I think Catholics online are at an interesting and exciting place. And this place is a place that has a lot of unrealized potential.
|The Internet, ca. 1991
Catholic Websites, ca. 2008
|The Internet, ca. 2010
Catholic Websites, ca. ???
If I may, I'd like to draw an analogy between the Catholic Church's current use of the Internet (by both Dioceses and the lay faithful) and the position Christian musicians were in about five to ten years ago.
Christian Music – Then and Now
Christian Music, a few years ago (and in many places, still today), had a very "pre-manufactured" feel. Songs sounded like they were written by the same two or three people, they were very generic, and there wasn't a lot of diversity. You had either Michael W. Smith or Amy Grant-style sentimental songs, or imitation-heavy-metal or imitation-hard-rock music from Creed-like bands.
But a funny thing happened. Some of the Christian bands started to find their own style, and becoming a unique brand of their own, thus differentiating themselves from the mass of other 'second class' musicians who always "sounded like" such-and-such a band. They found a style, a look, and a sound of their own. And their fans loved them for this!
Take, for instance, Switchfoot, Caedmon's Call, Petra, Relient K, David Crowder Band, and Stephen Curtis Chapman. All of these bands started out slow, but found their own particular 'groove' and grew to be uniquely popular amongst the crowd of Christian music lookalikes. Did they all become multi-plantinum artists? No, not necessarily. Are there other Christian bands that are, statistically, more popular? Yes. But the bands named above (along with a few others) are, in my consideration, the epitome of true Christian bands; and I hope more will follow.
There is a place for Michael W. Smith style Christian music, yes... but it might be best if Praise & Worship-style bands (especially those in Catholic circles) find their own style. Truly be leaders in the music scene. I believe this is happening, but it's a slow process, and, of course, a process that doesn't get any assistance from the world at large (which hates Christianity, and especially Catholicism).
But what does this have to do with Catholics in the 'New Media' and on the Internet?
Catholics on the Internet – Then and... Still?
Catholics have been, to put it bluntly, way behind on the Internet. If you want proof, type in almost any search having to do with moral questions on Google (or another search engine) and see if you can find a Catholic response on the first page. This fact has been explored previously by Matthew Warner in his post Catholics Are Losing the Search Engine Wars.
The Vatican website, though it was one of the first websites, is seriously behind the times—theme differences throughout the site, terrible built-in search, few standards-based technologies for interaction (RSS, XML, other data formats and APIs). There are efforts underway to revamp the website, but I fear this project might not be as forward-seeking as it needs to be.
The English translation of the NAB (New American Bible) has no data APIs for public access and is locked down in such a way that most Catholic applications and websites rely on old translations of the Latin Vulgate or other inadequate translations. Protestant Christians have literally thousands of free and readily available translations on the Internet.
The overwhelming majority of Catholic websites (parishes, dioceses, nonprofit orgs, etc.) are user experience nightmares, don't have relevant or up-to-date content, and look like Geocities.
That's where we're at right now. There are a few examples of Catholic websites that are close to par with some of the better websites/services on the Internet... but I really don't see any Catholic examples of leadership on the web.
It's Not All Dreary
Steps to Future Progress