This paper is work in progress. Please read and make comments on the information presented, but please do not consider it a finished piece of work. I am only just starting to get ideas written down. If you can offer any assistance, please get in contact with me.

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In Ottawa, Canada's Capital, community electronic networking has become more and more an important part of how the people in our community are able to talk to one another. As this importance increases, we need to have room to expand this social interaction, and to create a sustainable environment where we can build something that will be available to everyone well into the future.

In 1991 when George Frajkor and Jay Weston brought the idea of creating a Freenet to Dave Sutherland (Head of Carleton Computing Services) they may not have realized that this was just the beginning of the greater expansion of Community Computing in the National Capital Region. While there was already an existing and growing electronic community, the National Capital Freenet would represent a first look for many people that otherwise would not know about this very expanding medium of communication.

Unfortunately there has been problems with this growth, and it is to these problems that I wish to address this paper. Before I get into these problems I first wish to state that I fully recognize the very hard work of many individuals to make the National Capital Freenet(NCF) a success in many ways. It has had a good effect of bringing many people together to exchange ideas that otherwise would not have had this chance. Many friendships have been formed as a direct result of the creation of the National Capital Freenet, and a large amount of information from many different organizations have been made available to Freenet members.

The NCF organization is, however, experiencing growing pains. What has been created is a centrally located organization that is not able to expand beyond the confines of this single organization and out into the much larger community. The creation of the NCF has created a service where the members of this service are treated differently than those member of other services within the community. While the NCF organization is receiving funding from government as being the representative of the community network, implementation of their system and their reaction to suggestions from non-members have clearly indicated that they are only concerned with their own membership and not in the community as a whole.

It is this gap between the community network within the Ottawa region and the National Capital Freenet that needs to be closed.

While a number of technical proposals have been made over the years, it is currently my belief that it is not a technical issue that we are dealing with, but a political and organizational one. We are dealing with an organization that is trying to create a centrally controlled community network when the very basis of a community network needs to be the open exchange of ideas completely independent of the individuals political or organizational affiliations. We are creating a monopoly system where one must be an affiliated member of a single organization in order to benefit from the rich information that is being made available by other community organizations. This is something that needs to be solved if our community networks are going to be able to be sustained in an ever expanding area of electronic communications.

We currently have all our eggs in one basket, and this basket is always on the verge of falling. We desperately need to take these eggs out and place them in a number of separate baskets so that a few things happen:

Once we agree that we need to build a stronger and larger community network comprised of a number of organizations working together, we need to then address ideas of how to implement such a system. While I do not feel that I have all the answers to all the details, I do believe that I have some very sound suggestions on how to deal with the basic issues. I am not a political scientist, but a computer scientist. I know how to implement ideas in technology, but as we may all agree, this is not an issue of technology but of political structure of an organization.

This paper is divided into three main parts:

  1. In the first part we need to discuss the creation of an umbrella organization for community networks in Ottawa. Just as other organizations have gotten together for lobbying for funding and volunteers, so does our community network. This organization would not be directly affiliated with any specific organization implementing a computer based service to the community, and thus funding would then go to the organizations that are best able to serve the community.

  2. In the second part we will discuss the structural changes required to the National Capital Freenet organization in order to allow it to think of itself as a service for and member of a larger community, rather than it's current way of thinking where it seems to feel that it is in itself the entire community.

  3. The third and final part of this paper will discuss the technology changes to the National Capital Freenet in order to implement the ideas discussed in the rest of the paper. These changes are not as complicated as some people would have us believe, and there is enough resources and volunteers already willing to work to make this a reality - all that is needed is the support of the NCF organization, rather than it's opposition, which has previously been the case.

The National Capital Freenet has brought Ottawa online and to the front door of the electronic age. Lets work together and bring Ottawa directly into that door and into a sustainable community network that will much more easily expand with the needs of the community, and not be limited by the resources and beliefs of a single organization.

Russell McOrmond,
Written: Jun 4, 1995
Modified: Dec 13, 1995 (Updates to remove references to the 'National Capital Community Network' organization)