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The Ratings Resolution

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Aug 09, 2006

A couple of weeks ago in this space I asked for feedback about our web site reviews and the way we present that information, including the ratings system. I very much appreciate the many users who wrote in to share their ideas. We considered this feedback extensively, along with our own internal constraints, at a meeting of our entire Review staff this past Monday.

The overwhelming majority of respondents (well over 90%) said that they depend on our ratings, particularly the Fidelity rating, and would be very disappointed if we dropped them. This reason alone is sufficient to keep up the effort to maintain the ratings feature, effectively settling the question.

We also received a number of other useful comments. Several people emphasized that, while they like the Ratings for sizing things up at a glance, they try to take time to go into the Strengths and Weaknesses as well, because these help them to understand various issues and concerns in a way that mere ratings cannot do. We believe this is an excellent point, so we will also continue the work of documenting the details in the Strengths and Weaknesses section.

Others mentioned that additional kinds of reviews would be useful as well (our reviews are limited to online content). We think we can address this partially. Many organizations use their websites primarily to promote resources and services which are available offline (schools, publishers, charities, sales sites, and so on). Unfortunately, it goes way beyond our abilities to review such offline content, services and programs. But we do have sufficient knowledge of many of the better Catholic organizations that we can make recommendations without actually doing full-fledged reviews.

For this reason, later this year we intend to add a Recommended Organizations feature where we will list Catholic organizations in the “offline service” categories which we think you should know about. Sometimes such an organization will also provide valuable online content, and when this is the case, you’ll be able to click through to the full-fledged review.

Finally, a few correspondents expressed the wish that we would cover a larger quantity of sites overall, noting that it is sometimes hard for a webmaster to get on our review list. Here I’m afraid I must disappoint. In fact, we’re going somewhat in the opposite direction, weeding out sites which may be fine, but which don’t have sufficient quality and/or original content to merit inclusion in our database.

As a justification for this let me return to our primary purpose in doing website reviews. That purpose is to place the best Catholic resources on the web at your finger tips. To do this well requires selectivity, and it means leaving out quite a few Catholic sites which, while completely unobjectionable, are simply not very original, creative or content-rich. Rating the sites is important to us, but secondary. For example, we generally include problematic sites only when they have some excellent resources but require a warning to protect the unwary, or when the sites are so well-known and widely used already that we feel we ought to do our part to end the confusion about their so-called “Catholic” quality.

Similarly, although we’d like to give a hearty pat on the back to every Catholic out there who is trying to do good things on the web, we believe our users are better served (and our time better used) by confining our positive reviews to sites that are truly rich and worthwhile—sites that will significantly reward our users if they decide to visit. For this the information available must be rich, unique and extensive.

Thanks again to all who commented. Watch for our new Recommended Organizations feature sometime this Fall.

An appeal from our founder, Dr. Jeffrey Mirus:

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