General Conference Web site draws record number of visitors

Designers of the Web site for the 2004 session of the United Methodist General Conference,www.gc2004.org, have kept up with the thousands of visitors coming to that site.

On May 3, a record 1,875 people were online simultaneously throughout the day. Staff members of the denomination's communications agency expect the number of Web visits to increase further before the May 7 adjournment of the 10-day legislative gathering.

Program designers Matt Carlisle and Steve Downey had anticipated 1,000 possible concurrent users, based on the fact that the denomination's Web site,www.umc.org, usually has 200 to 300 simultaneous users.

Staff of United Methodist Communications added capacity to accommodate the anticipated usage. When traffic exceeded original expectations, they worked around the clock to add even more capacity.

There are many reasons for the popularity of the 2004 General Conference Web site. Use of personal computers has risen dramatically in the last four years, and staff of the communications agency promoted the site as a way for folks in the pews to follow actions during the legislative gathering.

Users of the 2004 Web site will find improvements over the site established for the 2000 General Conference. Video and audio streaming is broadcast in real time, and the photo gallery is twice the size of the previous session. Visitors are able to track legislation as it works its way through the process by clicking on "Online Legislative Tracking." Audio and video reports are now routinely released along with print news stories.

Carlisle and Downey describe themselves as "evangelists" for the efficient use of the Internet. They seewww.UMC.organdwww.gc2004.orgas the trendsetters for what can be done in Web ministry.

They say increased use of both sites is proof that the Internet should be part of the ministry and mission of the church.

While Downey sees the Internet as an opportunity to reach new people for Christ, he warns that people operating Web sites carry a weighty responsibility.

"When people can go to Amazon.com or CNN.com and get things immediately, some of that expectation is bound to rub off on us," Downey said.

"We need to be able to offer 'open hearts, open minds and open doors' online as quickly and accurately as possible," Carlisle said, referring to the denomination's advertising campaign theme.

When asked if all the late nights and frantic days have been worth the effort, Downey cited a May 3 e-mail from a Web site visitor. It read: "Thanks. You need to know that just because we are not there, doesn't mean we aren't interested."

*Whorl is a correspondent for the United Methodist News Service.

News media contact: (412) 325-6080 during General Conference, April 27-May 7.After May 10: (615) 742-5470.

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