This paper will attempt to explain the role the Internet has had on Freemasonry and provide some guidance on where it should be going. Whereas Freemasonry is an ancient order, the Internet is still considered a relative newcomer. Fortunately, the two should be seen as compatible with a great deal of synergism arising between the two; e.g., increased membership, reduced costs from streamlined administrative processing, improved public relations, etc.
Before I go any further, allow me to establish my credentials in this area. I have been involved with the Information Technology industry since 1976. My company specializes in Information Resource Management (IRM) which, among other things, includes methodologies for business planning, as well as systems and data base design. This involves considerable teaching and technical writing. Consequently, I have been writing articles on management and technology issues since 1976, as well as industry newsletters, not to mention the volumes of manuals I have written for my company’s products. I have been using e-mail and e-phones since 1982. In the early 1990’s I began to write web pages as a cost-effective alternative for our company’s voluminous manuals. Shortly after being raised a Master Mason, I began to develop Masonic web pages in 1997; first for local lodges, then for districts, zones, and then on an international basis. I have visited virtually every Grand Lodge web site in the world and probably 90% of all local Lodge and peripheral Masonic body web sites. In other words, I have seen a lot; so much so that I feel I am in a unique position to offer the following advice.
Basically, what I have learned is this, if that there was ever a vehicle devised for supporting Freemasonry, it is the Internet. The Internet fits Freemasonry like a glove and begs the issue of the universality of the Brotherhood. Regrettably, as a relative newcomer, it is still not considered a vital and integral part of Masonic operations. This is due to simple ignorance of its capabilities. Understand this; the Internet is primarily a vehicle for our younger Brothers as well as those considering joining this great institution. It is our future.
In the United States alone, 75% of all households now have access to the Internet. Close to 100% of all libraries, schools, and public institutions also have access. It is not uncommon to find training in the use of the Internet at any of these institutions, normally free of charge. Beyond this, the Internet has replaced telephone books and other voluminous catalogs and documents as the primary vehicle for reference and research. So much so, many Lodges are eliminating land-line telephones simply because they are no longer being used. Want to find a Masonic Lodge near you? In all likelihood you will be searching Google or Yahoo! before you ever pick up a thick telephone book. Further, candidates for the fraternity will reference the Internet well before they consider visiting a local library or book store. This is the hard truth of the Internet, and the sooner Grand Lodges accept it and adopt a sound course of action to adapt to it, the sooner they will be able to capitalize on its capabilities.
Not all Masonic web sites are created equally, some are obviously better than others. It all depends on the Grand Lodge’s understanding of the situation. For example, very few Grand Lodges have developed formal and published rules and regulations for the use of the Internet within their jurisdiction. Fewer have recognized the need for a Grand Webmaster to oversee all Internet activity. Don’t laugh, such a title is inevitable. Due to the dynamics of the Internet, such a person cannot be encumbered with too much bureaucracy in its implementation. True, such a person should operate under a set of rules and regs, but he should be entrusted to update web sites without having every word or character go through a lengthy review process. It is simply not practical to operate this way. Beyond this, the Grand Master and Grand Secretary must be Internet savvy. If they are not, then they should be educated and brought up to speed as soon as possible. In this day and age, ignorance of the Internet is simply a reckless course of action for any leader to take, Masonic or otherwise.
Up to now, most Grand Lodges have a basic presence on the Internet. But the Internet is still evolving and growing in sophistication. And already most Masonic sites are falling behind in looks and functionality.
As I see it, Masonic web sites should serve three primary functions: as a Communications Aid, as a tool for Administrative Support, and for Research. Let’s review each function in more detail and describe what can be done
there are essentially three audiences we, as Freemasons, need to communicate with over the Internet: our membership, potential candidates, and the general public (including news services). As such, it is important that we graphically project a positive and professional image. I realize “flash” graphics (a la Macromedia) can be pretty snazzy in terms of initial graphical appearance. Frankly, to the regular web surfer, it is an annoying distraction that keeps the reader from the information he wants to get (as an aside, if you are going to use “flash” graphics, make it a separate option to the viewer). To me, I prefer a clean and elegantly simple design offering effective navigation through the web site. To this end, here are two of my favorite Grand Lodge sites I like to frequent:
It is important that your graphical layout be inviting (so that people want to return to your site), as well as intuitive and easy to use. Layers of web pages are nice, but site search engines or drop-down lists are the preferred method of navigation these days.
As a communications vehicle to the public, your site must be able to adequately promote the message of the fraternity. Although, this can be done through simple text and graphics, on-line multimedia presentations are the wave of the future. Two Grand Lodges have produced such imaginative presentations including:
Grand Lodge of Texas [now archived]
Another useful resource along this line was in Stephen Dafoe’s Radio Free Mason. (See Masonic Central for a similar program).
The development of multimedia content should be encouraged for three reasons: people would rather watch a presentation than read text (sad but true); it’s cheap to do, and; it can be updated rather easily. I’m waiting to see which Grand Lodge is going to be the first to issue routine “web seminars” in this manner in order to communicate to the Craft.
Other items useful for communications include:
- General Contact Info (“Contact Us”) – to include postal, telephone, fax, and e-mail addresses.
- Officers (a Who’s Who of the Masonic World) – listing all of a jurisdiction’s officers, from the Grand Line, to State/Zone/District Committeemen, to the local Lodge, all with adequate contact information.
- Newsletters/Magazines – currently there are 32 Grand Jurisdictions in the world who issue their official publications over the Internet as well as in print form. Some are moving towards complete electronic format simply for the economics it affords. As printing and postage costs rise, electronic magazines make a heck-ova lot more sense. The predominant format for such e-zines is PDF suitable for reading with the Adobe Acrobat reader (a popular and widely supported product).
- General News and Announcements – a great way to issue bulletins
to the Craft, particularly in the event of emergencies (anyone remember Hurricane Katrina?).
- On-line Calendars can be very effective for scheduling and promoting Masonic
events, thereby improving attendance. Personally, I recommend “layers” of linked calendars so people can see what is going on at the Local, District, and Statewide levels.
- Lodge Locators are invaluable for helping visiting Brothers find a local Lodge. As such, it is important to be able to find Lodges based on different search criteria, such as Lodge Name, Number, City, District, etc.
Two Grand Lodges who do an excellent job in this regard is:
Also, the Grand Lodge of Ohio has a fine graphical map to locate
Lodges (as do other jurisdictions; e.g., New York and Wisconsin):
The graphical format is nice if you need to search by location, but burdensome if you need to search by name or number (as many Masonic Secretaries have to do).
- On-line map services are invaluable for plotting maps and providing driving instructions to Lodge locations. This should all be incorporated into the profile of each Lodge. Also, local weather stickers are useful.
- Discussion Groups (aka “List Servers”) are essential for broadcasting both official and unofficial messages throughout a jurisdiction. One of the finest examples of this is:
As in Ohio’s example, a moderator is needed to oversee postings. The Discussion Groups also offer facilities to share computer files and for on-line “chat” sessions. As to the latter, I am surprised there aren’t any Grand Lodges holding regularly scheduled “chat” sessions to discuss items of interest. Further, Discussion Groups often provide “polling” facilities to get a pulse on current issues.
When forming a formal discussion group, such as Ohio’s, it is highly desirable to check the credentials of participants when joining the group, thereby keeping the “riff raff” out of the group. This can be performed simply by establishing an initial application screen where people submit their credentials for verification. It might also be a good idea to establish some Masonic questions to substantiate they are a Brother; e.g., “Who died first; Hiram Abiff, his mother, his father, his brother, his son, his niece, etc.? (My personal favorite is “What was the first name of Hiram Abiff’s wife?) 😉
- Links – a repository of links to other pertinent Masonic web sites is an absolute must. Grand Lodges should encourage linking as it promotes traffic to their site. The problem here is keeping the list of links up to date.
Other items that promote traffic to your site include web rings, web site awards, and, of course, registration with search engines such as Google and Yahoo!
TOOL FOR ADMINISTRATIVE SUPPORT
- This is perhaps the weakest part of any Grand Lodge web site. Some offer virtually no administrative support whatsoever; and they are missing the boat. Here are they types of things they should offer:
- All of the Masonic Forms should be available for download (in PDF format), If it is good enough for the IRS, why not Freemasonry?
- The ability to order Masonic supplies on-line complete with secured on-line payment. Everything from forms, booklets, and other paper supplies, to furniture and office equipment.
- The ability to make secured on-line donations to charities.
- On-line processing of membership data, which should be tied directly into a data base. This, of course, should have effective security tied into it for authorized use.
- On-line processing of applications for things like the Masonic Home, Scholarships, and requests for assistance in sickness or distress. This could greatly simplify the processing of paperwork.
This is another area rarely considered by most Grand Lodges, yet would greatly benefit the membership. If done properly, the following items should be provided:
- History of the Grand Lodge as well as Local Lodges and other Masonic bodies.
- Genealogy of the membership – this is particularly useful for studying someone’s Masonic heritage.
As a Lodge Secretary, I am occasionally asked to look up a past member’s records. As another example, a few years ago I was researching a project involving a member of the Grand Lodge of Minnesota in the 1800’s. Fortunately, the Grand Lodge Secretary was able to finally track down the data I was looking for. However, an on-line query would have greatly simplified this task for all concerned.
Such information is growing in popularity on the Internet and is relatively simple to establish. It would be entirely feasible to tie-in third party genealogy engines such as:
- Laws, rules and regulations of the Grand Lodge. What better way of distributing official documents than through the Internet? Plus, it would simplify how they are updated and greatly reduce printing costs. This could be done either through standard web pages (HTML), PDF, or both. Nonetheless, putting the laws, rules and regs on the Internet would greatly expedite the distribution of this vital information to the Craft.
- State/Zone/District Committee Reports/Booklets could also reach more people and considerably less cost.
- Masonic Education – essays, workbooks and on-line tests could be provided to promote continuing education in Masonic affairs.
In all likelihood, items such as these should be restricted and accessed through effective security mechanisms.
The above shopping list is just scratching the surface of where Grand Lodge web pages should be going. I can also visualize it becoming a worldwide forum to verify membership, and as a communications vehicle between members (e-telephones and messaging). Frankly, I am thunderstruck as to why Grand Lodges are not diving into the Internet deeper than they have. Simple economics would dictate that this is far and away a cheaper way of operating than with today’s manual methods.
The secret to any successful web site is to make it a place where people WANT to return to; that they find it an invaluable tool they cannot live without. If you do not understand its potential, contact me, and I’ll try to explain it to you. But if you consider the Internet inconsequential, your Grand Lodge is going to lose ground and will simply wallow back in the 20th century.
One of the subliminal benefits of marrying Freemasonry and the Internet is that it promotes the universality of the Brotherhood. Masonic web sites can greatly facility communications and understanding not only within a given jurisdiction, but on a worldwide basis. As a byproduct, it promotes critical thinking and the exchange of ideas, all of which is vital to the continued evolution of the fraternity. This is hard for some Grand Lodges to swallow and, as such, often view the Internet and such discourse as a threat to their authority. This is certainly not the intent. Rather, it is intended to think on a global basis, reaffirm the relationships of the Grand jurisdictions, and build for tomorrow. As Masons, we have been given a remarkable tool to help propel us into the 21st century. But are we smart enough to take advantage of it?
Keep the Faith.
by W:.Tim Bryce, PM, MPS
Palm Harbor, Florida, USA
“A Foot Soldier for Freemasonry”
Originally published on FmI in 2005.
NOTE: The opinions expressed in this essay are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of any Grand Masonic jurisdiction or any other Masonic related body. As with all of my Masonic articles herein, please feel free to reuse them in Masonic publications or re-post them on Masonic web sites (except Florida). When doing so, please add the following:
Article reprinted with permission of the author and www.FreemasonInformation.com
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