This workshop is meant not just to tell you a lot about Dominican websites. It is our idea that we should discuss themes and issues that matter to you. We use a PowerPoint presentation, but it will only offer an introduction. Depending on your reactions and questions you can decide on which subject we will focus.
The Dominicans have a number of websites on Internet. Lay Dominican websites are growing in number and volume. Two crucial questions are the problem of choosing the subjects for a website and choosing the way of presenting this. We will look at several websites during this presentation. The main goal of this workshop is learning together about the possibilities of websites. Working together will also help in shaping the future of Lay Dominican websites.
The Dominican Order and the whole Dominican Family are abundantly present on Internet. The central website is perhaps the best known,http://www.op.org. Internet presence is obviously important as a means of communication. The Dominicans have their own special news site,http://news.op.org. The presence of the Dominican Order at the United Nations in both Geneva and New York is reflected on http://un.op.org. The International Dominican Youth Movement (IDYM) has its own website, http://idym.op.org. For the Dominican laity there exist even two websites with almost the same name, http://laici.op.org and http://laity.op.org. This list is not exhaustive.
On the website http://catalogus.op.org and on http://laity.op.org you can find lists of lay Dominican websites. Unfortunately none of them does mention all relevant websites in Europe. In a separate document a list of lay Dominican websites is available. The ECLDF-website gives a list of all European Lay Dominican websites.
Since Internet is quite varied in itself, it should not surprise you that lay Dominican websites have several forms, too. There is a number of national websites, maintained in most cases on behalf of the provincial council for the laity. A number of local fraternities has its own websites. Quite often both national and local lay websites of webpages have been incorporated into the main national of provincial Dominican websites.
Hosting lay Dominican webpages in an existing Dominican environment is of course worth considering. In some countries there exist a cheap national church network which could host your website, too.
At random we have chosen two homepages of a national lay Dominican website. On the left the home page of http://www.op-gemeinschaften.de/ the website of the lay Dominicans in Southern Germany and Austria. On the right the website of the Danish lay Dominicans at http://laity.op.org/danmark. An object not often found on this website is the drop down list below the Dominican shield. It gives you a list of all webpages on this site. In this way such a list takes only a very small place on a webpage.
The samples of local websites have also been chosen freely. On the left you see the website of the Düsseldorf La Pira community http://www.la-pira.de, named after the lay Dominican who became widely known as the mayor of Florence. On the right there is a page from the lay Dominican pages in Regensburg [http://www.capa.org]. It appears this webpage has the same text about lay fraternities as the website of the Dominican laity in the province of South Germany and Austria. In the middle is a website from Glasgow, http://www.op-glasgow.demon.co.uk/pages/laydoms.html.
It is remarkable to see a whole page devoted in its interity to a commented list of the pages of a web site.
One of the main problems with websites is deciding what to present on your webpages. This choice is also connected with asking yourself for who you want to create a website: for the members of your fraternity or for all Dominican laity, or for the general public? The kind of public should surely lead you to presenting different information. Some information is only interesting for people directly involved, other information might be valuable for a much larger public. The content of a Dominican website can differ according to your own view. Some websites focus on the Dominican spirituality, but others tell much about activities or about the position of lay people within the Church. Linking yourself to the Dominican Family is not only a matter of actual weblinks pointing to Dominican websites, but is also concerned with how you connect with other Dominican branches: do you actually work together? The last item is a real issue. Unfortunately some websites have not been updated for quite long now. This has often to do with the way the website was created. It is wise to think at the start of your website about its continuity and maintenance. Creating a kind of web team or editorial board is a useful idea.
Presenting good, relevant, up-to-date and reliable information is just one part of a website. The “look and feel” of your webpages is just as important. When it is difficult to go to specific webpages of your website, or to return to certain pages, people will feel annoyed. They will probably not visit your website again. The Internet is a visual medium. It is not completely adapted to presenting texts as well. Reading a text from a screen is more difficult than reading a printed version of the same text. People do not like scrolling down on the screen. Therefore texts should not be as long as we Dominicans would like them to be! We can make up for the apparent shortness of our texts by carefully choosing illustrations that are really relevant to the text, and of course they should be beautiful. Illustrations, in particular photographs of people, enliven a website very much. It is a challenge to create a balance between overcrowded pages with lots of images and long dreary texts without any visable inner division.
This workshop is not about telling you the only way to create a perfect Dominican website. There exists no such thing as a perfect Dominican website. Looking at so much variety just on the websites of the Dominican laity in Europe suggests that there are several ways of creating a good website. One can certainly detect or propose common elements. Clearly it is possible to choose your own approach. Websites are never complete. The style may change, content will be added or removed, the number and division of weblinks will be changed.
It is wise not create a complete website at once. In particular it will take time to find and eventually adapt the content. It is quite normal to add pages successively. People will perfectly understand the focus on a particular aspect of your websites. Trying to work on several aspects at once might lead to confusion for both the webmaster and visitors. You might make more errors than you will notice yourself at first. It is important to have – if possible – a separate address for reactions to the website. As a webmaster you should avoid using a personal web address.
Reactions to some websites, especially those in the smaller language communities of Europe, show that people like to have multilingual versions. Many people consider it wiser to create a version in a second language not at once, but only after some time, in order to avoid confusion with the normal continuity and maintenance.
The Internet is about communication. It is obvious that webmasters should not be afraid to ask help to other webmasters. The answer to your problem might be quite easy to give, and if you have a major problem, it will be of importance to others as well. If your website has some interesting news, major articles or interviews, a translation of some Dominican text, this might be interesting for other websites, too.
The organizers of this workshop like to learn themselves. They are aware how much faults they have made, and how they have been lucky to learn how to resolve problems. Often only faults show you how important a particular way of working is, or it shows the advantages or disadvantages of some technical tool or solution, which you had taken for granted before.
At the horizon there is the idea of a network of lay Dominican websites and webteams who work together whenever possible. This will help to strenghten both your own website and the whole group of websites and webteams.
Otto Vervaart and Nikolett Murányi