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Are you setting up your parish websites for failure?

Earlier this year, a study found that religious websites have more malware than porn websites. Unfortunately, this is not too surprising.

Pornography sites are often run by very profitable media conglomerates, and it's in their best interests to have reliable, fast websites. Religious websites (like your parish website, or a site for a small nonprofit) are often run on a shoestring budget and maintained by volunteers, if at all.

In the past, when websites were mostly static pages, and sites were hosted mostly on shared hosting, where the hosting provider provided (somewhat) timely server patches, leaving things be didn't cause much of an issue. But nowadays, with most parish websites running on Wordpress, Joomla, Drupal, or some other CMS that involves a database, PHP, Django, and/or other layers of services, leaving things be is a very, very bad idea.

Additionally, with many more developers and small development companies seeing the value of VPS hosting instead of shared hosting, servers themselves are lagging behind in terms of updated server software (Apache, PHP, MySQL, Linux, Rails, etc.). In fact, web servers are targeted more than Windows XP by hackers, mostly because so many are way behind on security updates (or have never been updated since they were originally built!).

Free the Word - Allowing Access to Evangelical Church Texts

Brandon Vogt has posted a petition on his website titled Free the Word: Why the Church Needs to Release Her Teachings to the World. I've posted on Open Source Catholic about the same topic in the past (see the links at the bottom of this post), and I'm glad to see this getting more attention.

The problem: Right now, many of the faithful are being restricted from fully sharing Scripture and other teachings of the Church in the most effective ways. We need to be flooding the world with the lumen fidei—the light of faith—yet there are current Church policies preventing this from happening.

The current licensing policies for the most essential texts and teachings of the Church (e.g. the Bible, the Catechism, encyclicals, etc.) are making it difficult, expensive, or impossible for Catholics to fairly reproduce and share them. This well-meaning but imprudent policy is directly hampering the Church's evangelistic mission.

More entries on OSC relating to open access to Church texts:

My Confessor app/service - know when your priest is hearing confessions

God may be omnipresent — but His priests aren’t.

So a holy man in Madison, Wisc., has turned to app development, along with divine guidance, to find a better way to tend to the needs of his 800-family flock.

Father Richard Heilman is launching a My Confessor App that will let his parishioners know when and where he is available to listen to their sins.

After 25 years in the ministry, Heilman believes Catholics could do with a bit more priest-and-me time. His preferred dosage is at least once a month.

“Maybe more often if you’re dealing with repetitive sin,” Heilman told The News. “A lot of us aren’t in a state of grace and confessions help that grace flow freely.”

Continue reading on the New York Daily News website

Rev. Heilman's service, and the priestly ministry from which it flows, is spot-on, and very much needed. I hope he can make the app/service work even better and gain adoption by many more parishes around the country. If I can see how long it will take me to get a haircut anywhere within 100 miles of a city, and schedule my next haircut; why can't I see if a priest is available for confession at one of the hundreds of parishes in any given diocese? To say nothing of mass times, adoration times, etc.

Check out the My Confessor website and app »

A New Kind of Church Directory, Built on Open Source

I recently launched a little site for finding Catholic parishes and mass times called parish.io. It takes a very different approach to gathering parish info and mass times than other sites in this category. Not only is this approach beneficial to users (more accurate and complete mass schedules), I think it's of particular interest to other software developers.

Rather than relying on manual data entry, parish.io gathers all of its info by scraping diocese and parish sites. It took months of hacking to validate the concept and develop the scraping logic, and while it's not perfect (some parishes just don't have sites, or don't provide mass times, or put them in unparseable formats), overall I'm quite happy with the results I'm seeing. Here's what I used to build it:

Python: My programming language of choice. Database aside, everything that follows is a Python library.

lxml: Don't be fooled by the name. lxml is just as capable of parsing HTML as XML, especially given its support for CSS selectors (similar to jQuery). It's very fast, and ably handles most poorly formed HTML. Some people are partial to the API in BeautifulSoup, but a few small hangups aside, lxml has performed so well that I've never been very tempted to switch.

Created a new App for my kids

On May 3, 2013, myself and three others, launched a new app into the world of iOS. We have been working on this app for what seems like forever. This app crosses over into my personal life, as well as business.

Two years ago, my wife and I were trying to teach our kids a little more about the rich history the church has with Saints. Some of the more famous ones come to mind: St. Mary, St. Joseph, St. Christopher, things from my childhood, typical Catholic Saints. Together we couldn't remember much. Since both of us are practicing Catholics, we wanted to share this with our kids. The trouble was, there just wasn't much out there that we found useful for our 3-7 year olds, that wasn't too graphic, too long, or very 'modern'. It was also spread out all over the place, and wasn't easy to keep coming back to. We wanted something handy, something that our kids could play with.

I started out by trying to learn xcode, but by the time I learned enough to get about half way into the design of the app, the OS was updated. I wasn't familiar with Objective C at all, so it was a bit of stretch. After three frustrating attempts, I decided I wanted the App to come out before, phones went away, and we were all wearing watches or glass. 

I turned to hire a developer to help me out, and things finally started to move forward. A long story short we had launched this past Friday. The next project I am aiming is to pick up the code for the Diocese App of opensourcecatholic and bring it into a couple of my web projects.

#ThanksPontifex - a Twitter Storm to Thank the Pope

I wanted to thank the Pope as he retired but I didn't know how. I happen to work with youth ministry, so I also wanted a way for teens to get involved. Then this idea came to me, why don't we create a Twitter storm of thank-you messages. If we got enough, our tag would appear on "Trending" for all users on twitter even non-Catholics.

I mentioned it to a few who have more followers than I on twitter and got a positive response. So now I would like to invite you to participate with the tag #ThanksPontifex.

We want to have messages being posted all day on the 27th and 28th to trend. Then at the moment the Pope retires (7:45-8:15pm Rome time on the 28th) we want to try and occupy multiple of the top 10 trending worldwide spots. Once #ThanksPontifex tops the list, we can add in #PontifexThanks, #PontifexThanks, #TYBenedictXVI, and #ThanksBenedictXVI in that order.

Many tweets are good with @Pontifex at the beginning. I think it is best if everyone personalizes it a bit after adding the one tag - then I think the tag will trend better. (Nobody knows the secret formula to determine trending on Twitter.)

I have a bunch of model tweets and programs to schedule tweets at a more in depth post on my own blog.

I'll add you to the list if you tweet to me @22Catholic.

2013 World Communications Day: Social Networks

Pope Benedict XVI released his message for this year's World Communications Day (which will be May 12th), with the theme Social Networks: portals of truth and faith; new spaces for evangelization.

...At times the gentle voice of reason can be overwhelmed by the din of excessive information and it fails to attract attention which is given instead to those who express themselves in a more persuasive manner. The social media thus need the commitment of all who are conscious of the value of dialogue, reasoned debate and logical argumentation; of people who strive to cultivate forms of discourse and expression which appeal to the noblest aspirations of those engaged in the communication process. Dialogue and debate can also flourish and grow when we converse with and take seriously people whose ideas are different from our own....

Read the whole thing here: Message of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI for the 47th World Communications Day.

Hat tip to Whispers in the Loggia.

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