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Pope Benedict XVI Has Added You As a Friend


Vatican calls social networking a "gift to humanity," launches own YouTube channel.


More than 2 years after buying YouTube for $1.65 billion, Google (GOOG) still seems to be grappling with how to monetize the site's huge audience. One sign that this may ultimately change is the arrival of an even larger -- some might say larger-than-life -- presence on YouTube: The Vatican.

Yes, Pope Benedict XVI and the Catholic Church he oversees, often hesitant to adjust to the modern world, kicked down the door to the 21st century with its own YouTube channel last Friday. It was mildly appropriate that, on a day when Google reported earnings that exceeded Wall Street expectations, the Vatican reached out to the digital generation on one of Google's signature platforms. From a business standpoint, it speaks to the truly global viewership Google has at its disposal.

The site was launched the same day the pontiff, in a speech, embraced social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace as a "gift to humanity." (Does this make Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg a patron saint?) The Pope joins other bigwigs who have chosen to harness the power of YouTube by launching their own channels: Queen Elizabeth II and President Barack Obama. Obama's channel went live on Inauguration Day.

Instead of stupid pet tricks and air-guitar renditions of arena rock songs, the Vatican's YouTube channel will offer speeches, prayers and news for its worldwide audience. Much of the content comes from the Vatican's existing TV channel, CTV. In the inaugural video, Benedict welcomed viewers to this "great family that knows no borders" and said the channel would create a "great dialogue of truth." The site, which will be updated daily, can be viewed in English, Italian, Spanish and German.

Alas, Benedict also warned about spending too much time on Facebook or YouTube. He said "obsessive" online networking could isolate people from real social interaction. I feel dated in conceding that I agree with him, but he may be onto something: Economic recession and social unrest often leads to people withdrawing from public life.

The Pope's soothsaying does have its precedents. In November, the Italian Finance Minister, Giulio Tremonti, said Benedict was the first to predict the breakdown of the global financial system - in 1985 (take that, Nouriel Roubini!) Then a cardinal, German-born Joseph Ratzinger, who became pope in April 2005, wrote a paper entitled "Market Economy and Ethics." It argued that a decline in ethics "can actually cause the laws of the market to collapse."

As predictions go, this one seems disputable. My suggestion is for the Vatican to post the speech on its new channel for the world to decide. It could be part of a Papal Classics series.

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