Social Media Isn’t All Bad

Or why I loved building a new site for Help One Now

October 17, 2012

My memories of grad school philosophy classes are a mingling of confusion, trauma, and contempt for long dead authors with too much time on their hands. Somewhere in that swirling of dread, a few interesting quotes have survived. One that I think of often is

The birth of the reader comes at the death of the author.

I’ve ascribed this quote a few times to Foucault (you know, in casual conversation), but a quick Google search today tells me I should have been giving the credit to Barthes. I don’t even remember hearing about Barthes. See? Confusion.

What Barthes was saying, at least as far as I understand, is that once an author completes a work, they give it away to the reader. The author’s efforts and desire to have something to say are finished, and now the reader finds their own meaning in the words, perhaps far from what the author intended. (And my interpretation of that may be far from what Barthes intended, which only proves my point. And maybe his, but he’s dead.)

I experience something of that quite often as I make websites for individuals and organizations. Often, as I wrap up a website and turn over the keys, I see it continue to grow and evolve in the hands of who I built it for. Sometimes, that is hard to watch, and I’ll just leave it at that. But often it is a thrill to sit back and watch the site give birth to all sorts of new content and connections.

A few weeks ago, I got to launch a new site that I’m proud to have had a hand in, and excited to continue to work on as we build in new phases. It is the site for Help One Now, a non-profit I’ve served on the board for since 2009. The original site we’d built was hobbling along with a tired old design and a backend held together by duct tape. My friend Scott Wade designed the site, and I rolled up my sleeves to work on building it out.

Stage 1 was launched around September 1. It was a basic content site, bringing in the original blog and some basic content pages. Even so, we built in quite a bit of custom functionality as we wanted the content pages to have a lot of flexibility.

It was the launch of Stage 2, earlier this month, that has me most excited. One of the primary initiatives of Help One Now is to offer sponsorships for orphaned or vulnerable children in countries like Haiti and Zimbabwe through close connections with local national leaders. We were making due with a child sponsorship site I had built three years ago, but had now outgrown. The new site has payments built in to streamline the process, and will allow sponsors to return to the page for write a note to the child or receive updates from the child’s community.

Social media gets it share of critique, from being a minor distraction to a saturation of new marketing. But last week, I remembered how good it can be too. Help One Now took a group of well known bloggers to Haiti to tell the stories of the children and the local leaders there who are caring for them. We got the new sponsorship up in the nick of time — maybe even a tick or two beyond the nick, but it was live. It was fun to follow the updates to the trip through Twitter, Facebook, and blog posts. But I had my own unique view, checking in the dashboard once or twice each day to see how many kids were being sponsored. Or perhaps better said, how many meals were being put on tables, medications were being purchased and educations were being provided.

My family sponsors Chantal, that beautiful girl pictured above. She still needs four more sponsors. Maybe you’d like to join us?

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