pronunciation, has been downloaded more than 3,000 times so far.
Such success signals the grand potential for Jewish organizations to use apps to reach their constituents in a new way: right in the palm of their hand.
Apps are what websites were to an organization ten years ago, Daniel Brenner, executive director of Birthright Israel NEXT, said. Back then, we used to joke “you are not real until you are virtual.”
Brenner makes a good point. In the web of the 1990s, websites were static and reference-focused. Today, the web is increasingly more fast-paced and social-focused thanks to the ubiquity of user generated content and the rise of social networking sites.
As apps bring the social web to phones and other mobile devices, organizations are pressed to deliver valued-added content that is more than just reference material.
Apps challenge organizations to show how ongoing, updated information from the organization is relevant to users, Brenner said.
For Birthright Israel NEXT, the key to compelling content was listening to its target base, a population that was expressing interest in returning to Israel and learning Hebrew.
We view the iPhone app as having two mission related functions one educational and one community building, Brenner said. One element of our mission is to deepen the connections that young adults have to Israel Hebrew learning certainly does just that.
But the real power of the app is that it is building a community of over three thousand young adults who share an interest in Hebrew language. Since we are involved in promoting ulpanim in ten cities and in holding ‘beit cafe’ events where Americans can meet Israeli peers and work on their Hebrew, the iPhone app serves as a magnet for folks with a shared interest and has encouraged people to meet others who want to learn Hebrew.
While the app may not be for every Birthright Israel alumni, it has attracted a large, focused following with more than 3,000 downloads from 49 countries.
Niche followings are the best type of followings, Brenner said. Knowing that over 3,000 young adults who are for the most part unaffiliated Jews and who did not go to Jewish day school all want to learn Hebrew is a very good thing.
Seeing a Jewish organization invest in a new technology and using it to reach its base in a 21st century model transcending space, time and place is definitely a very good thing.
So good that other Jewish organizations are taking notice. For instance, Mazon has an iPhone app as does the Cleveland Jewish Federation, which launched Jewish Cleveland in March.
Will apps be the new websites of the 2010s?Are you or your Jewish organization thinking about creating an app? Sound off in our comments.
To learn more about Mila-4-Phone check it out here.If you dont have an iPhone, or iPod touch, you can still join in on the mobile- Hebrew-learning fun with Birthright Israel NEXTs Hebrew Word-A-Day Text Messaging program. Just text Hebrew to 41411 to get started.
Last week BBYO announced the launch of what I believe is an exciting, inventive tool available to engage teens in a meaningful Shabbat experience: Build a Prayer. As a free, online tool the site is designed to connect youth with prayer and Shabbat like never before by allowing them to build and customize their own service.
At BBYO, I constantly see teens, advisors and staff members using unique spaces and creativity to offer relevant, powerful Shabbat services, a unique challenge since most teens have only experience services within their synagogue. This challenge is only made more difficult by the fact that most teens arent comfortable in a traditional siddur they dont know where services start and end, what to include, or what is safe to leave out.
To meet that need (and often times to save money), these worship services are typically guided by a teen-designed collection of songs, poetry and prayers that is compiled through an effort of photocopying, cutting and pasting together old song sheets and prayer book passages. As an organization, we saw the need to provide Jewish teens with an accessible place to explore prayer and its meanings doing it online also happens to save some glue.
What makes this site so exciting is that it brings thousands-of-years-old prayers into a modern day realm that teens relate to. It is streamlined and easy to use. In a few clicks of a button, teens have a complete service in front of them in which they feel some much needed connections. While not every teen feels comfortable finding their way in a traditional siddur, Build a Prayer allows teens to put together a basic Shabbat service in a space they can easily navigate.
The site is designed for teens, educators, camp counselors, youth group advisors, JCC professionals, chavurah leaders basically, anyone who is interested in putting together a Shabbat service in a formal or informal setting. The site allows Hebrew, English and/or transliterated text to be compiled with ones own pictures, prayers or poetry toward the creation of a custom Prayer Service which can be printed and used anywhere.
With help from www.myjewishlearning.org and a series of videos, users can learn more about the traditions and tunes behind specific prayers. Additionally, a content library holds creative elements from individual prayer services as they are created. Because this is an online resource, people can collaborate on the development of each service and comment on them once they are placed in the Build a Prayer library.
While recent studies show that participation in traditional religious experiences decline during the teen years, the desire to connect spiritually on ones own terms remains strong. Build a Prayer is another resource we are offering the Jewish community as a way to better connect with Jewish teens. Organizations looking to reach the teen audience should look at this as a tool to literally bring prayer to life.
Matt Grossman is the Executive Director of BBYO. He began his career at Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. Matt is also a member of the Darim Online board of directors. Matt currently lives in Washington, DC where he works at BBYO’s international headquarters.
An all-volunteer magazine put together by a geographically diverse, online community of young adults 22-40, PresenTense Magazine has always been a collaborative enterprise. As such, weve made ample use of many Google products, storing and sharing articles in Docs, communicating in Chat, and organizing and tracking article progress in Sites. Yet the lack of integration has made using all these tools in concert a challenge, and we are always interested in exploring better ways to perform these tasks.
For our tenth issue, PresenTense Magazine launched the Digital Issue the first-ever print magazine to be published entirely in Google’s new tool for collaboration, Google Wave. The platform allowed us to pioneer new horizons for journalism by seeking to address a key challenge for journalists today: how to collaborate in a digital age.
Google Wave enticed us with the ability to collaborate on all aspects of the magazine production in a single package, as well as offering several new and exciting features. For instance, playback allows users to review the sequence of changes and easily restore a document to a previous version. Two modes of engaging with waves edit and reply give greater flexibility in editing documents and leaving comments for writers. Since edits and replies are updated in real time, authors and editors can interact naturally, as if in an in-person conversation. Wave also includes the ability to add images, maps, videos, and other gadgets right in the collaboration space.
It was especially fitting that we set out to explore Google Wave for our Digital Issue, focused on the Digital Age and how it is affecting young Jewish community- and identity-building today. Google Wave allowed us to take advantage of the very digital trends and technologies we were discussing, to produce content to act as the starting place for a larger conversation. We found that, while rough around the edges as a pre-Beta product, Google Wave has some real potential for online collaboration.
Ready to embark on a whole new world of Wave discovery, we soon realized that our first hurdle was getting on Wave to begin with. A collaboration tool only works when your co-collaborators also have access. Each issue of PresenTense Magazine is the product of over 70 young Jews writers, editors, advisory committee members, and art team members who work together through the creative process, from the initial brainstorming phase through the final production. Wave invites are a scarce commodity, and for 70 contributors, you need an allocation strategy. Googles arbitrary approval process further baffled our editorial team.
Even with an approved Wave account, not all writers were as eager to ride the Wave as we had hoped. The great flexibility offered by the Wave platform belies the fact that Wave is to many unintuitive. It took significant effort for many writers and editors to learn such Wave basics as how to reply to a message, causing a great deal of frustration. Even those who persevered encountered a fair share of frustrations from frequent crashes, missing features, and various other unexplained occurrences. For those accustomed to working over e-mail and chat, the lack of integration with GMail meant many participants did not notice changes until days later.
Along the way we also came across some collaboration-enhancing perks. When posting in real-time, one author and a commenter discovered they were able to have a brief exchange of ideas inside the Wave and then delete all but what they wanted to preserve for others to see. Another pair of authors were able to “meet” each other and converse when they bumped into each other on their articles section contents page.
PresenTense Magazine is generally published as a glossy, in-print magazine. One of our defining features has been our full-color photographs and artwork, skillfully laid out alongside articles and other content. Wave does offer the ability to drag-and-drop images into an article, and you can even view them as a slideshow or one at a time as full-screen images. However, inside a blip the images appear as either small icons or full-size images taking up most of the page, and it’s not possible to wrap the surrounding text around them. The unsatisfying formatting was further complicated by Googles mysterious rules governing whether and how blips are indented, depending on where exactly one clicks and whether one selects edit or reply.
PresenTense Magazine is the foundation for a vibrant community. Over the past five years, our ten in-print issues have acted as a community organizing tool, bringing together hundreds of young Jews around the world with ideas and enthusiasm about the future of Jewish innovation. However, there are challenges inherent in grassroots work with young Jews spanning time zones around the world. The geographic distances involved provide the tremendous benefit of enabling us to incorporate different perspectives and start conversations that may never occur otherwise. But it can be difficult to find appropriate online collaboration tools that have all the functionality we need. We found a lot to like on Google Wave, and we look forward to future improvements to the medium.
Deborah Fishman is the Network Animator for the PresenTense Group, engaging and empowering the PresenTense community to explore issues facing the Jewish People. As the volunteer managing editor of PresenTense Magazine, Deborah has managed hundreds of volunteer writers, editors, and visionaries. Lisa Colton, Founder and President of Darim Online, was a member of the advisory team for Presentense Magazine’s Digital issue.
Like many, I do a lot of my tweeting through my iPhone when I’m anywhere but my desk. I read while standing in line at the grocery store, or waiting to board an airplane, etc. Often I’ll find great insights or links to resources that I want to follow up on. So I “favorite” them. This little star is a great way for me to flag the best-of, and things I want to return to. They are also a great way for you to tap into what any tweeter really likes. On any profile, just click on “favorites” to see all the tweets that user has favorited.
Often when I hit that little star I’m intending to blog about it. Frequently, I don’t have the time to craft lovely prose about these nuggets of wisdom. But you deserve them. So, I give you a brain dump of some favorited tweets. It’s just a beginning. There will be more brain dumps, I promise.
Click on the links to find rich content, click on the username to see their Twitter profile and add the authors to those you follow. And add your own favorites in the comments below.
By Ellen Dietrick, Director of Congregation Beth Israel Preschool and Kindergarten
Its the season of inclement weather closings. The time tested ways of notifying families of school closings, announcing it through the radio, tv, and a weather closing phone line, produce mixed results. An issue remained: families had to consider that the school might be closed to think to check in with these information sources. At our school, a sudden unexpected flood meant those with flooding basements thought to check if the school was impacted, but those on higher ground went on with their usual routine, never considering that the school might be closed.
A little voice rang in my head: Go to your audience.
With the traditional systems, families had to come to us. How could we get the information straight to them? Email notifications helped, but with children to feed and dress, lunches to pack, and that pesky missing shoe to find, so many families keep the computer off during the early morning hours. Email again requires your audience to come to you. I considered a phone alert system, like those used by politicians, but they were expensive, requiring monthly subscriptions. And not everyone appreciates a 6am wake up call.
Text messaging to the rescue! Now parents receive a text message on their cell phones the instant the decision is made. We still maintain the traditional notification systems, but the text alert gets by far the most praise. From the parents’ prospective, it is direct and simple, and comes straight to them. The information in on hand the moment they wake up. For many they get the text before they go to bed, and can start planning accordingly for the next day. From an administrative prospective, it is easy to use, time efficient, and at 2-5 cents per message, depending on the type of message and the plan you choose, quite affordable.
So those childhood memories of sitting by the radio, waiting as lists of school closings were announced are no longer. An easier way has finally arrived.
How to get started:
There are many text messaging alert options out there. We chose Ez Texting http://www.eztexting.com/
Sign up now. Dont wait until you need to send a message. Advance preparations are critical.
Allow families to opt out. Some phone plans charge for text messages, so not everyone will want to be notified this way. We offered the chance to opt out in our weekly school newsletter and out of 130 people, we had 6 choose to opt out.
Consider your groups. In our case, there may be times we will want to notify just teachers of an emergency schedule change.
Load the cell numbers onto the site, grouping as appropriate.
When you are ready to send a message, simply log in, type your message (the number of characters is limited, so keep it short), and hit send.
And remember to add a cell phone field to every registration form, so you have the information to use.
Last week’s launch of the iPad signaled Apple’s entrance into the digital world’s growing market for the “third device.” While personal computers and cell phones are two distinct devices, some are calling for a gadget to fill the space in between the two. Whether that device is going to be more like the do-all netbook/tablet iPad or a dedicated reader like Amazon’s Kindle is yet to be seen.
What can be said though is that these new devices are not a passing fad. Some hopeful analysts claim that the iPad and Kindle, by offering new format possibilities for books, newspapers and magazines, might just save the media industry. E-books, for example, are currently available for 125,000 titles on Amazon and make up 6 percent of the site’s total sales in books, including 48 percent of all titles available in both formats.But forecasters project sales to grow exponentially in the near future to the point that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has proclaimed that after a successful 500-year run, the book’s time has come.
For the People of the Book, a people not generally known for its early entrance into new technology opportunities, it’s time to start envisioning how things will change as we become the People of the E-book.
How might the Jewish community increase Jewish literacy as more religious and educational resources become digitized in e-formats, and thus become more easily disseminated and accessed?
Will prayer become more individualized as siddurs (prayer books) become available to everyone and can be carried without adding any extra bulk to a briefcase or book bag?
In the old days one hallmark of a professional photographer was that the photog was never without a camera. By that standard, today just about all of us are professionals.
Cell phone cameras are ubiquitous. Now we go through our days visually armed, as it were, often immediately emailing friends the resulting photo reconnaissance of our lives. We post these mega-pixel bits and bytes of our lives in our Facebook albums. We tweet them to whoever will follow. We collect them in vast numbers on our computers. Sometimes they are dark, blurry rectangles that assert simply that we exist. Sometimes they surprise us with unspeakable depth, transforming even a random moment into a powerful enduring memory. Sometimes we make prints of them so they can become our companions, or even turn them into hardcover, realio-trulio coffee-table books all about us.
What does it all mean? Have we all become self-obsessed users of the latest must-have tech-tools for noting, recording and sharing our lives? Or think of this – have we, perhaps, all become historians newly in procession of cutting-edge tools for making meaning. Using these tools is it possible that we can now translate our busy, sometimes chaotic lives into the illustrated narratives that, upon reflection, help us understand who we are, where we fit and what we mean.
Here is a small example of what I am getting at. I have spent about an equal number of years in my life working as a Jewish educator and as a photographer. Recently, I have begun to photograph bar/bat mitzvahs – but with what I believe is an interesting twist that incorporates the sensibilities of both.
It is not just about a party. And it is certainly not about lining up the family and at my prompt encouraging them to, Say cheese. In fact, I do as little directing as possible. Just like you can with your cell cameras at the ready, I am after stories from real life. I begin months before photographing the child studying, working with the rabbi and cantor, documenting the mitzvah project, the party planning, the suit/dress shopping, anything related to any aspect of what is involved in a 21st Century bar/bat mitzvah – taking pictures that ultimatelygive me the raw material to tell a much bigger story. Now a trusted confidant, I interview the child exploring what they make of all the attention being heaped upon them, their Torah reading, their expectations, and their fears. I talk to the parents about their child, their aims for the event, their Jewish identities and what they hope to pass on to their children. Then I weave a narrative words and pictures and I put them in a book a personal history book that can play an important role in helping a family define and express the meaning of the experience.
And, here is something to consider – even the very fact of photographing makes meaning. Remember, Im not talking about a Say cheese grab-shot. But Im also not suggesting anything about the quality of the camera you might use. Im talking about the quality of paying a particular kind of attention that has the capacity to suggest to your young subject that THESE aspects of your process (the study, the talks with the rabbi, the time spent alone drilling words of Torah, etc.) are significant and valuable. And the resulting photographs then can take their rightful place.
And the photographs make the memories. Thats why we take pictures. We grab from the swift flow of undifferentiated life a few split seconds of our lives and say, Stop! Just now I want you to be this age, with these people, in this place forever. Such pictures, especially at peek moments can help to define who we are.
Consider the photo documentation of your own life. How your memories are sparked when you peruse an old album. Look at my big hair! Those are some crazy lapels! Look how beautiful Mom was when she was young. What if the interior monologue could continue Here I am before my Bat Mitzvah. Im so proud that or Wow, this was the first time I touched a Torah. or Here I am in the rabbis study Pie in the sky? Perhaps, but without the photographic jolts to memory over the years the event loses its specificity and its power to shape identity. Identity = authentic experiences, sensitively documented and well remembered. My own, now adult, daughter is still awed by the photos that remind her that all those people had come to see HER.
At a recent Bat Mitzvah the family stood on the bima with the rabbi reciting the Havdalah blessings. They tasted the wine, smelled the spices, illuminated their fingertips but missed, until they saw the photograph, the moment when a daughter, caught up in her thoughts and feelings, rested her head on her mothers shoulder. It lasted for a second. Went unnoticed. But the photograph now has great familial power. The photograph creates the memory. The memory is inexorably tied to this very intimate and Jewish moment.
You have the tools. You have the digital means to enter the rush of ones and zeros and use it to stop time, to write histories, to interpret the present in service of the future, to fill the histories of those around you with the memories of Jewish moments. And these moments make meaning. They illustrate the narratives through which we come to know who we are.
The Meaning of Family Photographs by Charles Williams
David Frank was a photojournalist and graphics editor at various newspapers in Michigan before becoming a Jewish educator and the Director of Conferences at CAJE. He is a storyteller, always trying to tell the public story, the back story, the whole story – your story. He makes art out of both the simple and the sublime moments in life. He lives in New Jersey. You can learn more about his photography at http://www.davidfrankphoto.com
Anyone remember the Burger King campaign last year — defriend (or unfriend) 10 people on Facebook and we’ll give you a burger? Regardless of what you think of the campaign or Whoppers, their ad agency jumped on the beginning of a trend that is really coming to fruition in 2010. The Oxford English Dictionary even named “unfriend” a 2009 word of the year (along with “tweetup”).
As Facebook and Twitter have become so mainstream, and friending so casual, our rolls of friends and followers have grown extensive. Maybe too extensive. Just at that time when we’re trying to manage our precious time and sort through reams of content to find the gems, it is our own “friends” weighing us down. Dunbar proposed that any individual could really only have 150 stable social relationships at any given time. Others propose that with tools such as Facebook we can manage higher numbers. In a recent update, Facebook set the number of people to show up in your news feed to 250 (which you can change). While it may be true that our maximum number is far over Dunbar’s 150, many people are starting to approach their limit and are pruning their social network gardens.
There are two things you should be thinking about:
How should I pare my friends and people I’m following to get the most bang for my social-media-hour-buck?
How are other people making decisions about paring their lists, and how should I position myself to stay on the friends list of those I care about? (note: you may not care about all of them)
How you answer these questions will depend on your business, your brand, your audience, your goals, and how you have been using these tools. People want value (which can be information, insight, humor, etc.). People also want to be talked with, not talked at.
One of the challenges is that when you’ve mixed company in your friend or follower list, there’s not one clear value proposition. For example, family wants pics of your kids, college friends want to know what you’re reading, business colleagues want professional insights, customers/clients/members want meaty information and connection. You cannot please all of the people all of the time.
Some people have dealt with this by creating multiple profiles — in some cases with hard lines (members of the congregation can befriend a staff person here but not there), and in some cases much softer lines (e.g. I tweet about Jewish social media and innovation at @darimonline, and I tweet personally about kids, chickens, music and other things at @lisacolton) where you’re welcome to friend or follow in both places, but at least you know what you’re getting (or as the writer, what you’re giving) with greater specificity.
I predict that the next waves of functionality and privacy updates from Facebook and Twitter will offer greater control over sorting these groups (they’ve already begun), targeting content to this group or that, and being able to hide or categorize friends and followers with greater ease to create customized feeds (how cool would it be to login to Facebook at work and see only updates from professional colleagues, and get home and login to see updates only from friends and family?).
In the meantime, put these on your to-do list:
Be educated about privacy and friend list categorization opportunities on Facebook. There’s more control there than you probably realize or use.
Set up friend lists, and each time you accept a new friend, add them to a list. When you use your settings you’ll be able to count on knowing who’s getting what info. See a tutorial here.
Be aware that the functionality, policies, and culture of these tools will continue to adapt and change, so adopt a nimble stance (modern “sea legs”) and keep educating yourself.
Think about how you can talk with your community, not just talk at them. Experts suggest a ratio of 1:12 (or even 1:20) — for every one self-promoting post (“come to our young adults event Tues evening…”) you should add value 12 times. What value can you offer? What questions can you ask to tap into your community? What conversations are happening related to your work and how can you participate? And don’t forget to LISTEN.
Discuss among staff how people are managing these issues. There may be creative ideas, and you may or may not want to have everyone on the same page and taking the same approach. Either way, staff should be aware of expectations as employees if they are engaging with members, prospects, board members or donors. You should consider drafting a social media policy or guidelines, or revisiting to existing policies. See info here from Wild Apricot and info here from Beth Kanter and sample policies here.
How are you identifying what your target audiences want to hear, learn and discuss? How are you thinking about what to post and/or tweet? Where are you adding value and growing your online community? How will you know if people and dropping out and why?
In the coming days and weeks we’ll be sharing 10 things you should have on your radar screen for 2010. If you’re already on top of them – mazel tov. Share with us what you’re doing in the comments. If not, time to get hip to the new decade. Don’t put it off. This isn’t the future, it’s the present, so pay attention.
To kick us off, mobile mobile mobile. Everybody’s got a phone in their pocket, and increasingly it’s a pretty intelligent one. The iPhone, Blackberry, Android and others are taking over the market, and shaking up the status quo. Assume that people are looking for and engaging with you while on the go, not just while sitting at their desk.
Some things to know:
Compose your emails for easy reading on a mobile device. Send a test and check it out on a Blackberry and iPhone. Some Blackberry users are reporting a lack of patience with graphic emails because it takes too much time to wade through. “Give me the bullet points and important information straight up and in brief” seems to be the attitude.
Start learning about fundraising via mobile. I just made my first donation by text message to a radio show I love, This American Life, when I saw a tweet. $5 went on my AT&T bill. So easy! Check out http://www.mobilegiving.org/ to see how they do it. Sophist Productions has been hosting events (a UJA Young Leadership cocktail party, for example) where people “text to pledge” their donation, and pledges are projected on the wall. Yes, it is a new world. And it works. Read more here on text-to-give programs.
Redesigning or tuning up your website? Make sure you’ve got a mobile friendly version. Check out a Google tool here to see what your web site can look like on a mobile browser. Beth Kanter iPhone-ized her blog with an easy $200 IPhone app tool. Learn about it here.
Twitter was conceived of, and largely used as a mobile tool. Thus, don’t neglect this community when you are putting together a mobile strategy.
Want to learn more?
http://mobileactive.org/ is a great org with useful resources and a discussion list on how nonprofits are using mobile in their work.
http://www.mobilecommons.com/ offers services for marketing, advocacy and fundraising via mobile (and thanks to Mobile Commons for donating their services for our Boot Camps)
What would Eliezer Ben Yehuda Tweet? Well, from what we know of the eccentric father of modern Hebrew, he probably would have found the technology (let alone the prospect of naming it) overwhelming. But that doesn’t mean we have to…
The project is an outgrowth of NJOPs popular Read Hebrew America program, said NJOP publicist Ilya Welfeld, founded with the idea of reaching people who arent inclined to join a community class the Jewish Tweets social media brand was a perfect background, providing a little kitsch and allowing people to learn Hebrew in bite-sized pieces.
Right away, almost 200 people officially registered, Welfeld said, noting that these are just the people who proactively want to be receiving everything directly to them. But on a daily basis, several hundred people are participating however theywant. The intent was to create learning that was atyour own pace, in your own space.