Awestruck is run by a small, multi-disciplined team and whilst the majority of our members are based in the USA, we have a growing international membership. We are headed by the archbishop of Cape Town and president of the Southern African Bishops Conference, Archbishop Stephen Brislin.
Why a Catholic Social Network?
The main-stream media is not in the business of promoting the Church nor the message of the Gospel. Giant social networks like Facebook, because of their necessarily inclusive approach, often overstep the mark by tolerating content radically opposed to the faith and to good morals. Vimeo and Tumblr are infested with porn and repeated attempts to close a number of hate groups on Facebook have not been successful. This situation invites calls for a niche social network dedicated to celebrating the faith and promoting the Church. A trusted space where Catholics can feel “at home”, discover Catholic content and have the tools to easily share this content to networks outside of Awestruck.
Is Awestruck open to non-Catholics? Indeed we are! In the same way that a Catholic school or university is open to those of other faiths, we are open to anyone who wishes to engage with Catholics and discover the Church. We simply ask that members respect our terms and conditions and behave in a cordial and respectful manner towards others members of the network.
New tools for Catholics
The challenge for us was to build a network that allowed for a customized method of networking to best serve the Church. We’ve spent time creating an intuitive social interface – one which helps Catholics, stay in touch with the Church, deepen their faith, facilitate easy sharing of media and build connections with others around the globe.
Here are just some of the new features and improvements we’ve made:
- Awestruck is now a network of networks. No longer a single site, Awestruck consists of various sites networked together through a customizable social stream. One login gives you access to all sites on the network. Think of a site as a lens through which you choose to view the network. Choose one lens or flip between as many as you please. Each lens (site) has a unique menu, highlights specific groups and aggregates related feeds. Sites distinguish themselves regionally or thematically and new sites will be added to serve new interests and communities.
- A wide range of views of the stream. A versatile double filter allows the activity stream to be viewed according to various criteria. “Your Stream” is a personal filter that displays content according to your personal friend connections. “Public Activity”, allows a broad view of network activity. The “Show” filter curates the type of content you wish to view e.g. to read posts of socially engaged members of the community select “Updates” or to see only feeds or blog posts, select “Posts”.
- Posting images, videos and links have improved substantially. Images display beautifully, there’s better support for video sharing (from the popular video hosting sites like Youtube and Vimeo) and links have options to display a thumbnail and a short extract of the article.
- Share to other networks. Social media sharing buttons allows you to share items on the stream to popular networks like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or via email.
- Build a personal network. Friending someone requires their approval of the friendship but following someone does not. Awestruck offers you separate streams for friends and for those you choose to follow.
- Hashtags. Anyone may create and use hashtags by placing the # symbol in front of a word or unspaced phrase in any update or public group. Searching for that hashtag will then present each status update that has been tagged with it.
- Tag users. As with Twitter, each user has a unique @ tag. Simply tag someone in a post or comment and they’ll get the message. (Tip: you may want to give yourself the same handle on Awestruck as you have on Twitter.)
- Post to groups easily. No need to search for your group in order to post in it – the “Post In” feature on the Public Activity feed, allows you to easily post to any group you belong to from any site on the network.
- Post privacy. The privacy level for each post is set on a post by post basis – useful for when you only wish your posts to be seen by your friends or followers. for example.
- Hierarchical Groups. Group creators have the freedom to place a new group under an existing group. There is no limit to the depth of the group hierarchy.
- Access to the network is no longer closed. We have opened the windows! Previously, one needed a user account to get into the site and view public groups. Now, a user account is only needed if one wants to contribute to the discussion, or make friends.
- Improved Speed. An improved platform and server means that navigating through the site is faster and smoother than before.
Awestruck for Catholic Bloggers
If you’re getting your news and opinions of the Church from predominantly secular sources the odds are that you are not following the international Catholic blogosphere – communicators who make it their mission through their blogs to provide a Catholic perspective on anything from politics to sport to beer to craft.
We created Awestruck to serve and promote the Catholic blogosphere. For those communicators who use various platforms to produce content e.g. Pinterest Boards / Tumblr or Facebook Pages, WordPress or Blogger sites, Awestruck can be a powerful tool to aggregate their content. Activity on third party networks, upon request, can be automatically syndicated to an Awestruck user profile. Bloggers, tell us what your URL is and if you’re in sync with the Church we’ll sync your feed. Links to all aggregated content point directly to the source. With linked sites we display only a snippet of the source content, together with a thumbnail, in order to showcase the original site.
Inspired by the Holy Father
In our efforts to build a social network we have been greatly inspired by the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict for World Communications day 2013. Here are some extracts:
I wish to consider the development of digital social networks which are helping to create a new “agora”, an open public square in which people share ideas, information and opinions, and in which new relationships and forms of community can come into being…
The exchange of information can become true communication, links ripen into friendships, and connections facilitate communion. If the networks are called to realize this great potential, the people involved in them must make an effort to be authentic since, in these spaces, it is not only ideas and information that are shared, but ultimately our very selves…
The development of social networks calls for commitment: people are engaged in building relationships and making friends, in looking for answers to their questions and being entertained, but also in finding intellectual stimulation and sharing knowledge and know-how…
In social networks, believers show their authenticity by sharing the profound source of their hope and joy: faith in the merciful and loving God revealed in Christ Jesus. This sharing consists not only in the explicit expression of their faith, but also in their witness, in the way in which they communicate “choices, preferences and judgements that are fully consistent with the Gospel, even when it is not spoken of specifically”…
Social networks, as well as being a means of evangelization, can also be a factor in human development. As an example, in some geographical and cultural contexts where Christians feel isolated, social networks can reinforce their sense of real unity with the worldwide community of believers. The networks facilitate the sharing of spiritual and liturgical resources, helping people to pray with a greater sense of closeness to those who share the same faith. An authentic and interactive engagement with the questions and the doubts of those who are distant from the faith should make us feel the need to nourish, by prayer and reflection, our faith in the presence of God as well as our practical charity: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor 13:1).
In the digital world there are social networks which offer our contemporaries opportunities for prayer, meditation and sharing the word of God. But these networks can also open the door to other dimensions of faith. Many people are actually discovering, precisely thanks to a contact initially made online, the importance of direct encounters, experiences of community and even pilgrimage, elements which are always important in the journey of faith. In our effort to make the Gospel present in the digital world, we can invite people to come together for prayer or liturgical celebrations in specific places such as churches and chapels. There should be no lack of coherence or unity in the expression of our faith and witness to the Gospel in whatever reality we are called to live, whether physical or digital. When we are present to others, in any way at all, we are called to make known the love of God to the furthest ends of the earth.
From the Vatican, 24 January 2013, Feast of Saint Francis de Sales.
We have a number of exciting new tools and features that will be added going forward. We look forward to exciting times as the network grows and as we serve each other in the work of the great commission that Jesus has entrusted to His Church:
All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Matthew 28: 18-20