Jan 312013

Via Frank Weathers I saw that aleteia had been officially launched. Now you might justifiably ask “What the heck is aleteia?” It is an effort by the Foundation for Evangelization through the Media which was founded in 2010 to respond to Pope Benedict XVI urging members of the Catholic media to proclaim the Gospel on the “Digital Continent.”

This is suppose to be an open network and a evangelization effort. The front page is mostly a news portal made up of various sections and trending topics. It appears that the content linked to on the site is aggregated by people working with aleteia to find content from Catholic news sites and blogs. This in itself is rather a major effort and the fact that this is done in five different languages certainly increases the scope. There are also articles written specifically for this site.

If you do a search on the site you will get links to content they created along with sites they have specifically selected. Looking through various search results it looks like they have gathered together a solid set of sites that they will link to. A simple test of this showed that you can get results for the National Catholic Register, but not it’s evil twin The National Catholic Reporter. Father Z appears prominent in results and I wonder if they have weighted search results so that some of the more popular resources appear first? Apparently even my blog is on their whitelist of sites allowed in search results.

The design of the site is pleasant enough and uses a design ethic rather popular now. I like the color scheme, but I am biased since it is similar to my own. Like pretty much every site now there are social networking aspects. Commenting along with sharing information on multiple social network platforms.

Now is this site something that I would make a habit of going to? Well the answer is both yes and no. There are some flaws that I find annoying and hopefully will be fixed in the future.

For example the site has no RSS feed (at least none I could discover). I find this a major flaw as my daily travels on the web are almost totally via an app that uses my Google Reader account. I hardly ever bookmark a site since I usually don’t have to. RSS is a perfect way to keep up on news and is really mandatory for a site like aleteia. Oddly you can get an RSS feed for a comment thread on an article.

Now if I decided to visit and wanted to enter their name into the browser aleteia does not exactly roll off the tongue or the fingers for that matter. I know it is hard to find short meaningful domain names, but this is just clumsy. The fact that they don’t own the .com version of the name is doubly so.

For a site like this the thing I would be most interested in is their own content with the aggregation of Catholic sites being a secondary interest. Unfortunately they don’t make it easy to see what is their latest content. The “Most Read” section is prominent and does link to their content, but it should be easier to see fresh content. Currently the way to do this is to go to the bottom of the page and select “All Articles.”

As an evangelization effort I don’t see how this site would be appealing to people other than Catholics already interested in their faith. Matthew Warner previously had a critique when they were still in beta and some of his critique still stands. Especially this:

… my biggest concern is that the scope of this is too big. To sum it up, it’s target audience seems like it’s everyone. Which, from a marketing standpoint, means it’s for nobody in particular. Which is a difficult way to market, especially when you’re just trying to get a new, social site off the ground. Social sites are about the critical mass of the community. You go after a particular group of people and build a small community. Then expand your scope from there. Most every modern-day successful “social network” started with a relatively small, targeted niche in order to reach a critical mass before expanding. Facebook started with Harvard. Foursquare started with New York City, etc. And it’s not just big social media platforms, it’s anything that is community driven. Even your average blog is best started this way.

Then there are minor quibbles. For example the search field when the browser is at a width most people will see it says “Search within the Catholic” where “world” is cut off. Click on the search box and at times it now says the same thing in Spanish.

Hopefully they will fix some of these problems, but the problem with scope remains. I would certainly like to use it as a resource and hope it both improves and succeeds.

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