Community Networking

A Short History of Community Networking

The idea of on-line community networking arose in the United States, long before the Internet was widely available. The first “Free-nets” used bulletin board systems (BBS). A BBS is a computer to which users directly connect their computers via a phone line. Later a simple Internet connection was added to give access to email and newsgroups. Modern services are now more Internet based, with many users connecting via commercial Internet accounts. For an excellent summary of the history read Howard Rheingold’s “The Virtual Community”. Howard was involved in the WELL based in San Francisco. By the time the model was transferred to the UK, the Internet was more widely available. Almost all UK-based community networks are built on Internet standards. There are broadly three different approaches: private sector led, local government led, and community led. In practice the difference is one of emphasis, and success depends upon co-operation by the different sectors. UK Community Information Networks based at the Information studies department of Sheffield University. There are links to about twenty community networks, and reports and papers about different aspects of community information and networking
Communities On-line is an organisation set up to promote community networking.
UK Communites On-line Democracy is experimenting with tools for on-line debate
BT Labs has done some work on the technology of Community networking. This paper gives a good overview, and includes diagrams of the different architectures.
The Community Network Movement is a US site hosted by Seattle Community Network.
Blacksburg in Virginia has a good claim to be the most wired town in the world. Visit Blacksburg Electronic Village
Books

Net Activism: How Citizens use the Internet by Ed Schwartz

O’Reilly 1996 ISBN 1-56592-160-7
Draws on the authors own experience as a community activist. Describes how the Internet can be used to bring power back to the grassroots.
New Community Networks – Wired for Change by Douglas Schuler

Addison Wesley 1996 ISBN 0-201-59553-2
Very comprehensive review of the state of community networking drawn mainly from the US experience. The author is a founding member of the Seattle Community Network.
The Virtual Community by Howard Rheingold

Minerva 1995, ISBN 0-7493-9500-1
Written by a founder member of the WELL a pioneer on-line community. Tours the development of on-line communications. Worth reading.
Community Networks: Lessons from Blacksburg,Virginia by Cohill and Kavanaugh (eds)

Artech 1997, ISBN 0-89006-896-8
Blacksburg is “America’s most-wired town”. This book gives information describes the development of the project including good technical descriptions and many useful examples.