Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Buddhist Internet

Not much in the real world to blog about, but it occurred to me that I should write something about the imaginary Buddhist e-world, as I seem to have taken the plunge into it myself. I doubt I could do justice to the wide range of Buddhist websites out there, but instead I thought it might be interesting to discuss technologies instead. Here's a list of the technologies I use to spread Buddhism and communicate with Buddhists around the world.

  • The ISP - www.icdsoft.comThe ISP is my connection to the web. I don't know how one could hope to really make an impact using geocities, blogger, or even wordpress.com. Once you have an ISP, you truly have a web presence. All of the technologies below depend on having your own space where you can run php, javascript and MySQL. For people who don't know what these things are, I still recommend a webspace of your own, as it leads directly to the the next technology:

  • The domain name - www.sirimangalo.orgThe domain name is the door for other people to reach me. The alternatives like "www.geocities.com/Athens/Academy/9280/" are more like giving people a window and asking them to crawl through... names like "bhikkhublog.blogspot.com" or "bhikkhu.wordpress.com" are nice, and the latter even sounds personal, but they still seem akin to renting a space in an office building to teach meditation, or renting an apartment room and calling it a monastery. Not really a clean cut from society, as both blogspot and wordpress have an incredible diversity of content. Also, it still means you are using their technology, and if you want a wordpress blog to tell your students what you're up to, a HTML based website (who still uses these?), and a Drupal CMS to create an online meditation portal, you need a *.wordpress.com account linking to a groups.drupal.org/* site, and then a www.geocities.com/Athens/Academy/* site linking to both. I am sure there are better solutions than this, but still... you can't beat a setup with multiple domains like:www.sirimangalo.org - main drupal-based portal - the doorway to everything

    sanku.sirimangalo.org - my new meditation centre's portal (more on this...)

    yuttadhammo.sirimangalo.org - everyone's favourite monk blog (everyone = mom + dad)

    gallery.sirimangalo.org - Gallery2-based photo gallery.

    pali.sirimangalo.org - a "under construction" website with both a wordpress blog and a dokuwiki (try getting that on geocities...)

    media.sirimangalo.org - future home of an mp3-based dhamma portal

    dev.sirimangalo.org - future home of an SVN repository for the Digital Pali Reader

  • My weblog - www.wordpress.orgThe blog is something I discovered way back when (can't remember, maybe three years ago). Started with www.s9y.org, moved to moveabletype, tried out blogspot.com then settled on Wordpress. I guess I'm lucky that I have my own space, or maybe lucky that my mom and dad taught me how to use computers when I was 6 years old (Apple IIe)... I see my most esteemed colleague, Ven. Punyadhammo has finally moved from the HTML world to a php-based blog. But it belongs to Google, and so clicking on the "next blog" link at the top of his page brings up an almost-random Google-analyzed blog such as:http://daniel-eliana.blogspot.com/
    http://annasdag.blogspot.com/
    ...

    You get the picture. Anyhow, the important thing is, I don't have to send people long emails any more telling them who I am, where I'm from, what I'm doing, etc., etc. Just give them links to my Schedule and Bio, and wish them all the best. Also a good way to let my parents know what I'm up to - maybe they even get more regularly updated info about me than any of my brothers this way...

  • The Portal - www.drupal.orgDrupal is something a meditator at Chom Tong told me about. He used to run pornography websites in Eastern Canada before he realized that was not exactly the way to find real happiness :* Now he runs yogi sites using Drupal, and told me to check it out. Whatever CMS you use, I think it is an indispensable tool for spreading Buddhism nowadays. I could just see Buddhanet running on Drupal. Or accesstoinsight - wouldn't that be a project, John? Drupal (or any other CMS, I suppose), gives at least the following neat tools to a Buddhist webmaster:Organisation - it does all the icky stuff for you, all you have to do is plug in info and tell it what to put where, and even books can be written online, chapter by chapter

    Community - at http://sanku.sirimangalo.org/ I've set it up to add every meditator who comes to practice at Wat Sanku to the community. There is an online forum, a chat room, a mailing list, and in the future there will be audio. I'm toying with the idea of setting up organic groups on this site, so that members can form groups (eg a Chiang Mai group, a Toronto group, etc.) and create websites, right now, though, that seems too big for us (read: me) to handle.

    Extensibility - like all emerging technologies of its kind, Drupal has a great variety of modules that you can "plug in" to extend its capability. Like organic groups (above), or Locale (Thai and English versions of the same site). Makes everything very, very easy, but very, very powerful.

  • Photo Gallery - http://gallery.menalto.com/Not much to say here. Check out here and here for my implimentations. Also I have Gallery Remote installed on my notebook, so with a few clicks I have a browser-free way to upload photos into the photo gallery.


  • My O/S - http://www.ubuntu.com/Right now I am actually back on Windows XP, but only because an ex-novice here "lifted" my notebook twice and the second time formatted it and wiped most of my data, and I'm waiting for Ubuntu Fiesty Fawn in April. Not much to say here either, except that opensource software is most certainly the best alternative for those wishing to live by the dhamma but stay plugged in to the electronic world. As a novice programmer and webmaster, I find again and again the closed nature of most of the software I use to be terribly restrictive - again it ends up that you do things the way the technology wants you to, rather than the other way around. With opensource software, all you need is a little computer know-how or access to a support forum, and you can solve any minor glitch in a few days.Other technologies attached to Ubuntu Linux are the instant messengers like GAIM or Kopete which allow you to contact Yahoos, MSNs and AIMs all in the same messenger. Really, I think people who still use Windows would be shocked if they knew what they were missing.


Conclusion

So far, this post hasn't had much to do with Buddhism, but the point is that all of these technologies have given power to my intentions to spread the dhamma. Instead of being content with chatting it up with the local yokels (yes, Thailand has local yokels too), I'm reaching an audience which, in all likelihood, will grow exponentially over time. And most of the people I reach would otherwise have little or no regular contact with the dhamma. In summary, my web presence could be summarized under the following headings:

  • advertising - letting people know about meditation centres and courses

  • updating - letting students know what's knew with me and the projects I am running

  • disseminating - spreading the Buddha's teaching over the Internet via mp3, text, chat, etc.

  • coordinating - getting people together to talk about, organize and practice meditation around the world.


Please understand, I am NOT writing this article to talk about myself... actually my hope is that some of the people I mentioned in this article might read this and take heart to some of the suggested technologies, or that other, new faces might take the lead by opening other portals, blogs, and websites that make use of some of these and other technologies, to make the Internet a more wholesome place for all of us netizens :)