Suggestions to the National Capital Freenet organization

As the National Capital Freenet (NCF) has been expanding, a number of problems have become visible. As with many things in life, sometimes we loose track of the forest for all the trees : the Freenet is definitely no exception.

The major questions seem to be one of definition of who the users are that the NCF wishes to support, and problems resolving interaction between the two major functions of the NCF. I will start with discussing the dual nature of the NCF.

Two very distinct aspects of the NCF exist and need to be separated in people's minds, the first being that of an Information Provider to the public, and the second being an Access Provider.

Information Provider
Services such as public discussion areas, electronic publishing of brochures and other documents, community participant databases, and other such services are part of this service. These are services that have interchange formats that allow for sharing of these types of information with many host systems.
Access Provider
Services such as modem dial-up, public access terminals, email accounts, News-reader access, Information browsers (Gopher, WWW, etc) are part of this service. These are services that require a membership to the organization, and an account on the NCF host computer in order to keep track of the user.
While these two types of services can be seen as very different, and can easily be separated with existing technology, trying to implement such a system has been a slow process and has been met with much opposition. Much of this opposition seems to be due to a lack of information on the possible technologies (See Technical suggestions, nccn1-tech.html) available to implement such a change, and some of the structural changes to the organization required to deal with such a change.

One of the structural changes relates back to the original question of who the users are that need to be supported. When you look at the NCF as offering two different types of services, you will immediately realize that there is then two different types of users that should be served:

Members
Any person that has direct access to a host computer that is maintained by the NCF should be required to be a member. Membership is clearly required in order to have an electronic mail address, and required on many networks to generate any type of network traffic. In essence, membership is required in order to be an Access Provider for a user.
Non-members
The Information Provider services are services that do not require that a user have direct access to an NCF host computer, and thus should not require membership.
One of the first things that the NCF organization needs to do is to define these two different types of users, and document which types of services should be available to which type of user. This will take a bit of work as there is not always going to be an agreement on exactly what types of services should be member-only, and which should be available to the general public.

While making this decision, the NCF should try to remember that it is not yet another Bulletin Board System (BBS) in the Ottawa area, but a service to the entire of the National Capital community. Questions have been asked about what would entice users to call into the NCF if the information were available elsewhere : this very question seems to have lost sight of what the NCF should be trying to accomplish, which is easy access to community information. Any information that is made available only to members is information that will not be as easily accessible to people using their chosen access method.

The last thing the NCF should be doing is encouraging membership. While some of the funding comes from individual members that 'might' not contribute to the NCF organization if they were making use of a different Access Provider, there is also a much higher cost associated with being an Access Provider over being an Information Provider.

There is an assumption being made that if the NCF concentrated on being an Information Provider, and only acting as an Access Provider for those people who can not afford any alternative method, that they would somehow be reducing the amount of money that is donated to the NCF. I myself do not at all see how this assumption is arrived at. I also do not understand why so much emphasis on trying to become a larger and larger Access Provider (and discouraging the use of alternative methods of access by making the information hosted on NCF as an Information Provider harder to access via alternative Access Providers) when this is the very service that costs the most amount of money to support.

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Russell McOrmond, rmcormon@flora.ottawa.on.ca
Last Modified: Jun 13, 1995