2013 General Assembly Report from the Department of Internet Ministry
The following report was delivered by Douglas Cramer, director of the Department of Internet Ministry, at the July 2013 Antiochian Archdiocese General Assembly, convened in Houston, Texas.
The Department of Internet Ministry serves the online communications needs of the Antiochian Archdiocese. The department's team works to share the wisdom and expertise that exists across the workers and ministries of our Archdiocese, by sharing their stories and vital resources with the more than 60,000 monthly visitors to our website at www.Antiochian.org.
The Department of Internet Ministry was created in 2008 to serve the communications needs of our Archdiocese by providing a professional-quality Internet publishing platform at our official website, www.Antiochian.org, focused on the presentation on the World Wide Web of the vibrant life and work of our Church. The department has been blessed with remarkable stability in the makeup of the team over the years, and good professional relationships despite working at a distance from each other.
The staff of the department includes director Douglas Cramer, editors Ginny Nieuwsma and Andrew Frishman, and technical consultant Michael Brooks. The team is in regular contact via phone and email, and makes use of software tools for virtual team project management. Critical guidance and insight has been provided on an ongoing basis by Fr. George Kevorkian, liaison to the department for His Eminence Metropolitan Philip since the department’s creation. In 2013, His Grace Bishop Nicholas was assigned as hierarchical overseer for the department.
Our work at the department falls in to several different categories: administrative, technical, design, and editorial. Ongoing work includes the development of website content, features and functionality in support of the Archdiocese headquarters, as well as our dioceses, departments and organizations. Original content is also continually being developed and special projects completed, such as the new website section for the House of Studies and ongoing efforts in support of the pan-jurisdictional Assembly of Canonical Bishops of North and Central America.
Our work requires us to continually engage with a range of contributors, for whom it is critical that we provide a publishing platform for their needs. Many people across the Archdiocese and the broader Orthodox world have contributed content to our site. In particular, we thank the following people for their ongoing contributions to Antiochian.org:
Vicar General of the Antiochian Archdiocese, Fr. Thomas Zain; His Grace Bishop Basil; His Grace Bishop Thomas; Registrars Amy Robinson and Sandra Abdel Mesih; Joanne Hakim and Michael Srour of the Order of St. Ignatius; Dept. of Christian Education director Carole Buleza; Dept. of Sacred Music director Chris Holwey; Ancient Faith Media director John Maddex; Dept. of Youth director Fr. Joseph Purpura; Dept. of Chaplains director Fr. George Morelli; Elaine Moore of the Dept. of Liturgics; and all the clergy and laity of the Archdiocese who have contributed content.
The primary work of the department is the ongoing design, upkeep, and improvement of the www.Antiochian.org domain, which has grown to be a large and complex website. The site consists of over 13,000 pages, with more than 30,000 attached files. The information architecture of Antiochian.org can be seen in the drop-down menu navigation at the top of each page. There are sections dedicated to the Archdiocese in general, and to each Diocese, Department, and Organization, more than 50 in all. These sections have been built and are maintained by the department. Some are more static, with content added or updated a couple of times a year; many are much more active, with new content publishing monthly or weekly. Antiochian.org also includes sections and resources not connected with specific departments or organizations, for example our popular Discover Orthodox Christianity section, the website calendar, and our Memory Eternal section.
The most important page on Antiochian.org is the homepage. Over the past 5 years, the audience has grown from approximately 40,000 unique visitors to the Antiochian.org website each month, to 60,000/month. Of that traffic, the vast majority is to our homepage. For example, in March 2013 we had 40,000 pageviews of our homepage. Our second most popular page, the Lenten section, had 5,000 pageviews. Much of the team's focus is on the selection and creation of articles that are published to the homepage, in the main Featured Articles section and the News sidebar section. There is also much demand for the space used for graphical buttons published on the homepage sidebar.
Drupal Software Platform
The primary software the department uses every day is Drupal. It is from a category of web publishing software called open-source content management systems, or CMS. The leading CMS today is WordPress, which is used to run blogs and small-to-medium websites. Drupal is a more powerful CMS that can be used to build and run websites small and large, and is used by a wide range of high profile organizations. For example, the current website of the White House is built and run with Drupal. Drupal is installed in our server environment, and allows us to create and edit website content and perform a wide range of administrative and design tasks, without needing to do any coding. We use a web-based interface; when one of our team is logged in to the website, we are presented with additional menus and interfaces to work on the site right in our browsers.
Drupal consists of core software, and then what it refers to as user-contributed modules. Modules expand Drupal's core functionality, and are developed and maintained by the Drupal community of developers and made available through www.Drupal.org. For example, we run a module that allows us to provide Google map locations for parishes in our parish directory. Our current configuration consists of core Drupal and about 100 contributed modules, and a handful of custom-coded modules we wrote ourselves.
The Archdiocese made the decision to use Drupal before the creation of the department, and over the years we've all learned a lot about the toolset. Drupal has a reputation for having a steep learning curve, but with training has proven a very effective publishing tool. The department has invested in ongoing training, which has helped the team keep pace with its rapid growth. Our technical consultant, Michael Brooks, is primarily focused on Drupal development work for his clients. While we remain aware of other technologies and toolsets in the industry, specialization in Drupal continues to be a strong long-term investment for our department and the Archdiocese.
Hosting and Server Configuration
Our website depends on a server environment called a "LAMP stack": a software configuration of Linux (operating system), Apache (web services software), MySQL (database software), and PHP (programming language). This is the root software running in a data center server environment, provided by our web hosting company. Our web hosting is currently provided by NST, as part of their overall services for the Archdiocese. We're in the process of migrating to a web host named Acquia, a company that specializes in hosting complex enterprise-level websites built on our Drupal software platform, particularly for non-profit organizations. We're working towards being fully migrated to the new host this summer.
Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops
Beginning in June 2010, our department joined a collaborative effort to create and maintain a website for the pan-jurisdictional Assembly of Bishops. Communication for the Assembly is coordinated by the Secretary of the Assembly, His Grace Bishop Basil, and the Assembly Secretariat staff. A small team of staff from our department and from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Department of Internet Ministries works with the Secretariat to build content and features available at www.assemblyofbishops.org.
In March 2013, the Assembly of Bishops convened a meeting of Internet staff from across the Orthodox jurisdictions of America at St. Vladimir’s Seminary. The Antiochian Archdiocese was represented by Douglas Cramer and Ginny Nieuwsma, and significant steps were taken on planning future website resources of benefit to the Assembly, and the Antiochian online ministry.
Chair, Department of Internet Ministry
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