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 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. 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, forwards all messages to our secret TwitPic address and 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

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