After nine years of serving curious investigators throughout the world, the mormon.org website has gone through some major changes — and more than just the layout.
The mormon.org website, originally launched in 2001, was designed to help people of other faiths learn more about the Church's doctrines and beliefs. The revamped site, that launched midnight, July 15, still carries on the same purpose, but has been changed to incorporate more member involvement — especially in missionary work.
"We've tried to really brighten the site itself," said Ron Wilson, manager of Internet and marketing for the Church's Missionary Department. "We did a lot of user research and tried to find what would work best."
Changes to the layout, content and interactive capabilities have given the site a new look and format. New elements, like a live chat button on the upper left-hand corner on every page, are designed to facilitate interactive involvement and have been added to make the site more personal and less institutional.
"The current mormon.org tells people what we believe," Brother Wilson said. "It doesn't really tell people why we believe it and because of why we believe it, therefore, what we do. We felt like we were missing something as we started thinking and brainstorming through what the site could be. It really became clear to us quickly that we need to share the gospel 360 degrees and, to do that, we really had to get the members involved."
Research shows it is through the interaction with members that many myths and misconceptions vanish. Becoming interactive "friends" with people throughout the world is one way members are sharing their beliefs from the comfort of their own homes.
"How do we help everyone have a chance to experience a friendship with a Mormon?" Brother Wilson said. "Let's give them a virtual Mormon friend, somebody they can relate to."
The site has been broken into five categories: our people, our values, our beliefs, visit us and frequently asked questions (faq). Each section is designed to help visitors to the site have a clearer vision of the doctrines of the gospel and how those doctrines bless the lives of Church members.
As part of the new mormon.org, members are able to create their own personal profile where they can express their feelings, experiences and, most important, how they gained their own testimony.
"Hi, I'm Sarah. I grew up in Kenya. I started a school for orphans. I'm a Mormon," one of the profiles reads.
Many Church members define themselves through what they like to do or have accomplished. The personal profile page is a way for members and others not of the faith to connect and share experiences.
The new website shows profiles of many different people, allowing visitors to the site to read them and then connect with people who have similar interests or backgrounds.
A search option on the page allows individuals to select a gender, age and ethnicity to narrow their search to find people like them. This search can also direct individuals to people who were formerly of their faith or have a similar religious background.
Any member of the Church can set up a profile on the new mormon.org by signing up and using their Church account. For those who don't have an account, a link explaining how to sign up is given. Requirements for an account include a membership record number and date of birth. Members can find their membership number on their temple recommend, or by asking their ward clerk.
To set up a profile, members fill out different sections to tell a little bit about themselves and why they are members of the Church. It also gives question prompts to help members share how they live their faith.
"Everyone has their own little spin or take on things and that is perfectly fine," Brother Wilson said. "They can do it anyway they want. They can have typos, make it all lowercase — it's them. But if they say something that is not [doctrinally] factual we kindly let them know."
Although individuals are encouraged to write things in their own words, a verification process takes place to make sure the writings are doctrinally correct. After a profile has been submitted, it is checked over for doctrinal errors; within a few days, it will be live. Another feature is the capability to link personal networking sites — blogs, Facebook and Twitter accounts — to an individual's profile to add a personal touch and allow others to learn more about the Church through its members.
The "Our values" section of the website lists eight programs of the Church that show how members put their faith into action.
"This is where the rubber hits the road," Brother Wilson said. "Show this is a lifestyle, and we do these things because we believe certain things."
The eight sections include: strengthening families, service to others, missionary work, lifelong education, freedom to choose, humanitarian aid, good citizenship and family history. Each section explains the doctrine and then how the members live the principles associated with the doctrine.
For example, Brother Wilson spoke of the section "Strengthening Families." He said, "This is all about why family is so important and why we think that families are the number-one priority."
Although the purpose of mormon.org is still the same as its former website, most of the content has been rewritten in an effort to make it more understandable. Drawing from the lessons in the missionary guide, "Preach My Gospel," the new website has more content then the last site, with fewer links to other pages.
"Instead of having a lot of pages that link, we put a lot of content on one page, so when you are there you don't have to go anywhere else," Brother Wilson said. "We tried to make it a little bit more conversational, with a lot of multi-media involved."
At the top left corner of every page a button saying "Chat with us" is pinned, allowing visitors the ability to ask questions as they are reading. Missionaries in the Missionary Training Center in Provo respond to the questions and concerns, two-by-two, for every inquiry.
Visitors can watch videos of members testifying and testimonies of the Apostles, as well as read comments from members.
This section incorporates many elements from the previous website, providing links to a meetinghouse locator and how to contact missionaries in a specific area. It also shares places to visit, such as Temple Square and other historic sites, and has a link to chat live with someone online.
The frequently asked questions portion of the site was created by looking at the most common questions asked via the original mormon.org site, as well as from feedback from mission presidents serving around the world.
"I have been stunned by the answers that have come," Brother Wilson said. "Members really have a good handle on what we believe. We really do understand, and I'm amazed at how many converts we have on here and how many have really incredible stories."
But the new website isn't just for converts, it is for all Church members to actively participate in the missionary effort throughout the world.
The web page has a list of topics, questions in regards to those topics and responses from Church members in addition to the official Church doctrine. It is a chance for visitors to the site to see answers from all types of people from all areas of the world.
Members from around the world are setting up profiles in an effort to share their testimonies. That, Brother Wilson said, is exactly what the creators hope will happen.
Since the middle of May, more than 13,000 members have created profiles. Although it is a substantial number, Brother Wilson spoke of the need for everyone to get involved. Not only does it help the missionary effort move forward, but also it gives members an opportunity to strengthen, share and solidify their own personal testimonies and faith.
"At least be here. Participate. Put your testimony out there and let people know what you think," Brother Wilson said. "This is really about being transparent and letting the world see who we are."