Network | Community
Last Modified On: Thursday, 22-Feb-1996 12:04:56 MST
please send comments or suggestions to Don Dulchinos at email@example.com.
The Boulder Community Network is one of the more advanced community networks in the country. The technical quality and community involvement are both exceptional. The amount of community information, particularly from local and regional government, is quite comprehensive.
It appears that a firm foundation has been set for the introduction of a larger degree of interactivity with and among the community. The real value of ongoing, interactive discussion will take place through conferencing software integrated within the BCN system, and keyed to the subject areas covered by BCN's rich array of information.
The purpose of this white paper is to suggest the outlines of how interactive discussion can be enabled on BCN, and to raise issues that need to be addressed in implementing such discussion. The paper will offer thoughts on the following topics:
The primary goal of conferencing is to add a greater degree of interactivity to the system, in order to take advantage of the capabilities of information technology. Conferencing will enhance usefulness of data that is made available on the system by all owing users to communicate among themselves and direct each other to useful areas. Conferencing also encourages civic participation. One of the fundamental tenets of a democracy is the ability to discuss the issues of the day. Computer conferencing can restore some of the interactivity that is lost with growth in the size of a community.
Conferencing components can also be keyed to existing governmental processes that incorporate citizen participation. Again, information technology can help citizens become better informed about issues and take better advantage of the limited personal time they can devote to public issues.
Intelligent selection of conferencing software and hardware design are crucial to enable workable and effective conferencing. Questions include: should conferencing be Web-based from the start (how many people currently access BCN via the Web vs. via telnet or dialup?); should commercial or custom software be used?
Desirable Features for Conferencing Software:
Selected Web Based Conferencing Applications
POLICY ISSUES: Human Engineering
Computer conferencing has been around for twenty years or more, on private systems or on the Usenet newsgroups that proliferated across the Internet. The benefits of conferencing have often appeared obvious, but so have a number of drawbacks, with "flaming", "spamming" and other neologisms coined to describe the various dysfunctions that may visit computer mediated communication. A number of features may be desirable in terms of engineering the conferencing for BCN:
Real Names - The use of real names, and inability of users to hide behind anonymity or pseudonyms, often acts to moderate the behavior of on-line participants.
Hosts - The presence of volunteer hosts who have demonstrated responsibility and experience in both subject matter and facilitating discussion may be useful in keeping discussions focused and productive.
Participation by Officials - In discussions pertaining to public policy issues, it may be desireable to facilitate participation by elected officials or agency professionals. Some evidence suggests that effective conferencing tends to give officials incentives to become active. In any case, designing systems for participation that minimize time demands may be helpful.
Participation by Advocacy Groups - Attracting the range of interests represented in the community is one of the ultimate goals. Representation should be actively encouraged.
Commentary on other systems that have attempted this kind of conferencing.
POLICY ISSUES: Legal
Liability for things written in such discussion groups has been a concern in both public and commercial online services. Early case law seems to indicate that network providers may not be held liable for statements made on their systems, as long as the provider does not exercise editorial control over what is stated. A clear policy should be in place and users informed about it. Users might be required to sign an agreement to abide by such a policy.
Following are summaries of two recent cases, which may be relevant but are not identical situations to a community network.
Cubby v. Compuserve
Stratton Oakmont v. Prodigy