Written: May 12, 1996 by Russell McOrmond

Ottawa alternative community minded networking

Why alternative, and alternative to what?

In the early days of community minded communications systems, very few people were connected. In Ottawa we had a number of UUCP, as well as a number of FIDONET (Or sites using Fidonet software) sharing discussion groups. Most of the discussion groups and ideas shared were technical in nature, and the discussion of community events and community services was only a small part.

In 1991 the idea of the National Capital Freenet (NCF) was forming. Many people, including many from the existing online community, joined together to help create an environment where more of the community - not just the technical people - could come and make use of these electronic tools to share ideas.

One of the more political roles of the NCF as seen by some of the founders was to use the technology as a method to level the playing ground between the institutions we have (Various levels of government, large businesses, etc) and the average citizen. The idea was that if we all had an increased freedom of expression, that the average citizen would be able to be more involved in their own community.

There are problems with centralizing the tools used to try to give people this freedom of expression. We would not want all interactions within the region to have to go through a single organization such as the RMOC (they would obviously not have the resources to handle this), the same is true of community minded networking in the region. While the NCF was instrumental in building the idea of community networking within the National Capital, it is now the time for many people to take what they have learned within the NCF organization, spread their wings, and fly out into the much larger interconnected community that we live in.

Time for action: Some projects

There have been, over the years, a number of community minded projects that started with a small group of people (previously these were NCF volunteers) that changed over the course of the project into something different. I will discuss two such project: one that I have personal involvement in, and another that I feel is very important to the Ottawa community.

Ottawa News Administrators Group

In the Spring of 1995 a group of NCF volunteers and external Ottawa news administrators got together on a project referred to as the Export News project (http://www.ncf.carleton.ca/freeport/freenet/subs/export-news/menu). The goal of this project was to determine the best way to take the discussion groups that the NCF currently had exclusively accessible via the NCF host computers, and make these discussion groups easily available to all people in the region.

While this project itself did not have any direct results (For various reasons not discussed in this article), one part of the proposal involved the creation of an administration group for the ott.* Ottawa wide discussion groups. This group would have representatives from a number of groups that represented the largest number of users of the discussion groups within the region: Carleton University, NORTEL, National Capital Freenet, Pinetree, OCUNIX.

From the information available from the group:

Subject: What power or authority does ONAG have?
Absolutely none whatsoever. ONAG only has authority over the organizations represented in the membership. However, since these organizations represent something like 90%+ of the users in the Ottawa area, their actions tend to be worth listening to. As such, ONAG's power over the rest of the systems in Ottawa is purely by example and reasonability.

By sharing these discussion group, this ensures that when users post a message to an Ottawa-wide discussion group, that it will reach it's intended audience. This group also facilitates in the creation of more focused discussion groups and thus provides a mechanism for a special interest group to create a discussion forum for others with that interest.

Note: If you currently do not have access to the Ottawa-wide discussion groups, but have access to the World Wide Web, please see: http://www.flora.ottawa.on.ca/flora/newsgroups/

The FLORA Community WEB

In December of 1994 a small home computer was connected to the Internet over a 14.4Kbps dedicated connection. As a bit of humor, it was given the name 'apt1.flora.ottawa.on.ca' as it was located in Apartment 1, 214 Flora St, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

This computer was being used to demonstrate various WEB and related technologies to NCF volunteers and staff as it was found that it was easier to set up some of these technologies on this home computer than to try to make use of the resources available on the NCF itself.

Little by little interest grew in this little demonstration. It received a 64Kbps ISDN connection at the end of January 95, and started to have a fair amount of information relating to community minded networking and alternative transportation.

This expansion continued until April/96 when it was decided that the service had expanded well beyond being considered a demonstration project, but should be considered a full community networking service.

From the Frequently Asked Questions for FLORA:

FLORA is an independently owned and operated service to the people within the National Capital region. It acts as a sort of commons or free-space to organizations that need to provide information for members of our community, or need to set up easier lines of communications with the community.

FLORA is also a test-bed for newer technologies to be used at other community networks. One of the most active projects within FLORA is the FLORA Server project which is aimed at building client-server based community-minded services.

A focus of the services on FLORA is to provide discussion groups and other communications mechanisms to allow members of the community to interact with each other.

Current discussion groups, and associated WEB information pages include:

Where do we go from here?

I believe that this is just the beginning of an explosion of community minded services within Ottawa. Those of us that are providing such services are also just starting to create forums for discussing the projects we are involved in with teach other. If you are interested in getting involved with any of the projects, please follow the links indicated.

If you feel that discussion of community minded services in Ottawa would be a worthwhile addition to MONITOR magazine, I also invite you to provide the editors of MONITOR with this feedback.

Thanks, and see you on the net!

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