REVIEW: L’Osservatore Romano’s new website and online editions

UPDATE: 20 April

The new L’Osservatore Romano site is working better today, though it is still clunky and a bit hard to navigate.

I was able to bring up the PDF of today’s daily.

One curiosity:   They fuzzed out the Vatican stemma at the top of the front page.

I presume that they don’t want people to copy it and then use it elsewhere.

NEWSFLASH to the L’OR STAFF: The horse has already left the barn.

____

ORIGINAL POST 19 April

My general mantra for how the Vatican uses technology has for decades been:

Yesterday’s Technology Tomorrow!

The semi-official Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano has at last expanded their online presence in an effort to make more of the content of the daily and different language editions available online and also probably make some money.

For 50 Euros (roughly US$72) you can subscribe to the daily, which is in Italian, for one year.

Imagine my shock when I tried to subscribe (I would like to support their effort) and I was kicked back to a previous page, with both Firefox and Chrome.  Eureka, it worked with IE, however.   Be prepared for Italian language buttons (a bad piece of planning, that).  Use “conferma” to go ahead.  They need buttons that have English beneath the Italian on the same button.

Moreover, you should be able to view a PDF of the daily at the click of a mouse button.

I tried it and – today at least – it doesn’t work on any browser I tried, and I am both registered and logged in.  The PDF seems to be broken at the time of this writing.

Sure there will be bugs.

I am reminded of the press conference for the inauguration of the new Vatican Curia office for “New Evangelization”, during which the President, Archbishop Fisichella, said they didn’t have internet access.  But that isn’t a “bug.  That’s poor planning that reflects a culture within the Curia and how quickly (not) they get things done.

Slowly but surely the culture of extreme caution (read: paranoia) about technology is shifting there, probably as a result of younger blood filling more and more positions.  It will take a while to shift the prevailing view of how the Curia uses technology.  They are not exactly leading the way, but we have seen some big moves in the last few months.

For example, around Christmas time the Vatican Radio and Vatican TV have provided the impressive live streams for which you can choose audio for your language (from Vatican Radio) just the raw audio without voice-overs.  That was a HUGE step forward.   Sincere kudos for that!

To be fair, they have to deal with various languages all at once.  That complicates and increases the workload.  Nevertheless, given the pool of really smart people they could choose to draw on, if the Catholic Church can’t do it well, then who can?

Finally, I hope that the subscription income they will gain they will be able to afford a coffee machine in the editorial offices.  They need to wake up and smell the doppio ristretto there.

But that is another issue.

UPDATE:

The site seems to have been overcome with traffic.

I hope they are ready for DOS attacks.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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19 Responses to REVIEW: L’Osservatore Romano’s new website and online editions

  1. pewpew says:

    The design looks pretty good though. Are there any updates on the redesign of the main Vatican website announced last summer?

  2. Henry Edwards says:

    I hope they are ready for DOS attacks.

    I wonder what version of DOS they are running. Hmm . . . Maybe somebody should tell them about Windows.

  3. Jacob says:

    ^ Henry, you’re a funny one! But I think Father meant Denial of Service attacks.

  4. pcstokell says:

    DOS? Gaaaccck!!

    Let’s hope on the slim chance the OR offices are using Macs. It worked for Umberto Eco, anyway.

  5. anilwang says:

    Using yesterday’s technology is actually quite appropriate for the Vatican web site, for the simple reason that many 3rd world countries are running yesterday’s technology. Just as it’s not uncommon to find 1980s era cars (or earlier) in developing countries, it’s not uncommon to find 1990′s era computers in these countries running either Windows 3.1 or Linux. If it mostly works and it takes a few years wages to replace, it’s just plain imprudent to upgrade.

    That being said, relying on IE specific features is a definite no-no if you want to reach a global audience, and it’s completely unnecessary.

  6. lacrossecath says:

    Father, handling multiple languages is actually not as hard as it seems. There are many open source tools out there(building your site with Joomla is one way). The IE thing is pathetic, plain and simple. They are requiring people to purchase Microsoft software to view their website.

    I guess I’ll have to find someone else to tell me that Obama “is not a pro-abortion president.”

  7. Random Walk says:

    @anilwang:

    In this case (and to be fair, as you’ve stated), shooting for web standards instead of IE-specific ones may actually be a boon to them for the 3rd-world, considering the larger use of Linux (which doesn’t have/use IE).

    I suspect they had procured a local contractor to do the redesign, and that guy (guys) likely recommended the standard Microsoft-centric solution (*sigh*, I know…) The management in turn, not being exactly tech-centric, likely agreed to it. The results are, well… kind of typical for companies whose IT departments probably don’t have much input into the process.

  8. Random: I think most of their subscribers might not wind up being from the Third World.

  9. Martial Artist says:

    Dear Father Zuhlsdorf,

    You wrote:

    Sure there will be bugs.

    For shame. Those of us who work (or have done) in the software industry know that what you think of as a bug is, rather, what we recognize as

    an undocumented design feature.

  10. Martial: Call it… what… alienware?

  11. pseudomodo says:

    Father!

    That’s not the Vatican Stemma! Its a barcode!

    You can it with your smartphone and they send you a coupon…

    I think…

  12. ghlad says:

    I’ve tried scanning it in different orientations, and it’s not being recognized by my Android as being a QR/barcode… but that IS exactly what it looks like. I wonder what would happen if I photoshopped in the squares at the corners.

  13. Yesterday’s technology tomorrow. Hysterical!

    I’ve almost decided to stop being critical of L’OR et al. Almost. Not quite. Like today, the VIS announced that during Holy Week, from Thursday to Tuesday, they would be closed. You know, Holy Week. It runs from Thursday to Tuesday now. It’s just too funny. Ah well, back to work.

  14. Random Walk says:

    @Fr:
    True indeed – the majority will likely be folks in the EU, US, and etc.

    That said, I’m sitting in LA (traveling on business) right now, typing this in using Google Chrome.
    (I don’t touch IE unless I absolutely have to, mostly for safety reasons… and I have IE 9 installed on the laptop.)

  15. Jeremiah says:

    Seriously though, how tough do you figure it would be to get a job as a Vatican web dev? Because I, for one, think that would be an awesome job. Even if it did mean dealing with people who haven’t exactly embraced the possibilities technology offers, it would mean the chance to make something useful (and maybe even beautiful, albeit a virtual beauty) for the Church.

    Because, as has already been mentioned, we’ve got some real talent in the Church, willing and able to work on this sort of thing.

    Seriously, where would I send my resume for this?

  16. PostCatholic says:

    That logo looks more like a bad attempt at scanning print document.

    It’s a shame they didn’t go with a good open source CMS like Drupal or Joomla! instead of hiring some Microsoft-only agency to do the site. The Joomla! web development community in Italy and the nearby Balkans and Greece has some of the most amazing talent available. (Disclosure: I’m professional Joomla! developer and a part of Joomla!’s leadership team.) It would have avoided a lot of licensing issues, costs, and compatibility problems. Plus whoever did their site didn’t even bother installing Google Analytics. On the plus side, the design is simple and dignified and very light on Javascript code. They didn’t stay consistent on their admirably restrained use of color, though, and I wonder if that’s deliberate or just bad decision making.

  17. That thing is not a sort of square bar-code we sometimes see now. It is a scrambled image of the Holy See’s tiara and crossed keys. Really.

    It isn’t, for example, like this important code:

    TRY ME

  18. @PostCatholic Has Joomla! leadership approached them(I know that’s not the way it supposed to work, but it would be great publicity for Joomla!)?

  19. Random Walk says:

    re: “Seriously, where would I send my resume for this?”

    Ditto that. :)