This week we’re looking at how religious organizations are using Web technology. Yesterday we reviewed LifeChurch.tv, an innovative Christian website. Today we check out what the Shalom Hartman Institute, from Jerusalem in Israel, is doing on the Web. Alan Abbey, the Website Manager of Shalom Hartman Institute, told us about his site in the comments to our previous post.
Hartman, wrote Abbey, is “a wide-ranging Jewish educational and leadership training institute”. The Institute trains and ordains rabbis and runs religious high schools for boys and girls in Jerusalem, among other things.
Abbey told us that he has done “a significant amount of research into the Jewish world’s usage of Web 2.0 features”. And it is clear from Abbey’s presence on the site that he is working hard at putting that Web theory into practice.
Alan Abbey listed the following Web initiatives for his organization:
- Weekly postings of original, Op-Ed length essays by the leaders and scholars on topics of interest to the Jewish/Israeli worlds. “We include “talkbacks” (reader comments) on our articles, some of which draw large responses”, said Abbey.
- Educational material, including complete course syllabuses.
- Stream and host video lectures from the scholars and leaders, both onsite and offsite. Abbey said that they’re using “Blip.tv for full-length videos, YouTube for short ones (we were named 2nd most-viewed Israeli non-profit on YouTube), and Jewish video sites Yideoz.com and JewTube.com for additional distribution (although both sites have their technical issues).”
- Video-enabled distance learning to rabbis, teachers and community leaders in North America. Abbey told us that they are “transitioning this fall to online video via Ustream.tv and/or Mogulus.com.” As a matter of interest, LifeChurch.tv also uses Mogulus.
- A blog running on wordpress.com, “to allow us to use some Hebrew, to enhance search, and to give a less formal view of our activities.” Abbey said that they’re also building sites for some of their leading individuals.
- Hartman is developing an iTunes podcast, both audio and video versions.
- Abbey says that they are “working on enhancing the Wikipedia entries others have created.”
- The Institute is developing a Facebook strategy. As of now, Abbey uses his own Facebook page to promote the Institute’s content and videos. He’s also created a Facebook group for a group of North American rabbis studying with them. “I regularly place our material on related Jewish/Israeli FB groups”, said Abbey, “as well as promote through Twitter.” He noted that several of their groups use Google or Yahoo groups too, which he wants to formalize some more.
One of the challenges that Abbey notes, is getting their users to participate in social networking on the Web. Abbey puts this down to their audience being “older than the standard online audience”, but he thinks they are “slowly making headway.”
As with LifeChurch.tv, Hartman is making particularly good use of online video. Whereas an apparently well-funded LifeChurch effectively built their own online tv service, Hartman makes use of Blip.tv and YouTube and other third party providers. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, indeed it’s often a good move because you can tap into existing communities. Alan Abbey wrote in a recent post that “more than 25,000 people have viewed Hartman Institute videos since we began posting them on the Web, and that’s not counting the thousands who have seen them on our website’s Digital Lectures channel”.
Overall Hartman’s web presence makes good use of current trends such as online video, RSS and blogging. They are making progress with other trends, such as social networking and online education. It has to be noted that the web design is relatively no-frills, but that can be gradually worked on over time.
It’s pleasing to see the Op-Eds sometimes attracting large comments. This indicates that the move towards individual sites for leaders will pay off in the long run, provided those sites are more like blogs than static websites. Similarly, we encourage Hartman to continue to explore ways to entice their users and students to participate on the site – whether it be in writing, video, photos, or any other creative online activity.
Finally, with Alan Abbey leading Hartman’s web efforts, the Institute has a passionate web advocate. You really can’t ask for more in any organization! Well done Alan and keep up the great work.
In the comments, we’d love to find out about other religious organizations and the web activities they’re doing. Don’t be shy about promoting your own sites, or those you know of in your particular faith.