My friends, I want to talk with you briefly about the future of Catholic Harbor. In August and September, we are about to get a massive influx of fresh new members as many families start their school year with Seton. What will this site look like for them? What will they think of it when they get here? They get their cues on how to act in the first couple weeks and they will follow the lead of the students already here. They will model our behavior, so if we want them to be awesome members, we ourselves need to awesome members.
In recent months, we have had an increasingly large issue with frequent disregard for our community's rules—also with unhappiness both from members who are upset about members who seem to go unpunished and from members who have their content moderated. There have also been quite a few deactivations either from parents withdrawing permission, students no longer enjoying their time here, or less frequently from disciplinary actions were the deactivation is usually temporary but sometimes permanent.
I think it is fair to say the Catholic Harbor finds itself at a crossroads. I fear that if we continue on this path, the dissatisfaction will grow. I know my own pride in Catholic Harbor has suffered recently. I think many of us might even be unhappy with the current state of the site but not able to fully put our finger on what all of the issues actually are contributing to that sense.
Thus, it is time to talk about some of the root causes. One thing I have learned from hosting conferences for the past 20 years is that happiness with a product, service, or anything really comes down to expectations, purely and simply. If I host a conference expecting 500 people to show up and only 200 show up, I would be bitterly disappointed. Yet, if I hosted the exact same conference but only expected 100 people to show up, when the 200 arrived, I would be ecstatic.
I think a large part of our problem on Catholic Harbor has been a failure to clearly state the mission and purpose of the site and then have all of our policies firmly adhere to that mission. If all of the members had set their expectations on the same thing and knew exactly what to expect from Catholic Harbor, there would be less dissatisfaction.
In the end, a site cannot be successful if there is animosity between the admins and moderators and the members. An "us vs. them" mentality risks sending Catholic Harbor down a path that would ultimately lead to closure. However, if we were all moving toward a common goal and had a common mission, we could build the greatest community the web has ever seen.
THE MISSION OF CATHOLIC HARBOR
So what then IS the mission of Catholic Harbor? To answer that, we need to first recognize that Catholic Harbor is an official site of Seton Home Study School, and thus while Catholic Harbor might not be an academic site, it still is an offshoot of Seton’s mission, so that some of the things important to Seton are going to be important to us as well.
First and foremost is the Catholic Faith, so part of our mission is to help our members grow in their faith. It is also a social site designed to connect Seton students, so we would want to add that part of the mission is helping our members form good Christian friendships. Aside from Faith and friendships, we also want the site to be a good experience and useful in practical terms, so we want to add “enjoyable” and we want the site to be edifying, that is, to help our members grow both intellectually and morally—to learn interesting things and to gain skills in things like debating and resolving conflicts. We can now wrap this up into one statement:
Catholic Harbor exists to provide a safe and enjoyable environment for Seton students to form good Christian friendships and to grow in mind, in virtue, and in their Catholic Faith.
With our mission firmly in mind, I think it is time we reevaluate. This site is an official Seton site, not just a back alley hangout. We need to ask, is the site in its current form accomplishing its mission to help our members grow in virtue, form good Christian friendships, and is it edifying? Is it doing that for all of the members or just some? Are there aspects of the site which actively detract from that mission?
CATHOLIC HARBOR IMPROVEMENT PLAN
In the coming days, Joe and I will be introducing a Catholic Harbor Improvement Plan.
Part of the Catholic Harbor Improvement Plan (a.k.a. “the CHIP”) will include some rule changes, a new staff role designed to welcome new members and improve the experience for everyone, perhaps some forum structure changes, a streamlined moderation and warning procedure, and other changes.
As a site like ours grows, it establishes its own culture. A culture just means the customs, practices, institutions, shared values, and expectations of behavior. A culture can’t just be imposed from above, it is influenced by the community’s rules of course, but it is something organically created by you the members. Every interesting topic you create or kind word you offer to another member helps build the culture we want to see thrive on Catholic Harbor.
Joe and I strongly believe that the CHIP is going to help make Catholic Harbor a more fruitful and enjoyable experience for you all in the long run. We can improve the quality of our conversations and have a site we are more proud of than ever. Every year is a chance for renewal. Our best years lay ahead of us. I hope to have the CHIP unveiled within the week.