Community Networking


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Frequently Asked Questions

Who can I communicate with?
How easy is it to get discussion going once you have solved the technical problems?
What's the local angle?
What models are there for local community networking?
What hardware/software is suitable for community networking?
What is an Intranet?
Where do community telecottages fit in?
How can I get the community participating?
Are we undermining human relationships?
How does community use of Internet fit in with ethics, privacy and public access?
Should we assume that there will be near universal connectivity?


Who can I communicate with? Ideally, you should be able to communicate with anybody else who's online. Many organisations (at least at a national level) have a web presence, as do many local and national government offices. Unfortunately, although they may have published some information as web pages, they don't always encourage interaction and discussion. There may only be one email address for a local council site.

Exchnaging email addresses, while it may seem pretentious, is a great way of keeping in contact with and developing a relationship with someone you have met.
You may want to communicate with people with common interests, for example a support group which may be spread over a the whole country, and the Internet provides an efficient means of doing this. There's probably a focus for your hobby, a web site or nrewsgroup - if not, why not create one?

Of course, you can also encourage other people to communicate with you. Publisize yourself, your organisation and your services,by producing and advertising your own web pages. Make sure you highlight a guest book or feedback form to build up mailing lists.

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How easy is it to get discussion going once you have solved the technical problems?

In my experience, that depends on how well people know each other. Many people simply 'lurk' on mailing lists or discussion groups, reading but not contributing. People are reticent about getting on an electronic soap box if they don't know who is out there.
It's good to have specific task or subject to work around. If you are not networking with a purpose, people will quickly become bored and unsuscribe. It may also be necessary to have a list coordinator to keep discussion flowing creatively and to try to keep the topic in focus, as well as summarizing content.

See Internet Basics: Mailing Lists

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What's the local angle?


It may seem dstrange to want to use the global Internet to communicate with people who only live a few minutes bus ride away, but the local community is an important 'interest' group and the technology can enhanceexisting social networksand lead to greater cross sector communication.

By providing up-to-date local information, with no time restrictions on availability, and allowing any one to publish their own view on local issues, there exists the means to increase the knowledge of local people about theirt community. In addition, there is the ease with which feedback and discussion can happen
For example, providing local governemt information and email access to councillors enabling two way communications between local respresentatives and citizens, even (as in Singapore) voting over the net, public feedback to local organisations aloows people to be involved in local affairs, increasing local pride and participation.
Some of this may have started in your area (See A List of Local Community Networks)

Online collaboration can help to develop working together. Groups of people with complementary services can increase work opportunities by advertising, sharing skills and with easy file transfer allow work on the same document at (virtually) the same time.
This cooperation can be extended cross-sector to help with funding bids where partnership is a key requirement.
Other initiatives which could benefit from these sort of initiatives are LETS schemes, cresdit unions, food coops, baby sitting groups and volunteers recruitment.

It may be useful to think of this technology as a services such as noticeboards, village halls and telecottages.

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What models are there for local community networking?

There many kinds of community networks in operation. Although the vast majority of them are in the states, Britain (and Europe) is catching up.
The US models may not be completely right for us but to try to avoid re-inveting the wheel, the following from Anne Beamish (http://alberti.mit.edu/arch/4.207/anneb/thesis/toc.html) may help:

Broadcast model (Community Information Network)
places greater emphasis on content rather than communication. From this perspective, the problem is how to allow one source to send the same information to the maximum number of dispersed people.
Implicit in this model is the idea that the owners of the communication channel control information content and broadcast what is beneficial to them. It does not focus on feedback or communication among users.

Database model
Also places greater emphasis on content than communication.
It defines the problem as how to make a particular body of information accessible to a specific group of users. It aims to make available the particular information that people want to receive rather than what information the channel owners would like to disseminate.
This depends upon the level of community involvement in the first place ?

Electronic mail
maximises communication among a community of users by making it easier to exchange information with minimal regard to real time, space or social hierarchy. Also implicit in this model is the idea that the technology primarily consists of communication channels where the content is decided by the users and not by the system owners, the model of a common carrier.

MIS model
This model looks to computers to help better manage and process large quantities of information. For example, this model would consider allowing citizens to access a city's geographic-based information system so that residents could inquire about land use and other geographically coded information.

In practice, it is probably a combination of these which will develop as a community decides what suits it best. The more information and participation going on, the greater the take up will be, and vice-versa.

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What hardware/software (Infrastructure) is suitable for community networking?


The evolution of the Internet means that there is an 'open' system, one with common standards for communication. There are commercial services who will provide the basis for publishing, at a cost, but a community may decide to set up its own low cost version with a common independent 'space' for internaciton and discussion. It needs the whole community to decide what is right for its needs.

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What is an Intranet?


Orginating in corporate computing, this is the use of Internet software on existing internal networks.
The idea may be expanded, however, to mean the use of Internet software on a local area Internet network. Rather than signing up with an Internet Service Provider, you could connect, via a local call or an internal telephone exchange, to your local Intranet service which would attach you to services for your local area. This could then be a very low-cost connection, with an additional cost for Internet connection.

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Where do community telecottages fit in?





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How can I get the community participating?

To be succssful, a community network needs the support of all sectors of the commuity.
We need to convince people of the benefits of the Internet (even if they haven't seen it)
We need to ensure genuine bottom up values are incorporated and stress the importance of interactivity
We need to make it easy and cheap to use.
We need a commitment to information sharing
Resources for economic development
Telecities, cross- community, schools use

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Are we undermining human relationships?

The Internet should be seen as simply a new tool to help existing networks of people communicate better. There is still the need for face-to-face iteraction but the technology can support personal contact. It's a way of keeping in touch inbetween times, or when distance is prohibitive, for example in the networking of rural communities or other isolated individuals.
In the "Information Society", it can provide social cohesion and participation for citizens.

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How does community use of Internet fit in with ethics, privacy and public access?




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Should we assume that there will be near universal connectivity? ...and if we don't get universal connectivity, how does this affect our vision of wider community benefits?

At a governmet level, universal service could be defined as regulation that requires licensed service providers to offer a particular service universally.

At a local level, anyone with a telephone line can have Internet service on an equal basis so long as there is an Internet access point within local call distance. The cost of adding Internet to an existing telephone connection is small, but the hardware costs are still high, and there needs to be public provision of low-cost access in public places.

As technology changes, the requirements for universal access change. For example, at some stage we probably need to make ISDN access a universal service requirement since there is a big difference between Internet access at the highest analogue level and via ISDN. If ISDN access is available much cheaper to businesses and government buildings, the low volume user could be disadvantaged compared with the higher volume users - for example unemployed people versus successful teleworkers.

One reason for worrying about universal service is the problem of excluded users and the information "haves" and "have nots". Universal service may not the the best mechanism. Even if we assume that within a few years most homes will have PCs and Internet access just as today most homes have television and a phone, then it may be better to provide for the "have nots" through social security mechanisms rather than through telecom regulation.

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