It's very egalitarian'
"You have a new friend request."
Soon that message could find its way into your e-mail inbox on a regular basis, if you join MyUCC, a new social networking community coming this Spring to www.ucc.org.
MyUCC will be a grassroots, user-driven community - much like Facebook or MySpace - where registered users will build online profiles, join groups, write blogs, post comments, upload photos and more.
"This is going to revolutionize the way people experience the UCC online and engage one another at <ucc.org> as members of the same denomination," says the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, the UCC's director of communications. The denomination's Proclamation, Identity and Communication Ministry hopes to launch the interactive site by mid-March, but plans to test it beforehand with several constituency groups, including the UCC's Facebook group.
While Guess says the denomination isn't under the illusion that it's going to compete with the wildly popular Facebook, it does hope to offer a companion experience.
"A lot of users of conventional networking sites, such as Facebook, tell us they are wary of appearing ‘too religious' among their cadre of friends," explains Guess. "We've heard from many youth and young adults that they would love to have a social networking community that allows them to explore their spiritual sides, talk about church and religion, and share thoughts about their faith, without others thinking they are some kind of religious fanatic."
And while Guess anticipates that many people will want to explore theological topics, he also hopes there will be no limit to the scope of the conversations. "We hope it will be a place to talk about religion, but also pop culture, politics, justice, music, books - whatever interests you."
For many who are not accustomed to social networking, MyUCC will be a new kind of web experience, because MyUCC's content will be generated from users, not necessarily the church's national staff.
"It's very egalitarian," Guess says. "It's very bottom-up, and for people who long for a controlled, top-down way of sharing information, it's going to take some getting used to."
Dan Hazard, the UCC's web manager, emphasizes that the UCC is not abandoning its longstanding commitment to engaging Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Twitter and other popular sites to build relationships with and among constituents.
"We will still be active on these sites, as much as ever," Hazard says. "But we're also integrating that technology into our site so that our users will have a similar experience at <ucc.org>. We think it's important for people to be able to create their own content that reflects their own personalities and perspectives."
MyUCC will be policed by its users, and individuals will be asked to flag inappropriate content or photos that will be reviewed and possibly removed by the UCC's web staff, Hazard says.
Users will be offered an integrated log-in experience, meaning that they will have the same user name and password for the entire website, including MyUCC.
As long promised
MyUCC is a long time in the making. Too long, some feel.
In June 2007, the UCC's national setting announced that <ucc.org> was migrating to a new web-hosting company, known as Get Active, which offered many new, innovative functionalities. However, within weeks of manually relocating 10,000 pages of its website, Get Active was purchased by its primary competitor, Convio, and much of the planned interactive elements became stalled due to the takeover.
"These community-building tools were anticipated to be part of the website's relaunch back in 2007," explains Guess. "But we're now at the place where Convio is able to offer us what we'd hoped to have available two years ago."
"We know our people are going to like this," Guess says, "because UCC people always like places where they can offer their own opinions."
Share Something Great
MyUCC is an online community - similar to Facebook or MySpace - where you'll be able to …
- Build an online profile at www.ucc.org and have your own webpage address.
- Invite and maintain online friendships.
- Share status reports.
- Send messages.
- Post comments.
- Create or join groups, both public and private.
- Upload photos.
- Add widgets and news feeds.
- Write your own blog. Read others' blog entries.
- Participate in forums.