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Turn your youth group website into an event LiveStream

Using your cell phone to update website during trips

The idea

As I’ve written before, on overnight youth trips I like to embed my Twitter account’s RSS feed into our youth group website so parents can get the play-by-play action of our trip while we’re gone. They love it for so many reasons!

Now that our new youth group website includes a special LiveStream just for our group’s online social activity, I’m taking the mobile updates to a new level for this summer’s youth group trips. Instead of all the web updates, mobile pictures and videos coming solely from me, I’ve opened it up so all the kids on the trip can contribute to our LiveStream while we’re away. I think there’s a couple benefits of this:

  • All the kids feel like they have some ownership in sharing the story with what’s going on.
  • Parents can see and read the trip from the perspective of the teenagers.
  • Parents feel included and have a lot to talk about with their teen when they get home besides asking, “So how was it?”
  • We have an ongoing “digital scrapbook” of pictures, short video clips and updates for every trip. Everyone can contribute to it.

How to set it up

I’ve already explained how to setup the website for collecting all the updates. The rest of it is really quite simple. It basically entails setting up a couple email addresses and passing them on to the kids to send updates, pictures and videos to.

1. Set up a Twitter account for your youth group. Twitter is limited to receiving updates from only one mobile device, so I use TwitterMail.com to setup a special email address for the youth group’s twitter account that can receive messages from anyone. Any message sent to that special email address is automatically posted to our Twitter feed.

2. Set up a TwitPic account for your youth group. TwitPic.com allows users to take a picture with their mobile phone and post it to their Twitter updates. Again, you’ll get a secret email address to send pictures to that will automatically publish the images to Twitter.

3. Set up a YouTube account for your youth group. Then grab the mobile “secret address” for your YouTube account. Any videos that are taken with a cell phone and sent to that address will automatically be added to your YouTube account.

Once all your youth group accounts are setup, plug each one of them in to the Lifestream WordPress Plugin you setup on your youth group’s WordPress website.

Then, right before the trip, give the teenagers the “secret addresses” for Twittermail, TwitPic and YouTube and let ’em loose (within reason, of course). I recommend encouraging them to add the email addresses to their cell phones as individual contacts for easy access. And it might be best to ensure that you or someone at home has access to moderating the messages through the plugin throughout the trip just in case something inappropriate is posted.

And no, teens do not have to send messages as an email for this to work. Sending a text message, picture message or video message to an email address works just fine for most mobile providers and does not usually require a data plan or incur extra charges beyond their normal messaging plan.

For advanced users

Since I plan on utilizing this for most of our overnight trips, I want the kids to be able to use the same “secret addresses” over and over again without having to update the contacts in their phone for every trip. But neither do I want them to be able to continue updating the LiveStream on our site randomly throughout the year. I want to control when they can and can’t update our youth group website with those addresses.

So I went into our webhost’s control panel and created an email forwarding address for each of the services: one for the TwitterMail address, one for TwitPic address, and one for YouTube address. (For example, trippics@alexandriayouth.com forwards all messages to our secret TwitPic address and tripupdates@alexandriayouth.com forwards all mail to our TwitterMail secret address.) Instead of handing out the original secret addresses, I instead hand out the forwarding addresses to kids so they can use them on every trip. For the time between trips, I will delete the forwarding addresses so no messages pass through to the social stream during that time.

Plus, it just looks cool to use addresses from your own domain.

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Posted on June 24, 2009

  • I like this idea. I just don't like the idea of the students having their phones on our trip.

    • Yeah, I get that. Personally, I don't have too much of a problem with it as long as it doesn't interfere with relationships and our time together on the trip. If that happens, then I'll ask them to put it away, or, if it gets really bad, I'll take cell phones at that point.

  • Man, I need to see if I have time to set this up for our New Orleans trip. Our students will all have their phones for the NOLA trip for safety reasons. They are (for the most part) responsible enough to turn them off during "big group, church time and devos).

  • Tim could you explain a little more when you said.."And no, teens do not have to send messages as an email for this to work. Sending a text message, picture message or video message to an email address works just fine for most mobile providers and does not usually require a data plan or incur extra charges beyond their normal messaging plan."

    does this mean that students can txt to an email account?

    • Yup, exactly. Text messaging is basically email between phones. In fact, everyone's phone has it's own email address for text messaging. It's usually your phonenumber@serviceprovider.something. Send a text message to your personal email address to see what your phone's email address is. The difference is that cell phone "emails" are limited to 160 characters.

  • Lauren here! First time visiting your blog, and I have to say, this is so clever! I'm going to share it with our churches.

  • Lauren here! First time visiting your blog, and I have to say, this is so clever! I'm going to share it with our churches. Best of all, it's free!

  • Cool. Thanks.

    Look like TwitterMail now supports photos (via TwitPic) as well!

  • I was just wondering how to set this up today. We leave for a middle school trip to Kansas on Sunday.

    I'll spend some time on this tomorrow. Thanks man!!

  • Are you planning to have each kid have some sort of signature or way to say who is tweeting/uploading pics/uploading video?

  • Pingback: Cell Phone Dangers on Youth Trips « Life and Youth Ministry()

  • Pingback: Turn your youth group website into an event LiveStream « VolunteerYouthMinistry.com()

  • Looks like posterous.com could simplify and make more accessible this idea.

  • Great reading, thank you

  • David

    Youtube will take my videos directly but not through the forwarder email?

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