Open Source Catholic's blog

A Few Site Updates

I finally had a few hours tonight to update the modules and Drupal core on Open Source Catholic, and I hope to have some time to perform some bugfixes on the Airy Blue theme as well.

As part of the upgrade process, I finally took care of many todo items in my procrastination list—I moved all the remaining articles to blogs and set up 301 redirects. I also rearranged the links across the top of the site, removed the 'Contact' form (it had been used once, ever), and added/styled a few blocks on the right for forum topics and comments.

Have any more suggestions to make the site better optimized for your use?

[Edit: I've also merged this site into a Drupal multisite install running Life is a Prayer.com, Midwestern Mac, LLC, and Spirit and Truth St. Louis, and re-enabled the Boost caching module to speed things up. Please post any problems you encounter to our forums, or send us an email (see my address at the bottom of the page).]

Want Link Juice? Get your Feed on Catholic News Live.

Link Juice DrinkApparently, the Google Bot is quite happy when your a website offers a constantly updating home page - to the tune of 1,000+ page hits per day! Catholic News Live has received an average of 13,000 page views per week from the Google Bot since it's launch two weeks ago... meaning it has had a field day updating content from the site, and finding stories from Catholic blogs and news sites. It seems the bot checks in at least once an hour.

What does this mean for you, lowly webmaster? Well, if you can get your feed on Catholic News Live, you can get the Google Bot to index an inbound link (which does NOT have any kind of rel="nofollow" attribute, so you get some link juice from Google) pretty much every time you post a story. That can be pretty valuable if you want your posts to show up on Google quickly!

(An aside – Link Juice, in case you were wondering, is what we refer to when talking about the whole idea of Google pagerank and inbound link 'votes' - Google uses inbound links from legitimate and established websites to determine whether your site (the site linked to) appears higher in its rankings for certain search terms. More on SEO to come - for now, do some Google searches on the topic...).

Two questions come to mind from this discovery:

Vatican - One of the First Websites... Still Hasn't Changed?

After reading an article (from Six Revisions) on the History of the Internet, I realized just how cutting-edge our Church has been, historically, when it comes to using the web for communications. The Vatican website (www.vatican.va) was one of the first globally-relevant and vast websites in the world!

The site was built in 1995 as a repository of Church documents, and has since been greatly expanded. However, in this time, pages are getting lost, information is, at best, hard to find, and the generic design has barely changed.

Vatican Website - then and Now

Vatican.va - then (1998) and now. Not much has changed, at least on the surface.

What will it take to bring the Vatican back to the fore of the Internet? Pope Benedict, and Pope John Paul II before him, have repeatedly called for the responsible and widespread use of new communications technology in evangelization and preservation of the Gospel... let's get back on top of the game!

Steps Towards a Better Website

What can the Vatican do to get back in the game? Well, here are a few suggestions:

Catholics Called to Communicate with Charity

Seen on the Catholic News Service wire, and mentioned on Whispers:

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Communications technology keeps changing, but the need to deliver a message with truth and charity is never obsolete, said Italian Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli.

As president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Archbishop Celli presided over a four-day meeting of cardinals, bishops and Catholic media professionals to discuss -- mainly in small groups -- new pastoral guidelines for church communications.

A recurring theme during the meeting Oct. 26-29 was what constitutes Catholic communications and what, if anything, can be done about those who use the word Catholic to describe themselves while using all sorts of nasty adjectives to describe anyone who doesn't agree with them.

Archbishop Celli said he didn't think a Catholic bloggers' "code of conduct" would accomplish much, especially when what is really needed is a reflection on what it means to communicate.

Upright, ethical communication is a natural result of a sincere desire to share the truth about God, about faith and about the dignity of the human person, he said.

The archbishop said that what Pope Benedict XVI has said about solidarity and development aid goes for communications as well: "Charity needs truth and truth needs charity."

Announcing Catholic News Live!

Catholic News Live RSS Feed LogoI recently launched a new news aggregator website, Catholic News Live, which runs atop Managing News, a Drupal-based feed aggregator. The site grabs about 50 different Catholic website and blog feeds every three-to-five minutes, and pulls all the stories into the main feeds page.

After that, I manually sort the stories into one of many different 'channels,' which basically hold stories pertaining to a certain topic. The front page has it's own feed (with all aggregated stories), and each channel has a feed. In fact, you can even go to the Search page, search for a topic, then grab a feed for that topic!

There are a few highlighted searches already, but you can search for whatever you'd like and save that as a feed (kind of like Google News' daily email digest functionality, but more instantaneous).

All of this funcationality is built into Managing News (a great all-in-one solution, bye the way), and I'm excited for what the future of the site holds. Right now I have all the 'News' channel items feeding into the Catholic News Live Twitter feed (@cathnewslive) via HootSuite, but I may switch to using the Drupal Twitter module at some point (haven't decided how much I want to stick in the Twitter stream yet).

Why Your Diocese or Organization Needs Online News Feeds

I hear from many people involved in Diocesan and organizational work that they are interested in "doing more things online" and "connecting with their members online." it's great to wish for these things, and even better to try to achieve them. But wouldn't it be nice to actually achieve these goals?

It's not the hardest thing to do. And it's not like technology is standing in the way and is extrememly hard to use... But time and time again, I see things done that hinder the Church's ability to truly communicate and connect with it's members online in the best way possible. One such incidence was the start of a new "blog" by Archbishop Timothy Dolan on the Archdiocese of New York's website.

The reason I put "blog" in parentheses is that this so-called blog could be compared to an eight cylinder engine firing on only four pistons; there are many things missing:

  • There in no RSS or Atom feed to allow people to subscribe and receive automated updates of new blog posts (though there is a feed for each posts' comments... but seriously, which is more important???).
    • As an aside, once you have a feed, you also need to make sure you integrate it properly so there's not only an easily visible link or button for it on the web page, but it's also appearing in the site's meta tags so people using modern web browsers can subscribe easily in the standard way.
  • In the absence of a feed, there is no email list or any other method with which the diocese could "push" updates to the faithful.
  • The main page of the blog doesn't even show the content!
  • There's no way to promote, rate, or otherwise interact with the content - not even a "post to Twitter" link (though there are comments, so that's a plus).

One positive aspect is that the 'blog' is incorporated into the rest of the Archdiocese of New York's website, so all the Google link power of the archny.org domain exists within the blog posts, something that doesn't happen for many groups who choose to host their blogs elsewhere (the highest profile blog I know of like this is the USCCB Media Blog, hosted on Blogger). Another positive aspect is the fact that the blog pages are well-formatted in terms of their html - using H2, <p>, etc. correctly :-)

BXVI: Proclaim the Gospel on the "Digital Continent"

From the Catholic News Agency:

Vatican City, Oct 29, 2009 / 11:30 am (CNA) — Addressing the full Pontifical Council for Social Communications today, Benedict XVI urged its members to help communicate the teachings of the Church on the “digital continent” of the ever-changing technological landscape.

Reflecting on the role of social networking and increasingly real-time electronic communication, Pope Benedict XVI said on Thursday that "modern culture is established, even before its content, in the very fact of the existence of new forms of communication that use new languages; they use new technologies and create new psychological attitudes.”

"Effectively," he continued, the advent of new technology “supposes a challenge for the Church, which is called to announce the Gospel to persons in the third millennium, maintaining its content unaltered but making it understandable.”

Quoting John Paul II's encyclical "Redemptoris Missio" that affirms: "Involvement in the mass media, however, is not meant merely to strengthen the preaching of the Gospel. There is a deeper reality involved here: since the very evangelization of modern culture depends to a great extent on the influence of the media.”

What Makes a Good Parish Website?

I have been asked more times than I care to recall if I know of any good example parish websites, and, if not, what would make a good parish website.

Unfortunately, I don't know of any parish website I would say is "great." A couple "good" or "okay" ones, maybe, but nothing to call home and tell my Mom about. So, what are my criteria for a great parish website? One of which I would be proud to call myself a member?

Design

The website must be pleasing to the eye (just like the Church should be). An ugly, or 90s-looking site, doesn't attract or hold my attention. It must follow the simple principles of design: color, appropriate use of negative space, a common theme, and good font design must all be taken into account.

Design also means the site is easy to navigate. It should have only a few main navigational options, and shouldn't be jumbled with a boatload of information on every page—and most especially the home page. (Read more on this topic).

Organization

Know thy audience. What is the most important information for those coming to your website? Are you targeting your parishioners, or visitors, or both? Is the school website separate, or integral to the parish website?

WAY too many parish websites start with a cruddy 'splash' page that takes a long time to load, looks stupid, and wastes my time. Give me the parish page by default, and let me click over to the school page if need be.

There are a few things which, in my mind, must be one every parish website's home page:

Live Streaming from Rome - Quick Ustreaming at a Multicam Event

For the past week (and the next), I've been in the Eternal City, helping the Redemptorist community stream their 24th General Chapter. They wanted to share the proceedings in a more immediate fashion with the broader Redemptorist community around the world, and this is probably the best way to do it.

A few months ago, I was approached by the Redemptorists' communications director and asked what kind of equipment he would need to take a live video feed from a multi-camera setup, and broadcast it on Ustream (free streaming = a good solution - you can also use Watershed or a similar paid service if you need it).

Ustream - PC Solution - DV Bridge

I found a great little Analog-to-Digital converter from Canopus, the ADVC-55, and also purchased the ADVC-PSU5V AC Adaptor Kit with it (since the PC laptop the Redemptorists have has only a 4-pin/no-power FireWire port. I've used a variety of DV bridges in the past, and always had trouble with keeping a reliable DV stream into the computer. Luckily, the Canopus does a great job, and has not once caused a blip in the DV stream - it takes composite video in (along with audio, if need be), and converts it to a DV stream over firewire.

Fear of Apples - Reducing Complexity

After reading Seth Godin's simple article on reducing complexity, entitled Fear of Apples, I felt compelled to write  short piece about steps one could take to make users' browsing experience that much nicer.

Basically, by reducing complexity and limiting people's options, you free them to (a) choose easier, and (b) remember what they've chosen.

As a quick example, we start with the Archdiocese of Saint Louis' current website, which gives users a metric ton of choices for navigation:

Archstl.org - Old Site
15 Navigation Options + Search + Quick Links

The way things are, people coming to the site for the first time have over 24 functional choices to make; it's not readily apparent what are the most important navigation options on the page.

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Open Source Catholic's blog