The URL of this document is: http://www.flora.org/russell/papers/newyears98.html. Many references made in this document have hypertext links at that page
It was last modified on: December 31, 1997
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Happy New Years 1998


What was new in 1997?

The report card for New Years 1997 spoke about the new community services that went online. While we had the loss of Ottawa.Public.Net for Access services in July, 1997 saw the gain of a number of communications services sites via the Shared-IP group. Shared-IP was initiated in January and involved 4 different Internet hosts being connected to each other and then to FLORA Community WEB so that those on the Internet could access the services offered by these sites. A number of new services were formed such as : Before the end of January 1998 these services will have set up their own Internet connections which is now cost effective due to the lower cost of server access through services such as Rogers Wave and ADSL.

More organizations are being able to set up their own provider independent presence online through the use of domain names. FLORA has been helping organizations such as the Citizens for Safe Cycling which have their own cfsc.ottawa.on.ca domain name which allows them to independently provide their members and the public access to cycling information. Without being tied to another providers domain, as their needs grow, they are free to make use of the most appropriate technologies of the time without any dependencies on any external organization.

National Capital Freenet

My direct involvement in the National Capital Freenet came to a close this April as my account was archived. I did not renew my account as a protest against the inconsistent policy decisions relating to different software, and the focus on fund-raising vs community that the Board of Directors had taken. Likely as a result of this and other dissenting opinions about decisions being made at the NCF, an article entitled _Dissenters challenge FreeNet for abandoning mandate_ ( Ottawa Citizen, Thursday 17 April 1997, Business section ) was written.

On the positive publicity side, the Public Relations Team of the NCF initiated FreeNews. This extremely valuable newsletter has been published monthly since March and has kept members and non-members alike up-to-date on NCF related issues. The FreeNews is available on an NCF menu, in HTML format on the WEB, and as TEXT sent out monthly in a mailing list.

While the NCF has continue to adopt more and more of the standardized Internet tools through its FreePlace services, the board is still having problems with technology issues and not creating technology independent community communications applications. This can be seen most visibly with the current inconsistent implementation of discussion groups between the NTTP access method (FreePlace News) and the FreePort Access method:

These inconsistencies have been added by request of the Board of Directors, rather than having the board create generic policies that apply to all current and future technologies and allow technical staff and volunteers to implement these policies consistently.

Further commentary on the NCF was available in last years new years notes and I would recommend interested people to take a look. I do hope that these issues of inconsistent implementation of technologies and the focus on funding rather than the NCF mission statement will soon be issues of the past.

Politics and new technologies

My own activities in community networking have moved more and more into the mainstream politics. I was actively involved in both the Federal and Municipal elections of the past year, both promoting issues and helping to promote parties or candidates.

Just before this years federal election I learned of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment. Through Newsgroups and Email I helped try to promote this issue to become a big part of the campaign. While we were successful in making the issue a big part of the debate for the smaller parties, the mainstream parties could not be convinced. Even the Labour based NDP party were unwilling to make statements regarding the MAI during the election.

After the election a project within OPIRG-Carleton called MAI-not came to me to create a Web presence and public forum on the issue. The site for this project has been recently renamed to http://mai.flora.org.

The forum, flora.mai-not was created with a new style of discussion forum that included the ease of use of a Website, the redundancy and distribution of a newsgroup, as well as the independence from the Internet of mailing lists. This forum style also automatically filtered out hit-and-run SPAM postings by checking contributions against a membership list. This format also does not slow down discussions by filtering through a human moderator or requiring technology specific or site specific tools such as password protected newsgroups or Web forum.

As with all other technology tools at FLORA, this new Forum type is comprised of freely available tools available to any community network. It would be highly recommended that other community networks adopt this format in their technology toolkits as it answers many of the problems discussed by both those who have primarily focused on membership-required forums (Such as the National Capital Freenet, or WEB Networks) as well as those who have been advocates for totally unrestricted forums. The only limitations of this style of auto-moderated group is that the current implementation does not allow for either Newsgroup crossposts, or for Carbon-copy mailings to more than 1 auto-moderated forum.

Looking Forward in 1998

With my own moving into Coop Voisins in June and my subsequent election to the Board of Directors (Also in June) I have started to become an activist in both the social housing and cooperatives movement. I plan to mix my activism in community networking and social housing/cooperatives in order to try to bring better access and communications tools to these growing communities. Projects at Coop Voisins and the Conservation Coop which is in the same neighborhood will include new Websites, discussion groups, and public access terminals. Other project being discussed include wireless connections to connect the various coops to each other to facilitate increased communications between these organizations.

I also plan to help in any way I can the various future-looking groups such as the Quality of Life Network (There is a local group that has forums and meetings). This group was formed after Robert Theobald's book tour for his book Reworking Success which has been very influential on my thinking the past months. I also plan to continue helping activists groups such as the MAI-Tell us Why campaign, and the Peace and Environment Resource Center.

If you have any commentary on this note, please send me email or open a discussion in the flora.general discussion group.