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LDS Church using the Internet to its advantage

Published: Thursday, Oct. 8 2009 12:16 a.m. MDT

PROVO, Utah — Official LDS Church content on the Web now branches beyond lds.org.

And more is coming.

There are "Mormon Messages" on YouTube, the Mormon Channel streaming online and several sites designed specifically for search engine optimization. Future offerings may include personalized online general conference journals, upgraded ward directories and content for mobile phones.

"We all believe and know that the Lord has given us (technology) for a purpose," said Ron Schwendiman, manager of curriculum processes for the LDS Church.

Schwendiman recently gave a Campus Education Week audience a look at what is and "what might be" for the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints online, offering examples of how the church is both broadening its reach and enhancing online resources for members.

One effective project involved a venture into unlikely territory. Schwendiman pointed to the church's success on YouTube — which can be a "scary place."

"There's a lot of bad stuff on YouTube," he said.

The LDS Church, however, now has an official channel on the site where it broadcasts Mormon Messages — general conference vignettes set to music and video. They're easy to produce, Schwendiman said, and the church posts one or two per week.

About 549,000 people watched an Easter message given by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, making it the No. 1 video on the site. Many of the viewers and those making comments were not church members, Schwendiman said.

"It is amazing how many views we get," he said. "That is the kind of direction we're now headed as we're trying to proclaim more of the messages of the Restoration."

The church has also developed about 20 different Web sites specifically for search engine optimization. One example is lds.org/jesuschrist. It differs from jesuschrist.lds.org, a site launched last year, in that it is built specifically for Google searches.

Such sites are designed for general audiences and serve as a gateway to content on the church's primary Web site. There are sites dedicated to family, prayer and church leaders such as Presidents Thomas S. Monson and Gordon B. Hinckley.

Schwendiman emphasized the importance of making edifying and compelling content easier to find.

"We're trying to improve that," he said, adding that a team of 20 people is focused solely on making the search experience better.

One area of focus is language transition. Different language options for content do exist on lds.org but haven't been promoted because they're difficult to navigate.

Schwendiman said the goal is to have 10 languages available in a consistent format with navigable screens within the next year.

Those who are interested in learning about projects under development have a few options. LDSTech is an open, public site that provides "a glimpse into" the technical work being done by the church.

Labs.lds.org is where church members can experience ideas under development and offer feedback, though some are just "rough concepts." The site is a "closed environment," Schewendiman said, and requires a user name and password.

Church members can create a login for labs.lds.org at the new LDS Account site, which will eventually create a "single sign-on experience" for all the church's Web sites, Schwendiman said.

One of the projects currently on the labs site is a general conference experience. The site features a search tool for finding talks by session, speaker, topic or keyword, while a "personalized study" tool allows users to tag, highlight and add notes to the text of talks and save them in a personal journal.

Other projects include a revamped ward directory site, a youth experience site, and general conference and ward directory options for mobile browsers.

Worldwide there are more cell phone users than Internet users, Schwendiman said, and developers are "trying to figure out ways we can move to the phone."

With Mormon Radio now online, an online TV station is also a future possibility, Schwendiman said.

He acknowledged that Latter-day Saints are hungry for more features, but providing what members need and want is not an easy process, Schwendiman said. It requires people, time and, in the case of lds.org, an investment in new technology.

"The church has over 60 million page views a month and over 100,000 pages of content on lds.org," Schwendiman added later. "It all takes work."

Lds.org has exceeded its foundational technology, making it difficult to implement new features that members need and want.

"They're on the plan, but it isn't as easy as it sounds," he said. "We're in a transition."

e-mail: ashill@desnews.com

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