Written by G.C. Duerden and Ben Groen
20 May 2014
Many advances in technology have been embraced by the Church to help the gospel fill the earth. This two-part series of articles tells the story of LDS.org, the Church’s flagship website.
The Church had always made extensive use of the telegraph to send and receive messages, but the first foray into a public arena was on May 6, 1922 when President Heber J. Grant delivered the first Church broadcast message over the first radio station in Utah, KZN (now KSL). This message was given for the formal dedication of the station.
In October 1924, general conferences began to be broadcast, by radio. Early the next year, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir began performing, via radio, with rehearsals on Thursday evenings. Their weekly broadcasts started July 15, 1929. The program, known as Music and the Spoken Word, is now the oldest continuous broadcast in American radio.
In April, 1941 the 111th General Conference was broadcast for the first time by radio and TV stations outside of Utah. Prior to that, KSL TV and Radio had undertaken to broadcast conference within Utah.
It wasn’t until April 1952 that the priesthood session of general conference was carried by telephone to stake centers and other buildings outside of Temple Square. (In 2013 the Priesthood Session was broadcast on KBYU-TV and streamed over the internet as well as through the Church Satellite System.) In 1963, languages other than English and Spanish were broadcast (German and Portuguese) as WRUL broadcast the 133rd Annual General Conference.
In 1979 the broadcasts of general conference was taken into space as the first satellite broadcasts were used. But it wasn’t until 1997 when the Church really established its first official website, LDS.org, with real content.
A Church employee bought the domain name “LDS.org” before the Church considered an online presence. The first official site rolled out in December 1996, consisting of just two pages (one was a media guide from the Public Affairs Department of the Church, and the other was a page where users were directed to call a toll free number to get a free copy of the Book of Mormon).
The Church’s first official LDS.org website.
By April of 1997 content was added to celebrate the pioneer sesquicentennial, including an interactive map. Until it was taken down in 2012, this was the oldest content on the website.
Interactive map celebrating the pioneer story. Up until sometime after 2012, this was the oldest content on LDS.org.
December 1996 version of LDS.org. The first real LDS.org website with content.
Later in 1997, the Church added content about Joseph Smith and published general conference talks (from the 167th General Conference). General conference addresses were first made available (in English) on LDS.org in late 1997. Other languages followed in 1998.
General conference addresses first published on LDS.org in 1997
In 1999, the Church started making plans to deliver a live broadcast of general conference over the Internet. The Church developed a spinoff company, MSTAR.net, to develop the site and worked with Real Networks to broadcast general conference. It was the biggest event ever for Real Networks, and the second largest Internet broadcast at the time.
The first session of that 1999 October General Conference surpassed all of Real Networks’ expected traffic and overloaded the whole network. Thankfully, the IT staff added more servers and fixed the issues by the second session. Feedback was tremendous and came from all over the world. Many people wrote about the great joy and privilege of being able to listen to the prophet live for the very first time.
Also in 1999, LDS.org was redesigned. A splash screen was added, and the content reflected the missions of the Church.
At this point, all website content had to be approved by a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, a process that limited the Church’s ability to publish material. An Internet task group was organized to provide leadership and direction to the future of the Church’s websites.
This is the end of part one covering the development of the Church’s public face via technology, from the radio to the LDS.org website (1996 to 1999). Part two picks up at the turn of the 21st century and brings us up to date.
Written by G.C. Duerden and Ben Groen
30 May 2014
The Church has updated its flagship site, LDS.org, many times since it was first created in 1996. From a basic domain-claiming site in the early days of the Web to today’s robust, information-rich experience, the Church has offered more and more content to members and to the world.
Part 1 of this article reviewed the development of the Church’s public face via technology, from the early days of radio to the earliest developments of an Internet presence.)
The year 2000 also saw major redesigns and content added to the website. The Church’s message called “The Living Christ” was posted on January 1, 2000, followed by the first Internet version of the scriptures in May of the same year.
The conversion of the scriptures from a print version to an online version proved to be very beneficial. Errors were revealed such as wrong references and typos. The Church was able to clean up the scriptures by posting them online.
At the turn of the millennium, the website shifted focus a bit. Designers allowed it to be more dynamic, allowing users to customize content. Ideas for features such as a youth site, a portal, feedback, calendar, news were planned. Some of these ideas are only now being launched.
The goal was to release the new site on June 30, 2000. Using a content management system put out by Vignette, and a language called Tcl, the site was created. It presented huge challenges to the Church and developers. The site required major hardware upgrades. With less than a week to go before launch, the website was still not functional.
One problem was so difficult that Vignette experts were called in for support, but the result was many of hours of work with no success. Ultimately, the consultants gave up and went back to their hotel, at which point the remaining team members made it a matter of prayer. Within a half an hour, ideas came in and the problem was solved.
On June 30, Elder L. Tom Perry pushed a button that launched the website publically.
By July 2000, the website had over 20,000 users per day. Later that year, the Church launched additional language capability for Newsroom and the LDS Catalog.
The Meetinghouse Locator not only provided support to the members but also made the Church realize that many of the addresses were out of date and wrong.
In July, the stake and ward websites were first piloted and released to the general membership.
In October 2001, in preparation for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, the Church launched www.mormon.org, designed specifically for those who are not members of the Church. It was previously called “Sharing the Gospel.”
The Young Women’s general presidency helped design email pass-along cards to invite people to learn about the gospel. Elder Dallin H. Oaks announced these cards and the new website in general conference.
Within one minute of his announcement, the servers became overloaded. The IT team realized that the outage had been caused by the number of cards being sent out by individuals who were supposed to be listening to the rest of Elder Oaks’ talk.
In December 2001, the “Places to Visit” section on LDS.org was added. (Interestingly, today the “Places to Visit” section is used mostly by mobile devices.)
Country Websites were added in 2002, which allowed countries to use templates to create language-specific websites.
The Perpetual Education Fund content was also added, along with temple open house reservation systems in 2002, starting first with the Nauvoo temple.
Also in 2002, LDS.org went down for three days due to some tables that were deleted in a database. During the outage, backups failed and a new program was created to ensure that major outages would never happen again.
Another redesign was in the making in 2003. The current website was getting too crowded, and the Church developed fly-out menus and trained all developers to use Java.
In 2007, LDS.org 2.0 website was launched.
The redesign changes from the original site to version 2.0 resulted in a lot of usability questions. With this in mind, the LDS.org 2.0 website was left up when the LDS.org 3.0 was released in November 2010. As a result, the transition to 3.0 went relatively smoothly.
The newest version of LDS.org uses an XML database with XQuery for accessing data. LDS.org 3.0 has much more advanced technology and now includes Calendar, Directory, Maps, and other tools, all of which use the internal Java stack.
The history of LDS.org has been full of prayerful and inspiration-driven experiences. The site has evolved along with the Web, often solving problems in innovative and award-winning ways. LDS.org has become a key method of spreading the gospel using modern tools, blessing the lives of members and non-members throughout the world.