Action Alert!

Poll Results: Future Directions for

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Dec 06, 2004

Between October 25th and November 8th, we ran a poll on the future directions of Principally we wanted to find out two things: (1) Whether the weekly columns Peter and I write in the Highlights section are considered valuable by our users; and, (2) Whether developing extensive Internet protection / anti-porn services for our users would be a welcome and financially-viable enterprise. Several questions approached these two concerns from different angles. The results surprised me.

Who Took the Poll

The poll was open to all donors, registered users and visitors. Of the 645 respondents, roughly half were donors or registered users, the other half being frequent or at least occasional visitors. Registered users who took the poll without an active cookie would have been counted as visitors, and we know from both logic and anecdotal evidence that some fell into this category.

The official tally was 10% donors, 32% registered users, 20% frequent visitors, 34% occasional visitors and 4% first-time visitors. 59% of the respondents were male; 41% were female.

The opinions of each of these groups are important to us, though for slightly different reasons. To take the two ends of the spectrum as examples, donors have the greatest claim on our services because they support our work financially, while we also need to know what changes will transform first-time users into regular supporters. In any case, despite some variation among the groups, the trends were the same for all.

Highlights Well-Received

Originally, our three main resources were the document library, website reviews and liturgical year resources. In May of this year, we added the Highlights and Commentary section, which consists chiefly of brief reflections by Peter and myself. Although some of these columns have generated quite a lot of feedback, I was concerned that this new feature might seem significantly less important to users.

The poll, however, showed otherwise. Among all categories of users, the three main services were considered roughly equal in value to each other and to the Highlights. We are delighted that our reflections have been well-received, and we will definitely keep them coming.

Internet Protection

Paradoxically (to ourselves, at least), the Highlight which caused the least comment over the past year was the extensive report we did on methods to safeguard yourself, your family and your computer from Internet threats. Wanting to get more information about this area of potential work, we included two questions which targeted Internet concerns, especially pornography. In this case, the responses saved us from an expensive misallocation of resources.

Indeed, only 11% of all respondents said that they both needed help in implementing Internet protections and would spend money to get that help. Another 11% said they needed help, but couldn’t spend anything on it. On the other side, 38% stated that this kind of problem was not a significant issue for them, and a full 41% said it was significant but that they were able to deal with it effectively.

I pray that these numbers do not reflect a false sense of security, but I fear that they do. For example, recent studies show that people are far less protected from viruses than they think they are. Moreover, we have seen many cases in which parents are mistakenly proud of the measures they take to control home Internet use, only to find that their children already know how to get around these controls.

Thus, the poll saved us the mistake of investing a great deal in providing services few will use, but we'll continue to provide some help to those who want it.

So What Should We Emphasize?

We were very interested to find out where our users thought we should place our focus for the immediate future. On this point, 37% said they wanted a free Catholic news summary. The next largest group (27%) said we should concentrate on improving the appearance and usability of our existing features. A significant but smaller group (17%) hoped for more opportunities for content-related feedback and discussion. Only 11% wanted more information about Internet protections, and only 9% were interested in content-related sales items.

The good news is that we plan to address all of these interests, proportionately, in 2005. All of us at welcome this opportunity to improve the site based on your response to our poll.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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