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Community Networks and Websites? 155

Posted by michael
from the potluck dept.
brendano writes "I've been doing some research into the fascinating world of community networks and websites -- online places that can inform and connect people of a real-life community. They typically provide news, discussion forums, and email for local residents. There are some quite successful ones (such as the nonprofit Seattle Community Network or the Blacksburg Electronic Village), but also also ghost town-like failures that show how hard it is to get a community network/website rolling. In addition, many struggle with questions of how to get funding; whether they can be for-profit while serving the community, or be non-profit with enough money to keep going. Unlike the wireless community networks we hear about so much, these types of community networks go beyond just internet access and try to provide access to the community itself. Some, even, are being done to help build up disenfranchised communities, such as one in a housing project, or the three of HP's Digital Village project (one of whose projects I'm researching for.) I was wondering if members of the Slashdot community know of more examples of community networks, and what people think of these projects. Can real-life communities succeed in the online environment as well? How so?"
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Community Networks and Websites?

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  • by WetCat (558132) on Sunday May 05, 2002 @10:41PM (#3467815)
    was in yahoo.com forums and local newspapers' forums...
    A pity... the problem is not to create good website, the problem is to make it visited by locals...
  • by RedMage (136286) on Sunday May 05, 2002 @10:42PM (#3467818) Homepage
    The town of Arlington MA has been online for many years now in the form of a community mailing list and adjuct web sites. The mailing list, of which I have been a member since 1998, serves several purposes: community Q&A, a notice board, and a place to vent on general topics of relevance. The forum is pretty self-regulating in the old usenet tradition, but there is a moderator to handle housekeeping and extreme problems.
    • by netclift (158504) on Monday May 06, 2002 @08:43AM (#3468918) Homepage
      Mailing lists for local communities give your the best results at the low cost/effort IF you are primarily interested in promoting discussion and information exchange.

      Check out the 800 person forum in Minneapolis http://e-democracy.org/mpls , the 300 person forum in St. Paul http://e-democracy.org/stpaul , and 250 person forum in the small city of Winona, Minnesota http://onlinedemocracy.winona.org

      Related articles:
      A Wired Agora - Minneapolis the Internet, Citizen Participation and Squirrels - http://www.publicus.net/present/agora.html

      Winona Online Democracy Startup
      http://onlinedemocracy.winona.org/startup .html
  • by crystalplague (547876) on Sunday May 05, 2002 @10:45PM (#3467830)
    I think the day my "real-life community" goes online, I'll lay off the caffeine i.v. I have going here and pry my ass out of this chair.

    Real life is good sometimes people. I know...you gotta deal with other people but if you're to the point were you but black paint under your eyes to reduce monitor glare (no kidding I've done this in a personal 48 hour gaming marathon), it's time to take a walk.
  • by lopati (74873) on Sunday May 05, 2002 @10:47PM (#3467839) Homepage
    one way might be to start a LETS [u-net.com], like the kind in victoria [victoria.bc.ca].
    • by Andreas Rueckert (138510) on Monday May 06, 2002 @03:41AM (#3468525)
      Thanks for the links! I was looking for those for a while. I discussed the idea of a ETS for webmaster work for a while. Very similar to a LETS, but based on a virtual community of webmaster, who could trade their skills. A website would act as a clearing station and a blackboard for jobs and coders. But the system has not got very far at the moment, althought there a couple of interested folks.
  • My university has a very popular online community which sprung up around a site which was initially designed for buying and selling textbooks.

    I suspect a lot of people in a geographic area would have something to buy/sell (cars, collectibles, appliances, computers, etc.) Advertise free buy/sell classifieds. They will come. And then introduce forums, chat, community calendar, and all that stuff.

  • WhitleyNet (Score:3, Interesting)

    by InnovativeCX (538638) on Sunday May 05, 2002 @10:52PM (#3467852)
    I work for a local community network. I'll admit, it's a rather small non-profit operation with a 'staff' of about 10 people that meet every several months. The main feature is the forum board in which people sound off about anything and everything around town. Slashdot it [whitleynet.org] if you really care.
  • by Sc00ter (99550) on Sunday May 05, 2002 @10:54PM (#3467858) Homepage
    At one point I was part of a really fun online community (I will not mention it because I no longer belong to it, and their webserver is having enough issues as it is right now). It was a lot of fun, we had all kinds of fun events and most of us got along really well.. Then it started to fall apart. The age difference between us really started to grow once som of us got over 21, then people wanted to have events where you had to be over 21 (like go to a local bar). This really cut off some of the members that were still under 21. Then people started having different interests, some of them got into drugs while others were really against drugs. Then both sides started to try to get more people to join in and back them up untill finally I had enough and left. I tried to form my own community for some of the people that felt the same way I did, but it just didn't work out. I'm still friends with the people that I was friends with in the community, but I don't belong to that community anymore. The things that were there that made me want to be part of it are not there anymore.

    On a side note, it is interesting how people hold grudges and such, even on an online community. Still, on my online journal, and when I comment on friends, people that had nothing better to do in our chat room then insult me still do it, even after being gone for over two months now.

  • Sure they can. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Rebel Patriot (540101) on Sunday May 05, 2002 @10:55PM (#3467860) Journal
    Can real-life communities succeed in the online environment as well? How so?

    As of right now I am posting this through community DSL. Granted, it is for profit and more pricey than Bellsouth, but I've had negligable downtime (only twice, once due to a server upgrade on their end and once when their pipe got broke). When I call them up with a problem (like getting a static public address), I talk to as person. There is no machine that picks up and asks you to hold for fifteen minutes with confusing options. The people are generally helpful and their service is impeccable. And if you're wondering if they are a community provider, website [gnat.net].

  • by Medevo (526922) on Sunday May 05, 2002 @10:55PM (#3467861) Homepage
    Communities like /. Provide a large user base, which allows for diverse opinions, from trolls to god.

    While smaller boards allow for more of a targeted group, or individuals that are all interested or involved in a specific action or activity

    It is hard to say which is better, for they both have there pros and cons, but if you like to argue about broad topics, /. And super-communities are for you. While if you are looking for specific things, check google for XYZ board

    My $0.02

    Medevo
  • by ethank (443757) on Sunday May 05, 2002 @10:55PM (#3467862) Homepage
    I have run and developed communities online based on offline communities formed by media properties for a good number of years.

    The common problem I have found is that the traditional media product failed to solidify a community itself, which inherently lead to difficulties reaching a critical mass in an online community.

    As well, the community online needs to be able to solidify itself in various facets in order for it to be successful. For instance forming a community around Athens, GA wouldn't work as well as forming a community around Athens, GA and then a subcommunity in it based around the music scene.

    So, in my experience, solidifying an online community around a regional media presense, or even a region is difficult. What I think would be more successful, and what is going to be my next project is forming the online community around national matters of interest (linked in with the national parent media company), and segmenting subcommunities based on regional interest, offering a kind of hybrid of regional/national topics.
  • Tallahassee Florida (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 05, 2002 @10:55PM (#3467864)
    today is the 10th anniversary of Tallahassee Freenet. Cinco de Mayo!
    20K users, free dialup, community forums, etc. They sell used donated equipment from time to time, and have had library grant money in the past. Initially set up by Florida State University [fsu.edu]. Tallahassee Freenet [tfn.net]
  • by Seth Finkelstein (90154) on Sunday May 05, 2002 @10:56PM (#3467866) Homepage Journal
    It seems to me an initial problem is that, by definition, the "community website" is only going to be used by people who like to use websites. Now, everyone reading/posting here is obviously part of that group. And hardcore to boot. But I wonder just how large a part it is, of the geographic community. It seems it'll cut-out almost everyone older, busy, or just not interested in playing with tech-toys.

    If the community has a lot of younger professionals, maybe it works. But if there are a lot of older retirees, maybe it doesn't.

    Sig: What Happened To The Censorware Project (censorware.org) [sethf.com]

    • Actually retirees might be the best. They are the most likely to be isolated as a group and an online coomunity could provide a way for them to meet new friends or for those who can't get around as much any more to keep contact with people. Amittedtly there is the learning curve problem. Perhaps online communities should try to train people in their use instead of wating for people to show up. That would create money problems though....
      Curse that law of unintended consequences.
    • Good point. One of the questions I'm researching is, can it be successful among poorer communities as well? You then have to deal with digital divide issues at the same time -- very tricky.
    • by 3Bees (568320) on Monday May 06, 2002 @11:35AM (#3469894)
      If the community has a lot of younger professionals, maybe it works. But if there are a lot of older retirees, maybe it doesn't.

      I think that you would be surprised how many older people really enjoy discussion boards and such. Once they get used to the idea, many people love 'em. I wish I could remember the site, but in Portland Oregon they have some sort of community forum that is dominated by older folks (meaning retired or semi-retired).

      Some searching...here it is [portlandstories.org]. Not a traditional forum, but the idea is similar.

    • by netclift (158504) on Monday May 06, 2002 @03:21PM (#3471780) Homepage

      It is all about outreach. With E-Democracy [e-democracy.org] we host local community discussions that have a tremendously diverse amount of expression. We don't know who our 800 participants are compared to say the census, but we know that 800 people in any geographic community discussing local issues [mail-archive.com] is very important and empowering. Take a look and judge for yourself.

      In terms of gender, age, neighborhood, ethnicity, income, etc. we can alway have more diversity and we are actually working on some grant proposals to hit various community events in-person to recruit for our forums. However, these community forums really only matter to various communities when they themselves think they matter. Right now the "active citizens" of Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Winona understand the real world political agenda setting power of online discussions where community leaders/the media participate/lurk, while many of diverse and newer immigrant communities haven't caught on yet. They will as they come to use all forms of media and communication to increase their power in the community ... or they won't if it doesn't appeal to them or relate in someway to their everyday life.

      Steven Clift [publicus.net]

  • We started a humor based community, catering towards Indian's in 1999. It has been very sucessful in terms of creating a hangout for Indians to share jokes and humor. Commercially.. we made a fair bit of money during the dot-com boom. Right now we've been reduced to using affiliate programs. The site is on Gandmasti.Com [gandmasti.com]


    We then started a community website for Indian's in Hong Kong on hkindians.com [hkindians.com] and this has also been sucessful... even though we don't spend a cent on advertising, these community websites are very viral. People in the community (depending on how targetted your definition of community is) will talk about it and will spread the word. It is then up to you to make the money.


    Here's my take on what it takes...



    a) Building a community takes a lot of hard work. You genuinely have to be interested in networking with the people and getting to know people. You have to be prepared to answer tons of questions and deal with a lot of trivial (to you as a webmaster) issues. It is not easy.


    b) Once you've got a few hundred people rolling, take some time and figure out what they purchase, who are the people who want to target them and try to bring the two together. On HKIndians.Com we are working currently with a couple of local insurance providers and a long distance call broker. We have had sponsorships from local cable companies who want to target new channels to the Indian community. There is money to be made.. just not dot-com millions. Don't give up your day job.


    c) This is very important... don't loose your passion for the community. Once you do.. others will sense your disinterest and loose their interest.. this will happen very quickly.


    On well .. just some random thoughts. :)

  • by YahoKa (577942) on Sunday May 05, 2002 @11:02PM (#3467888)
    Perhaps community sites would work if we started things like voting on-line. People would start to get the idea of what the web can actually do for their community.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 05, 2002 @11:16PM (#3467915)
    This online designe community was destroyed [newstoday.com] by those who created it because of over-zealous deleting/censorship. They have effectively eliminated the most productive and helpful demographic because of puerile editing; an excellent way to bring a community to it's knees is by silencing it's most active members...
  • Freenets (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 05, 2002 @11:17PM (#3467917)
    Freenets (no, not the peer-to-peer who stole the name) have been offering community access and news for over a decade (albeit dial-only access). The National Capital Freenet (http://www.ncf.ca/) has been in existance since 91/92 and is still in operation today, still as a not-for-profit organisation.

    They offer access, local newsgroups (SIGs), internet access, etc.. etc.. etc...

    At one time there were almost a hundred Freenets around, but only a handful are left. They offered internet access (gopher, telnet, newsgroups, IRC) even before the Internet was commercialized. For many, Freenets was the first taste of the Internet (myself included).
    • by swirlyhead (95291) on Monday May 06, 2002 @01:03AM (#3468168) Homepage

      I work for a freenet that's been around for quite a while. It's the Eugene Free Network [efn.org] and it started off back in '92-'93 as basically a single box under the stairs at clif's house. Nowadays we serve approximately 16,000 members.

      A few years ago, (before I joined) the IRS came in and gave the organization a bunch of grief for providing internet access as a non-profit, basically their stand was that since EFN was providing a service (internet access) it was competing with other businesses and could not qualify as a non-profit organization regardless of whether it was a money-making operation or not. The end result was that we ended up with two organizations OPN (Oregon Public Networking) which is a 501c3 charitable organization which owns EFN (Eugene Free Community Network) which is a not-for-profit business.

      OPN is involved in a variety of efforts that would interest the more public-spirited slashdot members, including internet access for the blind and disabled; hosting the local LUG [euglug.org] and most recently an ongoing effort to encourage the local school districts to adopt the LTSP.

      If you're ever in Eugene, come check us out 43 w. Broadway

  • CMU web community (Score:2, Informative)

    by Bert690 (540293) on Sunday May 05, 2002 @11:27PM (#3467935)
    I work on the YouServ [ibm.com] (formerly uServ) project and right now we're experimenting with setting it up at Carnegie Mellon University [cmu.edu] to see what kind of (if any) web community might evolve around this network.

    Unlike standard file sharing networks, your identity (by way of your university e-mail address) is clearly tied with your content, so the theory :-) is that should discourage blatant piracy and encourage sharing of "commnity oriented" content. Unfortunately we launched it right before summer break so users are slow in coming, but we hope interesting things (other than rampant piracy :) will happen...

    IMO this is a much better example of "community web" since each user has as much control as any other member of the community as to what content is published. Of course this is also rather anarchistic, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

  • by MattRog (527508) on Sunday May 05, 2002 @11:27PM (#3467940)
    I'm the Technical Director/CTO for a large sports-based web forum located at http://forums.fanhome.com

    I basically do all the tech work (Sybase ASE, PHP, Linux, etc.) but am also vitally interested in keeping the user-base happy with high-performance and reliability combined with ease-of-use. The problem has been integrating casual members of different real-live groups (e.g. Red Wings sports fans interacting with PGA Golf fans) while still catering to the hard-core fan.

    We've taken to limiting almost all off-topic posts to specific forums (called the 'BBQ's) while keeping on-topic posts in the team-related forums. Typically the 'word association' and 'what are you wearing' type threads are relegated solely to the BBQ. Users who want to get their Pedro Martinez fix can do so without wading through 100 pages of 'What is your favorite food' threads. This allows both the hard-core and casual fan user groups to coexist but also via the BBQs we can also get different fans (Football and Hockey for instance) to begin to know each other.

    Another often-ignored section is usability. As has been said countless times before - usability is king. As we all know from Windows vs. Linux etc. the mass market is generally quite computer-illiterate when it comes to anything more complex than double vs. single clicking on icons (sometimes even that is too complex!!). Slashdot for the masses? Sheesh, if you look in the prefs section there are a billion different things to click on, some of which have scary names like 'threshold', 'display mode', and 'thread'. Sure, for Slash's audience this makes perfect sense, but for mass-appeal you have to really, really dumb things down. Keep that in mind when developing - as the 'elite' we work with computers very often. Mom-n-Pop (who probably have a larger disposable income than most college computer-savvy types) need to be able to maneuver and feel comfortable in your site. Why is AOL so freakin popular? You don't have to worry about DUN, TCP/IP settings, or even trying to figure out what browser you are using! All you have to do is click "Connect to the internet" and you're there!

    Don't also forget that usability doesn't necessarily mean 'high-tech'. The user doesn't necessarily need to have 30 widgets available to them on the front page, but us geeks really like to poke with settings. Make the 'default' interface nice and clean. If it limits some of the 'cooler' options then so be it. Let the geeks check the box called 'power user'. :) But don't confuse 'usable' with 'simplest'. The technologies you use can't be crap. :) No one likes reading Times New Roman 10pt. for your entire site. Font tags can be your friend!

    Keep it fast - they say that most users have a 3 second (or thereabouts) tolerance for page lag. Most I've noticed are quite lower than that - if it doesn't start loading by the time IE makes that little 'click' sound they're somewhere else.

    And last of all -- make sure it is 'boss friendly'. People that need to browse covertly at work have a much easier time if you use few 'neon' colors and pop ups! :)
    • One of my favorite tools are the various flavors of MUSH servers, such as the one I maintain, PennMUSH [pennmush.org]. In many ways, muds can provide everything you've asked for -- categorized fora (real-time chat channels, virtual spaces, and asynchronous bulletin boards) that are user-extensible with a relatively simple initial set of commands, a clean interface (text with ansi color), virtually no lag, and boss-friendly in appearance.

      I have been involved with communities that started out of MUSHes and later evolved into off-line communities, and vice versa.

  • Perfect Timing (Score:3, Interesting)

    by fivepan (572611) on Sunday May 05, 2002 @11:30PM (#3467943)
    This may not be an insightful post to anyone, but I thought it was so great of a coincidence that I had to post a comment.

    I've just recently started working on a community website for my local community. We're not a large group of people and fairly rural as far as that goes. But we are growing fast (in the top 3 fastest growing counties in Missouri, USA) and a lot of "computer-friendly" families are moving here from the city. My web design business is starting to pick up as they do as well.

    I've started to do a lot of research on the 'net, looking at other community sites and reading articles on the subject. I haven't found too much to help me, however. The Seattle website that you mentioned was one of the best organized that I found. I think, for-profit or not-for-profit, that a community site could work if advertised, well monitored, updated regularly, and information posted that was relevant to the community. You might even find people logging into the site that normally don't spend any/much time on the Internet.

    With that said, I am still looking for help myself. You can be sure I will be reading through every post on this subject over the next couple of days. If anyone knows of sucessful sites or websites that offer points to consider, I would appreciate the info...either in reply on /. or via email (fivepanATyahooDOTcom -- you know how it is).
  • by sbrsb (233569) on Sunday May 05, 2002 @11:31PM (#3467945) Homepage
    Here are assorted Web sites [ctcnet.org] of members of the Community Technology Centers Network (CTCNet) [ctcnet.org]. And there's a complete directory of the Network's 650+ member organizations at a href=http://www2.ctcnet.org/ctc.asp">http://www 2.ctcnet.org/ctc.asp Most of those centers would love to get more volunteers with good tech skills since their budgets are usually pretty tight. Some are full-fledged community networks, others mainly provide skills-building opportunities for people in the neighborhood. -S.
  • by Alien54 (180860) on Sunday May 05, 2002 @11:32PM (#3467948) Journal
    Most of the angles seem to be based on what will appeal to your clients. This requires some sort of market research

    Not all things are intuitive. For example, NeighborSpace.org, cited above as a ghostown, is a pretty site, but Seattle Community Network, a successful one, is fairly simple and plain.

    The approaches are quite different, but SCN seems to be providing a resource that is useful, while NeighborSpace seems to be more focused in getting me to contribute something first. If I lived in Seatlle, I would probably use the SCN local directories, at least for a while. Just looking at it, it is useful to me, streamlined, right to the point.

  • by jaruz (577963) <J.Antonio@jaruz.com> on Sunday May 05, 2002 @11:37PM (#3467958) Homepage
    A few years ago I started the "Oaxaca Web Community", to help people from Oaxaca stay in touch with each other. Oaxaca is a Southern state of Mexico from which millions of people have had to emigrate in order to find a living. Most live now in the USA, and through this site I tried to give them a place where they can stay in touch with each other and their origin. It has had quite a following but due to time constrains I have not been able to update it in a while or add new services.

    It has about 1659 registered users.

    URL: http://oaxaca.com [oaxaca.com]
  • by Max Threshold (540114) on Sunday May 05, 2002 @11:41PM (#3467965)
    There used to be a board called The Dwelling Place in my hometown. Every now and then, the sysop invited all the callers for a potluck dinner at his house. It always felt like Thanksgiving with the family, even though some of us had just got done flaming each other in the Politics & Religion forum. So yeah, it's possible. I can see it happening today if there were bulletin boards and suchlike on the community freenets, accessible only to members of the local community.
  • by AnimeFreak (223792) on Sunday May 05, 2002 @11:42PM (#3467969) Homepage
    http://bogr46qdy22tc.bc.hsia.telus.net:9000/networ kp/

    I just finished this project a few weeks ago for my Information Technology 12 class. It was a half-ass job, but I got a really good mark for it seeing that others didn't go as far as I did.

    I am QUITE aware of the holes in my project.
  • by von Konrad (181540) on Sunday May 05, 2002 @11:43PM (#3467972) Homepage
    I'm a contractor working on a rural area community site. After going through various phases before I joined the project we are now partially under a state grant and trying to go for-profit. We've been relativly successful considering that we are located in northern california. Access to the area is limited by a few hundred miles of highway in any direction and a small airport. With the lumber and fishing industries going down hill we are struggling to get other indutries into the area, including IT. This community site is part of the effort to get local residents more involved with IT.

    The 'portal' in question is HumGuide (http://www.humguide.com/).
    • by frankmu (68782) on Monday May 06, 2002 @12:20AM (#3468068) Homepage
      how to provide people in the community with access to the internet, when there is chronic unemployment. Not all of us have dsl available, and even if they did, couldn't afford it. i do understand your position, since i live just north of you on the southern oregon coast. unfortunately, oregon is not flush with cash like california is, so getting a community up and running can be more challenging. i hope you guys succeed... and we can learn a thing or two from you.
      on another note, if you put a ".com" after our city name, you get links to porn sites. i wonder why someone bothered to buy the name of our town... there's no money here to buy it back from them.
  • by endquotedotcom (557632) on Monday May 06, 2002 @12:17AM (#3468063) Homepage
    I run a community site at NWTekno.org [nwtekno.org] (basically ravers in the northwest), which is kind of interesting because many of the people on it know each other in person, and for lots of them, their whole social life revolves around the web site. Kind of weird. We've made very little money (kids don't have credit cards, can't sell ads without losing indie cred, etc etc) and survive only because our hosting is donated, and I of course pimp them out [dreamhost.com] every change I get in return. Just thought I'd add that, in case it's of any value to your research.
  • by GNUCyberKat (62503) on Monday May 06, 2002 @12:27AM (#3468081)
    Having read all the (on topic) posts on this topic I find myself wanting to describe the website I am building for my community. I live in a co-operative housing community of approximately 180 residences in the middle of a large city. Currently there is no online presence for the community other than a single page advertising its existence on its parent associations website.

    The people who live in the community come from all walks of life and embrace most age groups, religious backgrounds, levels of financial stability, etc. However, having talked to a large number of them, I have come to an understanding of some of the general functions and premises that would build a great community website.

    First is universal access. A website doesn't do a community any good if there are some who cannot (not to read will not) gain access to it. Currently there is a single computer and dial up internet connection at the main office available for public use. After talking with the board of directors for the co-operative, they have agreed that if I could get enough interest and show sufficient progress and early participation from community members that they would be willing to purchase three additional computers and install high speed internet...its a start. (Note: about 78% of the residences in my community have Internet connected computers).

    Of the things that I have discovered that are most desired are:

    1. A community schedule of events
    2. An online copy of the co-operatives manuals
    3. A set of community chat boards
    4. A news board for non co-operative sponsored happenings
    5. An online booking resource for the co-operative's public maintenance and groundscare equipment
    6. A community for sale / wanted board
    7. A babysitting service listing / opportunities
    8. A personalized reminder / scheduling system for those community members who have tasks assigned
    9. A place for people to publish their thoughts, ideas, suggestions, comments, etc...(moderated of course)
    10. A place where some of the more creative souls in the community could write the occaisonal column or review for their friends to read
    11. A listing of all the public facilities with up to date descriptions and comments on availability
    12. A birthday / anniversary board
    13. A listing of all the businesses in the area such as stores, restaurants, etc. where the members can post reviews, critiques,etc.
    14. A member listing
    15. A security and advisory alert
    16. Links to other pertinent and community-useful sites on the internet.
    17. Personal pages for some of the members

    There really isn't much else that the community has currently expressed interest in so I won't try to include anything that isn't needed yet. As the title to my comment notes, you have to target the community with the website.

    These are just suggestions that have come my way. I plan to implement them in stages as time and resources permit. Currently I have just the basic foundations laid out so this is quite a timely discussion for me.

    As for the site, I have a service plan through my service provider that has a static IP and a domain name...I will be offering it to the community as part of my contribution as a member of the co-operative.

    I will be making every available attempt to make the site fast, easy to use, and personable for as many people as I can. You cannot usually please everyone, but if I can get most of them then we're laughing. Who knows, if this takes off, I might box it up and offer the basics to other co-operatives to use...anyways, thanks for letting me share my thoughts.

    • by cambridgeblue (578103) on Monday May 06, 2002 @04:36PM (#3472420)
      I run a business/technology community in Cambridge.

      Things we have found to be useful include:
      - Getting local 'heros' to represent/communicate the values of our community
      - Putting equal effort into 'physical' and 'virtual' activities of our community
      - Getting our members to pay once per year and post their own material
      - Using situations vacant as a way to drive up traffic and a value argument (we are a lot cheaper than newsprint media)

      Things which did not go so well include:
      - Assuming that people would renew membership automatically once they got an e-mail
      - Trying to touch members outside our catchment area for meetings [50kms]
      - Chat / bulletin boards

      Our thoughts for the future include:
      - Moving the whole process to pocket devices
      - Being proactive - triggering the right people with e-mails/sms
      - Linking up with other communities

  • by GroundBounce (20126) on Monday May 06, 2002 @12:29AM (#3468085)
    I live in a predominantly rural area, and we have a community network [nccn.net] that does a pretty good job of providing an internet-based tie for the community. The network is run by a non-profit organization and is funded primarily by selling internet access and web hosting to local individuals and businesses.

    Among the community services that are funded by this are providing free internet access in libraries, schools and senior centers, which would otherwise not be available in typical rural communities, providing free web space for other local non-profit organizations, providing local real-time election results, refurbishing donated PCs for use by other non-profits, and providing links to local businesses.

    Our community network has been very successful. Because of being non-profit, they can offer competitive internet access rates and high quality local service. They have attracted many local users who have migrated over from larger ISPs such as Earthlink as their rates have gone up and their service has gone down. Selling low cost internet access as a non-profit and providing good service seems to be a good way to fund a community network, at least it has worked for us.
  • by A. Lynch (17937) on Monday May 06, 2002 @12:38AM (#3468108) Journal
    http://www.livejournal.com [livejournal.com]

    They focus on building community, rather than specific content goals.
  • by Moonshadow (84117) on Monday May 06, 2002 @12:40AM (#3468114) Homepage
    I'm actually working on a business/service that aims to do just this. It's an entertainment guide aimed at teens here in the Phoenix area, but it's also designed to build a community and help foster the community offline as well as online. The point of the site is to help people find things that help them get off their butts and go have fun with other people in their community.

    I'd give a URL, but the server's struggling as it is, and a little /.-ing definately won't be good for it's health.

    Why not? It's a great use of the web. The trick is certainly getting people using it, but just let people know about it, and if they like it, they'll tell their friends, who will tell their friends, etc. Internet popularity is as much viral as anything - you just have to plant the seed.
  • by ghastlycult (318450) <ghastlycult@hotmail.com> on Monday May 06, 2002 @12:41AM (#3468119)
    The area in which I live (Cairns, Queensland, Australia) has a rather large community of folks that are online and they all usually congregate on an IRC channel devoted to the Cairns area to chat to each other.

    They are mostly teenagers but a few older folks also participate. There are also websites for the channel which say where the parties and events in the area are happening and pictures of those parties.

    Its amazing how many people i meet in "real life" that also chat on the channel.
    Quite a few slashdot readers are there too :)
  • by deverox (177930) on Monday May 06, 2002 @12:59AM (#3468159)
    Remember The Well [well.com] from back when the mainstream internet was in its infancy. They are still around but they are subscription based. Also this seems like old BBS' used to be before the internet was common.
  • by peatbakke (52079) <peat.peat@org> on Monday May 06, 2002 @01:09AM (#3468181) Homepage
    I'm currently running a server for my friends and relatives. We were a pretty tight knit group in high school, but now we're scattered all over the United States and New Zealand, going to school, traveling, working, etc. It's not a big group, only 25 or so people, but it works.

    It's great -- we have forums, a web based instant messaging system, web mail, file archives, and a handful of domains for people's personal sites. It's really helped us stay in touch.

    As far as funding goes, everyone chips in. The server is hosted at Rackspace, and between all the people involved it costs about $6 per month each, which is really affordable, even for us student types.

    It's a very successful system, in my opinion. If anyone's curious about my experiences setting it up, or has any questions, send me an e-mail.
  • One of the difficulties with getting a successful community network off the ground is the amount of buy-in that you could get from the general population. Many projects were started by early technology adopters who "knew" that widespread capacity and the early development of resouces would benefit the community, but if a broad base of support did not come together then it would be difficult for those individuals to sustain. I co-authored an early study [uiuc.edu] of the expression of community networks through the web and directed a community-funded project as well, Aurora Online [aurora.il.us].

    While we had buy-in from community leaders and early adopters, the rate of technology adoption by "real people" was always too slow to help us build critical mass outside of certain key segments (education, government, but not business in this manufacturing town). Involvement at the state level [icnweb.org] pretty much mirrored this: the community network initiatives that did well did so in communities with either a rapid rate of adoption (pure numbers) or a broad adoption pattern (depth).

    As the term "community" has come to have a broader application I think that the same observations apply. Fan sites, communities of interest, &c. generally do not do well if they are imposed top-down by a few individuals, but can thrive if they allow the broader base of potential participants to express themselves through the medium, while also feeling that they are served/informed or that they otherwise learn of grow via participation and contribution. Anyway, if you want to follow up with Seattle and all of the things that they did right then take a look at Douglas Schuler [scn.org], particularly his book on community networking. There is a lot of good history out there, starting with the FreeNet movement and NPTN, and you can get a good idea of how technology has changed over the years as CN issues have moved from access to hardware, to access to bandwidth and email (I am retiring the free email accounts on AOCN this summer, it was a big deal to offer them in the pre-hotmail days), to community technology centers and job training. Glad to see this get a thread.
    --chris

  • by Graymalkin (13732) on Monday May 06, 2002 @01:17AM (#3468213)
    One group of people you might want to talk to about funding/providing content for would be your local newspaper if you have one. A community website shares many of the same functions as a daily local paper. Community features such as bulletin boards and chat servers could be provided either with a paper subscription or by a small monthly (or yearly) access fee. It might be a local community blog. News articles could be discussed on the forums or in the chat rooms. It might even be pretty useful to have some method of talking to your neighbors about some local bit of news. An article complaining about potholes in the road could spark enough discussions and whatnot that could lead to someone actually fixing the holes in the road.
    • by brendano (457446) on Monday May 06, 2002 @01:37AM (#3468279) Homepage
      Many of these sites actually have started with a newspaper site, or later get taken up by a newspaper for funding reasons. It's definitely a good idea, except that sometimes they could need to do things beyond the scope of a newspaper -- like host websites for community groups, provide a forum to criticize media coverage of a particular event, etc.
  • by dabudah (577924) on Monday May 06, 2002 @01:21AM (#3468228)
    I was a little surprised to see Blacksburg Electronic Village as one of the examples, because compared to Seattle we are a very small town. On the other hand, we do have a very successful electronic community here, and I think the are two main reasons for this:

    The first reason is that Blacksburg as a whole supports this online community. The whole town is devoted to improving local connections and online information.
    The second reason is the support received from Virginia Tech. We have several research oppurtunities related to BEV, and have played a large roll in deveoping and improving this community continuously.

    From this it seems large-scale community involvement and university support help promote a healthy electronic community.
    • by brendano (457446) on Monday May 06, 2002 @01:42AM (#3468294) Homepage
      Well, the success of an online community is more important than its size. The fact that it can work in either a small place like Blacksburg or a big one like Seattle says something about the entire idea. I'm wondering what elements are common to these different examples. Thanks for the comments.
  • by ttyp0 (33384) on Monday May 06, 2002 @01:37AM (#3468280) Homepage
    I started an online community for Purdue University students [purdueonline.com] in late 1997. Going on our fifth year, I'm frequently asked if I would do it all again. I'd like to think not. Using slashcode has certainly allowed me to focus time and money elsewhere. Our target audience is small, operating budget non-existent with page views in the 300 thousands per month. When the board of trustees [slashdot.org] wants your domain, it's tempting to just give up at times. The $5 in advertising revenue certainly doesn't make up for the bandwidth. So, would I do it again? I'm a geek, enough said.
  • by lactose99 (71132) on Monday May 06, 2002 @01:49AM (#3468316)
    Check out the City Stories [citystories.com] website-- a weblogging community of local events and culture.
  • by guttentag (313541) on Monday May 06, 2002 @01:53AM (#3468328) Journal
    ... gost town-like failures [neighborspace.org]...
    At a glance, I see several rather frightening spooks scaring most users away from Neighborspace:
    1. Name. The name "Neighborspace" has no specific connection to Menlo Park, Palo Alto, etc. If I'm looking for an online community, something called "Neighborspace" sounds like the ambiguous name of a failed dot com (and these days Silicon Valley residents have an internal BS filter that causes them to ignore anything that sounds like a dot com). Here's a novel idea: call it something painfully obvious, like "Palo Alto - Menlo Park Neighborhood Association." That's right, you don't have to add "Online" or "Interactive" to legitimize your site.

    2. Navigation. Dig into the site a bit by clicking on a link, and you'll find that you have a cryptic pictogram navigation on the left hand side. No one likes guessing what the pictures mean, and it shouldn't be some big insider secret. You can't even determine where the links go because they lead to cryptic URLs that end in a string of numbers. Then again, maybe I'm the only one who couldn't figure out that the Superman icon stands for the "Religion" section.

    3. Static Home Page. The home page should showcase the vibrance of the site to get people hooked immediately. Instead, Neighborspace makes you dig to find out that nothing's going on. After one or two sessions spent digging to discover that no one is using the site, people leave and don't come back.

    4. You can tell the site was designed by a Sysop. At the bottom of the pages you'll find the friendly, "Email the Sysop!" link. Most people don't know what a Sysop is, but it probably sounds like some demonic cyborg. You may as well say, "Problems using our site? Direct complaints to the hooded executioner!" What's an "NS Keyword?" How is that different from a normal keyword one might use on another site? And why can't people just type their keywords into the "Full Search" box below the "NS Keyword" box? It's a classic case of "this is what works for me and everyone else will just have to learn how to use it" that doesn't work very well on the Web. On the Web, when a site asks a user to invest time and learn an interface, users go elsewhere.
  • by destiney (149922) on Monday May 06, 2002 @01:53AM (#3468329) Homepage



    ...is a copy of phpRated [phprated.com].


  • by pixphys (165846) on Monday May 06, 2002 @01:59AM (#3468341)
    Palo Alto Freenet [pafree.net] is a project I started a few months ago. It has been fantastic. We are networking and meeting our neighbors at the same time.

    paul
    kd4idr
    palo alto, ca

  • by dhogaza (64507) on Monday May 06, 2002 @02:03AM (#3468351) Homepage
    While I don't know if such efforts are successful or not, the OpenACS project I lead is directly oriented to this space (and other common-interest communities).

    I'd say that thus far such communities most naturally grow around subjects of global interest (such as photo.net [photo.net]), which spawned the codebase that grew to be OpenACS.

    But I wouldn't give up on communities of more narrow interest. After all, in wetware space frequently membership to meetings is depressingly low. Yet ... much can be done by dedication, knowlege, and persistence.
  • I find it very interesting that slashdot is running an article on this very topic. I, personally, have been working on some PHP based on-line community type software. Sort of mixing some of the BBS stuff from days of old, with new technology, as well.

    MAGE [kicks-ass.net]

    I'd definitely be interested in hearing what types of features and functions people who are interested in doing this type of thing would find useful.

    Though my site has no specific Geographic limitations, the vast majority of it's users are from Michigan and Louisiana. I find it really quite difficult to get most 'net users into message boards, and such.. but perhaps I just don't have the right layout/format.

    I'm open to all ideas, and I'd love to contribute work to a project, if there's anyone out there that's thinking of doing something like this.

  • Everybody thinks they know what their community wants/needs. Sometimes they're right. Sometimes they're not.

    That's why the model of an individual creating a geographic community's website doesn't work so well. Instead what you need is a place on line where individual community members can create their own resources. They get involvement at a level they're interested in, you get volunteer labor and a diversity of ideas that couldn't exist otherwise.

  • by KFury (19522) on Monday May 06, 2002 @04:54AM (#3468618) Homepage
    Derek Powazek, creator of Fray [fray.com], Kvetch [kvetch.com], and others, wrote an excellent book on the subject: Design for Community [designforcommunity.com].

    I highly recommend it. It goes to the broad level of creating relevant communities, how to make sure they're useful, and also discusses the nuts and bolts of registrations and logins. It even has the pragmatism to devote a chapter on how to close communities down when they no longer serve a needed function, without leaving people in the lurch.

    This really is a great book.
  • by 26199 (577806) on Monday May 06, 2002 @05:22AM (#3468657) Homepage

    The BBC is trying this idea out in the UK with three new websites:

    They're set up to have articles on various aspects of local life... to allow people to create pages about whatever they want... and with forums for discussion on each page. However, there don't seem to be too many people there yet!

    I guess it's mostly a case of good publicity and luck...

  • I was wondering if members of the Slashdot community know of more examples of community networks...

    Telstra Research Labs did a little bit of an information session/recruitment drive at my university a few weeks ago. One of the things they said they were working on was a community network in Launceston [telstra.com.au]. Sounds like the kind of thing you're talking about. There's a link to the community's page [elaunceston.com] but nothing about the results of the research as yet. Not that I could see anyway.

  • by InternalWave (546747) on Monday May 06, 2002 @06:19AM (#3468710)

    I volunteer as an online help guy for our local community net, Chebucto Community Net [chebucto.ns.ca], which is based out of Halifax, Nova Scotia. As you can see from the About Us [chebucto.ns.ca] link the community net here has been around since 1993; that page is also a reasonable summary of what the operation is all about.

    I have participated in some policy workshops, and although I am by no means a primary volunteer (too much other stuff to do) I can certainly assert that community nets like this are the only source of connectivity for low-income folks, are one of the few affordable sources of connectivity for many other community organizations, and are also frequently the only ISPs that seem to give a damn about accessibility.

    Although I use cable myself (now) I still maintain a dialup account through CCN. It is interesting to note that they provide a full-featured PPP experience at a theoretical 56K for only CAN $100 per year. Contrast that to any other ISP locally, where your annual costs will be at least quadruple that.

    They offer a reliable connection and the responsivity to help requests is good. What more can you ask for?

  • by Troublemakr (567357) on Monday May 06, 2002 @06:33AM (#3468720)
    I am a student at ISU (Iowa State University). Here we have a thriving community network (even though it partially revolves around *ahem*trading files*ahem*). It all started about 4 years ago with the creation of a ISU network search engine, StrangeSearch.http://strangesearch.net/ by one Dan Dunham.
  • by xof (518138) on Monday May 06, 2002 @07:15AM (#3468771)
    I did not read all the comments yet, but I did not found the word wiki in them... This is a powerful technology for building something together. It is sometimes difficult to keep the structure sound but some are used with success in wireless community networks seattlewireless [seattlewireless.net] is one, wireless-fr [wireless-fr.org] is another one (in french). General info about wikis can be found on Google directory/Wiki [google.com] A lot of implementations now exist (I prefer phpwiki), the original one is on c2.com [c2.com] Some of them, like TuxScreen [slashdot.org] allow you to protect modifs with a login.
  • by willpost (449227) on Monday May 06, 2002 @07:25AM (#3468779)
    I've only seen two kinds of communities that still exist in the traditional sense.

    Traditional meaning the users are online together for a period of time, not just posting messages or web pages in a collective area.

    The first one would be online action fps shooters like Quake Arena, Unreal, etc. These are where players want to compete for a few rounds and focus on a task.

    The second one would be online role playing games like Everquest, AO, DaoC, etc. Here players are visiting the dungeons with the good experience or loot in their quest to get maximum levels and loot (could take thousands of hours). Ultima Online could be in this category but the game had a mass exodus. It's too easy to get the maximum attainable skills (a month or less) and instant teleporting to anywhere. Kind of like winning a Warcraft level.. nothing to do afterwards.

    Online communities only seem to work when the people have a common task. Otherwise it becomes a chat room.. which some enjoy but i'm an action person.
  • by CptSkydrop (577286) on Monday May 06, 2002 @07:26AM (#3468782) Homepage
    I was half expecting an "Okerly-dokerly" after reading a few discussions on http://www.neighborspace.org/ The guy sounds like Ned Flanders he's so enthusiastic about not much...
  • by Athyra (163158) on Monday May 06, 2002 @07:29AM (#3468787)
    The single most successful online community I've seen is the one at Emory University, LearnLink [emory.edu]. Not much of a website to look at, especially for outsiders. It's client-based -- uses FirstClass -- and really is the only thing that ties a very apathetic school together (this is a school without sports to speak of). I think the key factor is the client -- you can't have the same level of community with slow-loading web pages.
  • by SanGrail (472847) on Monday May 06, 2002 @07:51AM (#3468812)
    I'm a Pagan/Neopagan living in New Zealand. (Confused? Well, yay for Google!)
    We're such a small, spread-out community, I set up a site www.nzpagans.com [nzpagans.com] to let people know about the various groups, shops, websites etc there for us. There is a more well known international site, www.witchvox.com [witchvox.com], but many people think it's only for Witches and Wiccans, and besides, it's good to have a more locally orientated site.

    Problems with the site:
    1. I'm doing it manually. I'm a moron. I'm gonna set up everything using PHP, mySQL etc eventually (soon? I've just been lazy...) because one of the points of a community site, is that the info is contributed by the community, and I'm not making it that easy.

    2. Because I'm doing it all myself, and manually, it only gets updated every month or so. This is a major problem, as people tend to only regularly visit sites that change at least every week.

    3. I have no message boards etc (how can I possibly think of it as a community site!!!). Originally my purpose was to direct people to the existing online groups etc, but having a community forum on a site itself, means people visit more often, and, since Yahoos Clubs & Groups merger, theren't aren't many nz pagan message boards anymore, only e-groups.

    There's a bunch of stuff I should do on the site and haven't, but even if I'm doing a bad job, it's still better than me not doing it at all. :)

    And, if I ever do get the site running as I wish, I was thinking of starting a site for Geek Pagans :D
    There's a weirdly high percentage of us - the only big-name geeks I've found so far are Eric Raymond & the guy who created (co-created?) VRML but there's probably a few more...

    Oh yeah, and critique's of site, design (what design?) etc are welcomed.

  • by Bo Vandenberg (247590) on Monday May 06, 2002 @07:53AM (#3468815)
    I Actually think it is harder to have a local 'community' on the web. There is far more pressure for your members to go elsewhere and nothing really keeping them on one site.

    Way back when, before the web, when I dialed into a local BBS I think there was a greater sense of community. Everyone was a local call away. They couldn't just click to the next link at their first urge to do so. The heroic characters who ran BBS's usually created something in their likeness. Although it was often only text, the alias BBSs I remember were more private, more close, and more homegrown. I had much less to choose from so a guy who seemed to know about 'X' was more rare.

    Its something of an obstacle to local web sites that the Web does not promote middle men. Most people take their interests to the web and try to find the best place from the whole world where they have expression. Fly tying, writing, computers etc its not likely that the best site is your local city.

    Regions should make online databases available, that they keep up, modify, and that basically reflect their area. That would make them _the place_ for local data, bylaws, garbage days etc.... then spin that user traffic into a community.

    Thats actually the way it works in real life isn't it. Towns weren't created because they promoted a sense of spirit, or to justify the existance of some organization they formed from a real need.

    Bo
  • by Vspirit (200600) on Monday May 06, 2002 @08:21AM (#3468854) Homepage
    A very very interesting subject.
    Jon Katz have tried to bring it up earlier.

    Personally I have researched how to benefit real geographical communities with an online companion for almost 10 years now.

    I started with the bbs's, but was limited by availability of technology and lack of technological experience by the commoners at that time. Then with the web I started discovering the oportunities in 93.

    My conclusion so far is that it is possible and the local web communities, as a tool for each individual, may very well become important parts of our infrastructure in this modern world of information technology.

    My discoveries were that it would require enormous resources to move from thought to action. Since 93 till now, I have produced several larger papers on subject and have notes and drawings taking up a significant amount of space.

    In order to turn my vision into something tangible I started a company in 96 to further my research and develop the necessary tools. Tools are required, tools for the people to produce activity, tools are the most important asset. With no tools, there will be no activity, and the level of activity is the primary indicator of success or failure.

    Concider this my own little /. note on subject as after years of research, development and waiting for market readiness; this year, something will happen for real and next year it is common.

    http://egnsnet.dk will contain something sooner or later. now nothing. pardon me for not disclosing any detailed information. agreements with investors prohibits me from doing so at this time.
  • by mgkimsal2 (200677) on Monday May 06, 2002 @08:30AM (#3468879) Homepage
    I just checked out neighborspace.com (the 'ghosttown' mentioned). It looks like it's just a big clunky bulletin board system, nothing else. It's webX, I think, which wasn't cheap when I looked at it years ago (probably when neighborspace.com started).

    Did they expect massive success by taking a bulletin board and putting (arguably) ugly graphics on it? It seems to only be catering to a small geopgraphic area, but the domain name seems to indicate it would be for a wider audience.
  • by netclift (158504) on Monday May 06, 2002 @08:57AM (#3468960) Homepage

    The use of global internet tools in very local communities has tremendous potential. Embrace geography. Love geography. This is not high school anymore, use your technical skills to benefit everyone even those jocks who pushed you around.

    However, when you mix the goals of Internet access, local content, and local discussions/information exchange most non-profit/voluntar individual/commercial efforts fail without some level of subsidy. Figure out what you want to do most and do that well.

    With Minnesota E-Democracy [e-democracy.org] we have focused on the use of e-mail lists for state and local political/community discussion since 1994. We use e-mail lists with web archives to reach thousands of people on an ongoing basis. We are completely volunteer-based, have a donated web site, and are completing a move to Mailman [list.org] from Yahoogroups in part because of their marketing/privacy shift.

    We have a wealth of experience and articles available on my web site [publicus.net].

    Steven Clift

  • by gyp (312559) on Monday May 06, 2002 @09:04AM (#3468977)
    I used to work for a non-profit community network in Western North Carolina called Mountain Area Information Network (http://www.main.nc.us/ [main.nc.us]). They raise revenue by offering dial up service to 13+ counties in the Appalachian mountain region of North Carolina, many of which have few/no other dial up options. They have been successful for many years starting service in 95. They were originally grant funded, but are now self sufficiant, and are planning on getting a Low Power FM station to further enhance the sence of community. One of the best things is that they have used Linux since the beginning. They are always looking for volunteers, too! Gyp
  • by rocjoe71 (545053) on Monday May 06, 2002 @09:04AM (#3468979) Homepage
    My favourite online community was the Trojan Room cafeteria web cam-- no I'm not kidding I really wanted to know how the coffee pot was doing.

    As a coffeedrinker I found it fascinating and I've asked for a similar web cam here but everybody thinks I'm joking.

    Considering the community this web cam serves is on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean I guess I'm only involved in this community out of a sense of long-distance voyeurism...

    ...but I can get help for that.
  • by rakerman (409507) on Monday May 06, 2002 @09:35AM (#3469102) Homepage Journal
    CCN [chebucto.ns.ca]
  • by server_wench (515059) on Monday May 06, 2002 @09:51AM (#3469192) Homepage Journal

    I worked for the Omnifest Community Network in Milwaukee WI starting in 1993 and still maintain a rudimentary web site [uwm.edu] about it.

    We offered dial-up service, email, interactive bulletin boards using CIX bulletin board software (developed by Tristate Online in Cincinnati OH) on a DEC workstation housed at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee. In the pilot stage it was only open to local high school teachers, librarians, and UW-Milwaukee alumni, then it was opened to elementary and secondary schools, then the public.

    Because there weren't a lot of other ways for non-university people to get onto the internet, the services were much in demand and we had a loyal following. For instance, the text-based interface enabled visually impaired people with screen readers to participate and we had bulletin boards sponsored by the Badger Association for the Blind. Many volunteers moderated bulletin boards and posted community information as well as providing technical support for users. I helped train volunteers and provide phone support and will attest that there was a real spirit of community service.

    Operating as a non-profit organization presented problems. In addition to the obvious difficulty getting financial support, I got the idea that a lot of people didn't trust us. While members usually appreciated the low charges, we would get many calls a day asking about the service then get a lecture about how that was no way to run a business! We were charging $25 a year with even lower pricing plans for students who registered through their schools as a deliberate choice to keep the service open to everyone in the community. Libraries and community centers made computers available so that it users didn't even have to own their own computers to participate. It just didn't seem that people could grasp the idea of an organization run by a community for the mutual benefit of the members of the community rather than for profit.

    Well, the inevitable happened. Omnifest closed in 1998. I feel we contributed greatly to the popularization of using the Internet in our community only to be set aside when Internet access via the WWW became commercially viable. Much of the demise was due to technological advances too, for instance, the text-based interface worked well with 2400K modems readily available then.

    I was about to write the extensive community sponsored by SEFLIN [seflin.org] in Florida as an example of a community network which had successfully evolved into a web site, but that appears to be gone too. Sigh...

    Kathy A. Graff
    Milwaukee WI USA

  • by e3 (162050) on Monday May 06, 2002 @09:57AM (#3469220) Homepage
    the creating community connection [mit.edu] project might be of interest. while it's a little dated, an online paper [mit.edu] [pdf], gives "...an overview of the C3 system, a description of the research design and methodology, a summary and discussion of the results obtained via one-on-one interviews with each family conducted in August 2000, as well as follow-up site-visits with a targeted sample of families during the months of March and April 2001, and finally, lessons learned and a step-by-step recommendations for future initiatives."

    if you're in the seattle area around may 16-19 you might want to check out the shaping the network society [cpsr.org], which is going to have presentations galore on wired and wireless community networks.
  • by netclift (158504) on Monday May 06, 2002 @10:19AM (#3469382) Homepage

    In the specific area of online discussions in local communities we [e-democracy.org] need your advice. Related discussions on this has occured on the Democracies Online Code Network e-mail list [yahoo.com] for civic-minded techies.

    We use e-mail lists. They work. Our participants love them. They need to work better with the web. We do not need a web-based system that treats e-mail participants as second class citizens. Our thousands of users won't make the transition - and we are not going to sacrifice our sustainable non-profit model that has worked for eight years.

    In an ideal world someone would create an e-mail/web system akin to a cleaner, crisper Yahoogroups but something better that you can host on your own domain.

    What we have:
    Mailman [list.org] with additional archives using Mail-Archive [mail-archive.com]. (We are moving our last few lists off Yahoogroups.)
    Basic web pages with forum information [e-democracy.org], hundreds of Minnesota-specific political links [e-democracy.org], and special election/candidate link directories [e-democracy.org].

    What we need in term of priority:

    1. Advanced Web Archives and Subject Line Syndication - Improved web access to our e-mail forum archives including the ability to post via the web to -recent- messages by "no e-mail" members, the ability to automatically display via RSS the most recent subject lines from our various lists on our home page/other key web pages to posts in the archives. Hypermail [hypermail.org], Mhonarc [mhonarc.org] just don't cut it. They were great in their time, but we need something that takes advantage of MySQL, allows for linear display of posts in the same thread, and other tools. More on this ... [yahoo.com].

    2. Member Preferences Page - A single page like Yahoogroups where someone can control their settings on the all the lists they subscribe to on our server. We'd also like to allow people to recommend new e-mail lists for their local communities and essentially reserve a spot by letting us know that they are interested in a specific city/county/region or statewide public policy issue. We do not open community discussions without at least 100 participants and have an extensive public outreach process that goes with each new lists (i.e. online and in-person recruiting). If we recruit 50,000 "e-citizens" across Minnesota we need to use technology to help shape our forum development priorities.

    3. Member Directory with Archive Links - (Again, we are not interested/able to use a web-centric conferencing system) This is where the web can complement our e-mail environment. I'd like each member to have the option to share information about themselves (our rules for posting including signing your real name, we have to use personal accountability in our model for online political discourse or everything would be pure crap). I'd like each e-mail that goes through the list server to insert their member directory page URL. From the member-directory page I'd to present both the information provided by the participants but also links to their recent posts across our various forums. And perhaps ...

    4. Participant Ratings - With unmoderated mailing lists, rating each post before it is delivered is impossible. Even if we moderate our lists, a multiple moderater bottle neck among our mostly non-techie audience would cause major delays in discourse. So ... one idea is to allow participants to optionally vote +1 substance, -1 for style for any post after it is distributed. We don't want to create a situation where people simply vote against people of other ideologies (we have a cherished and extremely rare cross-political spectrum audience) so some sort of forumula would have to be developed to give various weight to votes (i.e. repeat votes by one individual against another count less over time) and always bring the rating toward zero over time. Oh - why do this? While our unmoderated lists to have forum managers who have the power to sanction participants who violate our rules and guidelines, we ultimately believe that self-regulation, and group self-governance is our strength. We walk on a tight rope between chaos and control in order to keep and build our participatory civic audience based on our democratic and community purpose.

    5. E-Newsletter Distributed Content Management System - We have currently have 4,000+ people on our general announcement list (over next five years we'd like it to raise it to 50,000 or 1% of Minnesotans). We are planning a once or twice monthly e-mail newsletter with various content sections. I'd like to give our volunteer editor the tools to allow other volunteers to submit content (i.e. event lists, Minnesota political history this month, quotes of the month from our forums) on a regular basis into key sections of the newsletter and assuming that some content will be to long for e-mail newsletter format, something that integrates with a longer web section. 6. Mailman Advancements? Or another list packages. As an organization we'd like the ability to send one message to everyone on one of our lists without double posting. For our volunteer list managers we need the ability to quickly delete all the non-member (mostly spam) posts in one or two clicks and not have to click and select every post. What list packages [yahoo.com] do people recommend?

    If you actually read this far, you should join the DO-CODE e-mail list [mailto] that I mentioned above.

    Cheers, Steven Clift [publicus.net]

  • by Burgatime (448522) on Monday May 06, 2002 @11:11AM (#3469708) Homepage Journal
    I run a sydney aus site www.townhallsteps.com
    a lot of people like the site and praise me, but hardly anyone wants to lend a helping hand.
    It is dam hard especially when im not a coder (and dont want to be one). The site is still gaining popularity but with out help i'll have to close it soon.
  • by ezfur (534240) on Monday May 06, 2002 @11:22AM (#3469786)
    Wow what a wonder new thing, actual virtual communities formed by people who live close to each other. I though we killed BBS's a long time ago.
  • by kwj8fty1 (225360) on Monday May 06, 2002 @12:39PM (#3470475) Homepage
    We've been having a hard time over at seattlewireless, but we are making good progress. We have quite a dynamic group - -From business people, geeks, 'users', and other wireless groups asking questions. As of this point, we have a bunch of 'DXnodes' (nodes offering 'hotspot' internet), a few point 2 point links up. We should be getting 3-4 more point 2 point links up in the next two weeks. If you are interested in wireless, checkout our website:

    http://www.seattlewireless.net
  • by floyd (8635) on Monday May 06, 2002 @01:33PM (#3470907) Homepage
    I wrote an essay on a new breed of virtual communities that exist both online and off. I thought it might be relevant to the discussion:

    Getting real: Virtual communities that break the fourth wall [designforcommunity.com]
    "Of course there is a real world out there when you're engaged in a virtual community. But, in most cases, the web world and the real one rarely intersect. A few websites are changing all that."
  • by _GNU_ (81313) on Monday May 06, 2002 @01:40PM (#3470952)
    http://www.lunarstorm.se/ has over 30000 people logged in most of the afternoons and evenings, and over 20000 all day long.....only drops to less than a couple of thousand like 5am..

    Quite successful web-community reaching pretty much every person in sweden between 10 and 25 with just a slight computer interest..

    Hehe, I'm helping out on a much smaller community with around 4000 users now...the poor linuxbox can barely take it ;)

    Ohwell...
  • by JimDog (443171) on Monday May 06, 2002 @02:04PM (#3471136)
    Here in San Francisco, we have a wonderful resource at Craigslist [craigslist.org]. I'm sure most slashdotters (especially those in the bay area) have heard of it. I believe they've added some Craiglists for other metro areas as well. I wouldn't claim to be a Craigslist history expert, but I believe the site started off as a free classified ads site (mostly appartments for rent). Just the classifieds alone have created a one-stop meeting place for finding just about anything you need -- I've found both of last two places I've lived there, bought a Vespa, bought and sold a couch, etc, etc. And now with the addition of forums and real-life Craigslist get-togethers, I would argue that Craigslist is turning into a true on-line community.
  • by kmcilwain (253276) on Monday May 06, 2002 @04:50PM (#3472539)
    I was the project manager / developer of a federally funded project to experiment in how IT can improve community development. We were working in an affordable housing complex in Washington, DC (which the cops referred to as 'Little Beirut'). We partnered up with MS, Data General (who says you can't get hardware manufacturers to donate gear), and Netier to wire all 355 apartments in the complex. We used thin clients in the apartments and WinNT Terminal Server Edition (now Win2000) to offer Office, Money, and a host of edutainment apps.

    This was all supported by an active computer training facility (5 classrooms with 10-20 PCs per). Classes were offered in basic computing, Office, Web Dev, and a couple of IT employment training fields.

    It was not a perfect solution, but the impact it made was incredible. An example: a former welfare mother is now on the WebDev team at National Geographic. She still maintains correspondence with Steve Balmer (who she met at the groundbreaking).

    This was developed starting in 1995, and is an ongoing project. Knowing what I do now (and having made the spiritual conversion to Linux), I would do things differently. Same architecture, but different platform.

    Anyway, the non-profit running the project is Community Preservation and Development Corporation [cpdc.org]. The project has been slow to adopt the web, both to support the community and to publicize the successes and failures, but you can visit what they do have here [edgenet.org].
  • by Flyer299 (578118) on Monday May 06, 2002 @05:26PM (#3472841)
    The subject of community websites is of course very important to me. I am starting my own Community Website Provider called Community Momentum.com (http://www.communitymomentum.com). I am focusing on HOA and Apartment Complexes, but am also looking to break into more types of communities. I am experimenting with Family, Churches, non-profit orgs, etc. I am a for profit organization, and hope I don't fall into the bomb category. Feel free the check out my site and ask me any questions you might have. Ken VeArd
  • www.urban75.com [urban75.com], especially its Brixton forums, is a very interesting example of a British community. It recently gained huge attention in the UK press. To summarise for those of you who don't know, a senior police officer in the Lambeth (which Brixton is part of) force actually started participating in the Brixton online forum. Unfortunately, some of the press heard about this and got the wrong end of the stick, implying that he was an anarchist and in favour of (shock horror) a tolerant attitude to drugs!

    The web site and forum are now being used by the community to organise protests and petitions for his return to the force, after he was suspended after allegations of allowing a boyfriend (yes, just to make the story even more juicy for the Press, he was openly gay) to smoke cannabis. He has proved very popular with the populace (a figure quoted on the website is 83% approval), and they are campaigning for his return to the police force.

    Read more [urban75.org] at the website.

    On the humour site, you might want to see the Punch a Celebrity [urban75.org] page: although most of them are British, so the non-British may be bemused by these "celebrities"...!

    PS Brixton is an area of London (England) in case you didn't know.

  • by aquarian (134728) on Monday May 06, 2002 @06:47PM (#3473453)
    I live in Blacksburg. I've been doing business here for over 7 years. I can vouch for the fact that the BEVnet is more hype than reality.

    Basically, it's a college dorm network. The only difference is that VTech students live in dorm-like off campus apartments built by private developers. These are wired into VTech's university network. BFD. No one but VTech undergrads lives in these apartments. So it's not as if real Blacksburg residents and businesses are particularly wired. Outside the little student enclave, the broadband situation is like the rest of rural America- it sucks!

Put your Nose to the Grindstone! -- Amalgamated Plastic Surgeons and Toolmakers, Ltd.

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