– Sarah McCulloch, DUP UK Webmaster, 2018
For many people, a website is the digital equivalent of a display board in a church hall – a flat space where you pin up sheets of paper with information that people can glance at on their way past to somewhere else. And for many people, that is what they are, because so many people build their websites to meet that ideal.
But this is a very nascent form of website. There’s nothing “wrong” with this. It is better to meditate for five minutes a day than to try for an hour and never meditate at all. Perhaps it turns out that you never have more than five minutes and that is your spiritual practice indefinitely – that’s still a regular practice. But in the same way that as spiritual seekers, we practice, practice, practice to find and express our most authentic selves with the guidance of our teachers and divine love, so too should we see our online presences. A website in its fullest form is nothing less than a living, breathing expression of who we are, or our group, or our service, that other people can seek out and interact with. We should be prepared to give ourselves to the service of others with the guidance of experts such as programmers or web developers who can realise our needs in ways in which we are not capable. That requires investment of our time, our money, and meditation on the questions, “Who am I? What can I give? ‘Knock and the door shall be opened unto you (Matt. 7:7)’: if someone knocks on my door, what will they find?”
A website, or indeed any material which we imbue with our energy, such as a leaflet, is like sheet music – in one sense it can be just a record, but in a much greater sense it is a transmission. There must be a user who can read and perform the sheet music, even if that user is the creator themselves. Sheet music is written using a common language of notation that means that other people can come across it and understand what it is that you are trying to teach them. In the same way, when someone visits your website, the content must be written and presented in an accessible way that they can understand and use what they find there.
So, when creating or maintaining a website, we must consider firstly what it is that *we* are trying to accomplish, but *also* what are the needs of the user who finds their way to your website? What are they looking for? What are *they* trying to accomplish? How can we make that better, easier, more pleasurable a task? One of the most famous rabbis, Hillel, said: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?” (Pirkei Avot, 1:14).
Creating a website can be a full-time job for dozens, even hundreds, of people, so it’s very easy for our little website to take over our lives and be a constant source of stress and dissatisfaction. This is also not desirable. We want websites to meet the needs of those who come to us but at the same time, what we create must remain within our control and reflect the time and skills that we have available for it. I often say to people who are just starting out on their digital journey, “yes, you can set up a blog and you can update it weekly, and you will find that emphasised in numerous tutorials online – but if you’re not going to do it, or you’re going to feel a constant sense of pressure upon you, do not commit yourself to it.” Likewise with social media – if you’re someone who loves to document and take photos of what you’re doing and share thoughts and ideas that come to you, social media is going to be an effortless, joyful way of communicating with others. If you are an experiential person who likes to create an atmosphere in the moment and uses the phone or written word only to organise in-person gatherings – you’re going to find maintaining a social media account burdensome, and you’ll have to find a balance between social media as a necessary marketing tool and your own competing energies. We have to listen to ourselves and understand what we are prepared to do, and how far we are prepared to go.
In addition to this inner curriculum, there is an external curriculum. You know what you need, but what are the needs of others? What do they think? Very, very rarely will people be able to tell you exactly what they need or want directly, so often, you will have to have roundabout conversations to draw out what is said, but also the unsaid. Identify the problems and then sense what solution meets their needs and your time commitment (and your wallet!)
Ask! Hear! Act!
To summarise, here are principles of love, harmony and beauty to consider when editing/updating your website or your webpage:
Love – Fruition – What am I trying to teach the person who visits this website? Am I aiming this content at people like me? People of different ages? People who are from my area or who are outside my country? People who are already interested in what I have to say, or people who are looking to try something new? How do I need to present this content to make sure they will resonate with it and not be put off the message by the format of the message?
And what are people visiting for? What are the search terms that people are using to find my website? Are they getting the answers that they are looking for, or do I need to add something? How are people accessing my website, for example, are a lot of people visiting using their phones, and I need to make sure my website is mobile friendly? Am I aiming to use this website only for people that I interact with offline, or do I want to use it as a means of reaching new people?
Harmony – Function – Is this website easy to use? Do it have a poor loading time, for example, because I have it set to play music and that slows down the rest of the content? Can people visit the front page and find within a couple of clicks most of the major content of my website? Are there ways I can make things easier for myself and for them that are cost-effective – for example, do I have enough users that’s it worth investing in creating an electronic booking form, or a payment system? If I have a calendar, how can I arrange that to make it easy for people to find events in a specific location, or with a certain person? Are there extra steps in any process available on my website that are barriers I can eliminate? What information can I offer that will help people to make decisions?
Beauty – Form – What does my website look like? What impression does it give of me/my group/my service? How am I using colour, wording, images and content layout to provide a consistent transmission across my website and associated materials so people can instantly understand what they are looking at? Does it look nice? Are there bits that are misaligned, or look out of place, that I need to fix or ask someone else to? Do I have large chunks of text that I need to break up with paragraphs, images, subheadings to make it easier to read?
“Beyond rightdoing and wrongdoing, there is a field: I will meet you there.” – Rumi
There is no ultimate right or wrong way to make a website, what one person needs is something that another finds aesthetically unpleasing, or a drain on their time. Like altars, websites are personal expressions of what resonates within ourselves that also have to be shaped to the needs of the purpose for which we are building that altar in the first place. The difference between a simple, crafted altar, and an altar which has been thrown together without love and care, is something we can all feel. Even the most basic website, planted and tended regularly, can be a sacred blessing.
“As she has planted, so does she harvest: such is the field of karma” – Guru Granth Sahib
The only unchanging truth is that everything changes. People now inhabit a cyberspace that is just as real as the illusory reality we live in. We must meet them there, and sanctify that space, shape it b’tselem Elohim, in the image of the One, and share the message. Allahu Akbar.