Recently I was invited to check out Gary Chapman’s latest creation called “ahymnaweek.com“. Like myself, Gary shares a love of the old Christian hymns that are the foundation of a good church worship service. Inspired by his late parents, and qualified by his past work and experience, Gary takes his viewers into the world of the classic hymns one week at a time.
His mission is simple: Once a week provide his subscribers with a hymn that touched his heart in some way, provide its back story or meaning, and then give a vocal/acoustic guitar performance of the song to top it off – all in front of the camera.
On first impression, the first thing that you will notice is the website. Check it out at ahymnaweek.com and see it for yourself. The design is simple and does not try to be more complex than the content, which is appreciated. The layout is well thought-out and the old time pictures add a good deal of flavor to the website. I was somewhat annoyed that music began to auto play on the front page. Personally I would prefer that this be turned off (or at least provide me with an obvious off button), but that’s just me.
After logging in, the site worked as expected and didn’t have any bugs or quirks to note. My two small nits are that when the video pops up from the archives the youtube controls are hidden by the scroll bars. This was on google chrome with a screen resolution of 1024×768 so it could have just been me.
Secondly, the archives themselves didn’t seem to be organized that well, with items that appear duplicated and no listing by date. Here is what you will see when you view the archives.
The archive system is fine for now, but a year from now, this will be very difficult to navigate through. All things considered the website technically does an acceptable job and the style is certainly unique and beautiful.
If you looked at the video archives in the image above, you would know right away that ahymnaweek.com is a young website. With only three hymns (video and mp3) and one live mp3 of I Surrender All, the site has just begun its journey of chronicling a new hymn each week.
If you subscribe to Gary’s website, each week you will get a video introduction and performance of a hymn hosted on youtube and also an mp3 if you prefer to listen on the go.
The videos themselves are just about the right length and the focus is on the vocal/instrumental performance, which easily is the best part of the ahymnaweek.com experience. Gary plays the guitar with confidence and skill that is only learned through years of hard work with the instrument. His vocals are also a perfect match for the rustic, sweet, and sometimes melancholy music.
As this is highlight of the experience, I am left to wonder why high definition video was left out. I would like to see these videos hosted on site in HD with the ability to download them for viewing later. Also for subscribers, the ability to get the updates through an RSS feed or as a podcast would be really useful. Imagine plugging in your mp3 player, and getting the new hymn for the week automatically downloaded to your device in either video or mp3 format. The sound is also noticeably compressed in the youtube videos, although the mp3 files are slightly clearer.
With that said, this site is still growing and nobody gets the web experience just right at first. I hope Gary will work with his technical team and get some more of these features ironed out. It will be fun to watch the site grow technically as well as in the depth of its content.
The weekly hymn videos from Gary require either a monthly or yearly subscription. With many publishers opting first for a free ad supported product, ahymnaweek.com sets its own course by asking users to pay up front for the content. The current payment options are a bit bewildering though and I hope Gary will elaborate further on this issue. The website says that it costs $4 per month but $52 per year. If someone picked the monthly option and pays that for a year they will end up paying $4 x 12 = $48 which ends up being cheaper than paying for the whole year up front. Very bizarre and I guess I recommend paying on the monthly option if you decide to subscribe. It would make sense to discount the cost for customers who are willing to pay for a whole year up front.
One of the problems with the current set up is that there is no teaser or sample content so that users know what they’ll get when they pony up the cash. This could cause some to be uneasy because there is no telling what is behind the pay wall (unless you read this review!).
I love the idea of a weekly blog/podcast/performance that highlights a different great hymn of the faith each week and I think Gary Chapman has made a great start at filling this market niche. There is still some room for improvement, mainly in technical areas like HD video, RSS feeds, and the organization of the past hymn archive. But mostly the site needs a little time to grow its content. I plan to revisit this website in a year from today and post an update to this review. I am excited for all that will happen during that time.
Thank you Gary for your hard work!
Now check it out for yourself!