BCN Research Agendas

One of the most important aspects of the Boulder Community Network is the opportunity it represents to identify and research key issues in the organization and presentation of information to the community. These issues have become apparent during the design and development phase, and will grow during its operational phase. With a working testbed, we can develop the key issues and evaluate possible solutions. Campus departments will examine critical questions relating to the presentation and organization of information and to the successful practise of community networks. Below is a preliminary list of issues or categories that have been identified thus far:

Information Stratification: It is likely that in a mature information society, the community information databases will be both distributed (in a physical sense) and compound (in a logical sense). While the goal is to provide a seamless environment, various physical and logical architectures will likely result in tangible differences in performance, in interface, and in organization. Some information may best be replicated and stored locally, others may by volume or volatility be best distributed.

Information organization: The information on the community network is a rich mixture of both volatile information and reference material. Canonical classification schemes for such an infobase are now being hypothesized and need evaluation. The development and and value of customized organization schemes for particular subcommunities (eg people with disabilities, Senior Centers, etc.) is also of interest.

Information media: In a multimedia view of the info-base, there are multiple ways to present information. Bus routes can be tabular or graphical or calculable. Instructions can be textual, graphical or video.

Electronic writing: With a multimedia presentation, individual pieces of information may be presented as text, sound, graphics, or video. Quoted passages can be sound clips of the original speaker, maps can be used to invoke bus schedules or other geographically-specific information.

Interfaces - Navigatory Tools: The effectiveness of interfaces: what’re the most enjoyable, least frustrating interfaces, from the perspectives of the most novice to the most seasoned user? which interfaces most effectively give a sense of the available information and services, and facilitate the process of obtaining them?

Fitting the Network to the Community: Rural versus urban issues: while many of the core issues of human/computer network interaction are the same, which specific issues arise as a result of a community’s location? eg., reliable/affordable telecommunications services and facilities; availability of local technical expertise both for implementing the network and educating the users-to-be.

The support of public access: how to ensure that the same information is available to everybody, regardless of their ability to pay; eg., how to ensure that people accessing the network via the public access terminals have access to the same information and services as those with computers at home, who are using value- added providers, while at the same time allowing the VAPs “value”.

Long-term prospects: How will community networks support themselves.

The integration of communication: The separation of information from communication in the BCN architecture may make the operation of a community network more tractable, but there are still instances in both the public and private sector when it will be useful to provide integrated communications with the information. Such integration may range from gopher users in public libraries being able to obtain information via a spooled email account to the ability of classified ad readers to send an email inquiry to the person who placed the ad. Where and how such integration occurs will be an ongoing topic in the project.

Commercialization and Community Networks: Incorporation of commercial interests, including advertising: how to incorporate commercial interests, without intruding on the user’s experience but rather enhancing it? eg., making available stores’ product/services information, restaurant menus, etc.

The technology of remote access: identify and resolve the issues in providing for the various types of remote access; eg., dial-up, community kiosks,...

Assessment schema and assessment: What criteria should we use to determine whether or not the network is making positive contributions to the community?

Achieving production levels of service and quality: The viability of community networks will depend upon their utilization, which in turn will hinge on having a critical mass of reliable information. Critical mass requires the active participation of a broad range of information providers; reliability requires the integration of the service into the standard operation of those participants.

Legal issues: include the restrictions and disclaimers by information providers.

Distance education: How to provide educational services over the network? Investigate the possible combination of television, radio, and the community network to offer an exciting selection of educational opportunites to people who otherwise would not have the option (due to disabilities, physical distance, time contraints, having to take care of children, etc.)

Transcending the limitations caused by disabilities: What particular services or information would be most helpful to people with particular disabilties? How to use the network as a means of helping people transcend the limitations of their disabilities?

The role of higher education: What is the role of higher education in its sponsorship of networked community information services?

We welcome input on these issues, and we're always open to exploring new areas of research involving BCN. If you have any suggestions, or can point to existing research on these topics, please give us feedback.