New Vatican Website! — My Thoughts
The new Church site aggregates all of the Vatican's media into one central location--print, online, radio, and television media. It also features live-streaming of Vatican events, audio feeds from Vatican radio, photos from the Church's archives, and is planned to be updated multiple times per day.
I was offered a sneak preview of the site during the recent Vatican Bloggers conference (here were my initial thoughts). Vatican officials explained that the site was meant to "create a dialogue with the world." In contrast to most Vatican websites, which are barely more than information repositories, News.va encourages this dialogue in a number of ways. It has Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube integration, which are must-have tools for modern websites. And the site makes it easy to share articles and videos across different social networks.
The design, another huge positive, is a clear upgrade from other Vatican sites (if only because it's missing the notorious background parchment paper.) The attractive layout mimics modern web standards by having sidebars, widgets, and vivid colors and graphics.
But one thing I'm disappointed with is the lack of an active comment system. Comment boxes are primary places where people engage online, so it's odd to see a news site without one. If CNN.com, Fox.com, The New York Times, and most online periodicals are brave enough to open up the combox floodgates, the Vatican should be as well.
I also have two more minor quibbles. First, the 'search' box is strangely absent. For a gigantic information hub like News.va, a search tool is an absolute necessity.
Second, the Vatican should have toned down the ALL-CAPS HEADLINES. Online etiquette equates this with yelling and, well, nobody wants to be screamed at.
Archbishop Claudio Celli, President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, revealed Pope Benedict's goal for the News.va site: "I want to be present where people come together." The site does accomplish this, as people will undoubtedly flock to News.va for articles, videos, and podcasts. The hub was built to handle serious traffic--millions of visits per day, according to Archbishop Celli.
But being present is not the same as being in conversation. The Church must engage the world as Jesus did, by balancing both teaching and listening, telling and asking, proclaiming and discussing. Ultimately, presence should proceed to conversation. It's not enough just to attract millions of people to your website. You, too, must meet them there.
Hopefully the Vatican will continue to move down the path of two-way, online dialogue. While News.va is a great first step onto the digital continent, may there be many more to come.