Online Face of the Diocese

Technology continues to advance at a rapid pace. Keeping up with technological changes can be a daunting task, but the Syracuse Diocese has been taking care of business. The diocese recently launched the fourth major redesign of its web site, making a clear statement of the importance of communication within the seven counties of Central New York, the Mohawk Valley and the Southern Tier.

Danielle Cummings, diocesan director of communications, has been the impetus behind the web site creation since she came to the diocese in 1996. At her first meeting with diocesan officials, Cummings spoke about having an Internet presence; there were many skeptics in the room.

“Back then, my first priority was to work to create a web site. At the time, it was a new, innovative and sophisticated way to evangelize,” Cummings said. “Since then, we have had many redesigns, but the latest changes are leading us to the future.”

The inspiration behind the recent changes can be found in the diocesan technology office. Kory Hopkins, diocesan technology director and Chris Finley, diocesan webmaster, have been working diligently for the last few months to bring the latest redesign to life. Using two programming languages Active Server Pages (ASP) and Standard Query Language (SQL), the diocesan web site is now better organized with information taking fewer clicks of the mouse button.

“The old site was getting outpaced by the content. It was becoming hard to keep track of everything,” Hopkins said. “When we brought Chris aboard, it went from being an update to a complete re-design.”

On a shoestring budget, Hopkins and Finley worked with Cummings to bring the web hosting on-site (on premises), saving money that was previously used to outsource (host off-site) the hosting. “Because we have no external host, all of our maintenance and care will be done internally. We needed to find ways to save money because everyone is going through difficult financial times,” Cummings said. “This site will be cost-efficient and we will do a better job in communicating with the diocese.”

The use of open-source software such as MySQL has also helped cut costs on the project. “We are fortunate to have the availability of open-source software. There are many excellent things that are written using it, and it’s very competitive with Microsoft’s version,” Hopkins said. “The big thing is that you aren’t constrained by licensing. Using free, open-source programs will really pay dividends. More and more non-profits are using them.”

Two domain names were added as well, www.syracusediocese.org and www.dioceseofsyracuse.org. Now, users can find the diocesan site using either of these addresses or the original www.syrdio.org.

Paul Finch, photographer for The Catholic SUN who had maintained the web site since 1998, said the new site will save time. “I used to update all the pages individually, and there were a few hundred of them,” Finch said. “I think the new site will be much more efficient handling the data.” Cummings said Finch’s contributions have been vital to the evolution of the diocesan Internet presence.

Finley’s expertise in ASP and SQL has made the website dynamic. Information can be added or changed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Updating the site requires making entries in the database instead of changing each individual page because specific style sheets have been created to make many of the pages look similar on the edges, but different in the center content area.

“The site is definitely more interactive. There is more incentive to come back. The question was always, once you get people here, how do you get them back?” explained Hopkins. “We have spent a great deal of time making the site user-friendly. It has been optimized a great deal, even for those using a slow modem. Because of Chris, we were able to change the aesthetic look of the site while making it streamlined and better organized. He has done a great job.”

Users to the newly redesigned web site are greeted by a sharper looking interface, with Bishop James Moynihan’s picture at the top of the page. A toolbar on the left allows individuals to move to a number of destinations in the site. Destinations include pages for Bishop Moynihan, the Cathedral, The Catholic SUN, Diocesan Profiles, Parishes, Offices and Links. The Links page is an important one, Cummings stressed, because all of the sites listed are approved by the diocese for viewing.

The right bar provides more dynamic information — a What’s New section, Notices and Events sections. Finley said events that are entered into the database will appear when they are about to occur. The entries will be automatically deleted after the event has happened.

Diocesan Catholic Schools also have their own page. One can find the latest standardized test scores, teacher applications and contact information for each school. Through the Links page, Catholic schools’ individual web sites are available.

“You can even search for something on the site. Say your pastor was in a Catholic SUN story a few months back, you can type in his name or the parish’s name and find all of the instances on the site,” Finley said. “We are going to be able to archive all of the information.”

Although the web site is easier to navigate, people who still have trouble finding what they are looking for can click on the site map button at the top of the home page. Hopkins said the site map lists all of the possible links on the site.

Hopkins said the diocese must have a strong web site in order to communicate. “This is the public face of the Diocese of Syracuse, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” he said. “Many other dioceses have a web page, but ours is now easily in the top five, if not the best, based on the technology we have and the opportunities for the future. Our web site is right up there with places like MONY and Carrier Corporation because of the depth of design. We are now playing on the same field as those companies — we are as much a part of the Greater Syracuse area web scene as anyone.”

Hopkins and Finley are currently working on getting electronic mail for each diocesan employee. The e-mail server that will run this endeavor will be included on the web site server. Work is also being completed on an internal web site for diocesan employees, an intranet, which would provide benefits data, vacation time and other information handled internally.

Collaboration will be a big part of the new site. Hopkins and Finley are working closely with a number of diocesan offices to expand their offerings on the Internet. “There is so much we can do with individual offices, especially offices that are working more closely with the public, such as Formation for Ministry, Vocations and Development. They could really benefit from this,” Hopkins said.

Cummings is excited about the potential the new design will offer the diocese. “It’s more than a new design; it’s opening doors of new opportunity. We were one of the pioneers in establishing a web site and we are maintaining that status,” Cummings said. “We need to connect the diocese. We can bring people from all around the country with ties to the area here and let them know what is going on, up to the minute.”

Finch said users have always provided good feedback about the web site in the past. Cummings hopes people will continue to be a part of the on-going development of the site. She encourages pastors, deacons, lay ministers, and parishioners of each church to check their parish’s information to ensure it is accurate and up-to-date. “People are surprised at how large we are and when you think about the church moving toward the future, we want to evangelize where the people are. Many of them are using the Internet and that’s why this is very important to us,” explained Cummings. “Sure, there is a segment of the population that refuses to go on a web site because they are fearful of it. We can’t be fearful of change. This isn’t the way of the future. It’s the way we communicate now.”

The latest redesign can be seen by visiting www.syracusediocese.org. For more information, call the diocesan technology office at (315) 422-9063 or e-mail syrdiotech@broadviewnet.net.

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