I attended the Salt Lake edition of Church’s Tech Talks last night. It was well attended, with the keynote pretty much filling up the chapel on the mezzanine level of Joseph Smith Memorial Building, so I would guess there were about 200 people there. It was an older crowd than I was expecting. I had no idea that there were so many geriatric nerds. Note that there will be a similar gathering in Provo on the 23rd. Follow the link for details. I was going to do a full write up but my brother has beat me to it on his blog. So go visit his site now and then come back. Since we attended the same sessions it would be redundant for me to do the full write up, but I’ll add some comments on things that I found interesting.

As Matt mentioned all the talks that we went to were very professional. Joel Dehlin’s presentation had a slight multimedia glitch, but don’t all big presentations? Interesting details from his talk included the idea that one of the uses of technology should be to decrease administrative work within the Church and increase the amount of time left for ministering. As a ward clerk I can certainly appreciate this concept. One example of how technology has helped the Church was the new missionary application web site. This site and the process that it enables has cut the time to get a mission call out in half. Joel stated that the time between submitting papers and getting a call is when the adversary works hardest on prospective missionaries so this was an important improvement. I don’t remember such trials myself, but I can imagine that for some this will be a help.

Talks other than the keynote included a look at the Java stack that they use (probably the most technical session), a look at genealogy technology, and maybe five other sessions. We selected the sessions on Interaction Design and the LDS Tech community.

Tadd Giles gave the Interaction Design presentation. He had a Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro and gave the presentation using Keynote. He did not have any multimedia glitches. What I found interesting is how badly this sort of thing has been needed at the Church for so long and how they’ve only had this group for about a year. They’ve got 20 people in it and they’ve got more work than they can handle. So if you are a designer and want to work for the Church give Tadd a call. One goal of the new sites they are designing is to make them not only more usable for people but to make them more usable for search engines as well. The goal being that when someone googles an LDS related term such as ‘Joseph Smith’ the first hit will be LDS.org.

I probably shouldn’t mention this, and it didn’t come from Tadd, but there was a hint given that a web version of MLS is in the works (maybe two years away) and that people that actually care about UI will be involved this time around. Personally, I think MLS is an abomination and has some of the worst navigation and iteraction design that I’ve ever seen. A well designed update or full replacement of the front end can’t come soon enough.

Tom Welch (aka LDS Web Guy correction! as Josh Lee points out below Tom is not LDS Web Guy. His title is Manager Technology Community and he helps the Church leverage the Open Source community and developers in the Church) gave a community talk. The big announcement there was the launch of a site for the LDS tech community currently at beta.ldstech.lds.org. My former mission companion (and occasional bloggernacle commenter) Carl Youngblood suggested that there is some redundancy in the URL. My impression is that the Church does not yet know how to leverage its own tech community. This is a first official effort at doing so. Hopefully it will complement the existing LDSOSS community. Personally I think the Church did a lot of harm when they shut down the grassroots websites before there was an official alternative and even that alternative is inadequate.

I asked Tom if the existence of his blog and Joel’s blog that deal with issues surrounding the Church and technology would indicate an implied approval of online communities such as the wider Bloggernacle given that in the past at least there has been some fear that the blogs would get the same treatment that the grassroots websites did or that certain magazines have. I said that there has been a fear that Elder Oaks, for example, would get up in conference at some point and put an end to it all. Someone behind me interrupted and said, “Well Elder Oaks would certainly be the one to do it!” Tom answered that it would be jumping to conclusions to take his blog or Joel’s as any sort of endorsement of the technology such online communities. Personally however, related to the googling issue above, I would guess that while some might not approve of the blogs that they see it as yet another place that will provide positive search results for LDS terms and for that reason alone they’ll be tolerated but never endorsed.

Overall I was impressed with what I saw. Back in the day working in IT for the Church was not an appealing prospect for many. I have worked with the Church on a number of projects and while I’ve enjoyed aspects of the interactions, I came away frustrated on more than one project. They’ve made huge strides in the past two years, adopting new technology, caring about design, and making an investment in Open Source. The Church is probably someplace that I would consider working now whereas in the past the thought would never have crossed my mind. They’re looking to hire so send in your resume to the LDSTech site if interested.