Monthly Archives: October 2004

Community informatics on the rise

October has been a big month in for the emerging international community informatics movement.

At the beginnng of the month Monash University hosted the second Community Informatics Research Network conference and colloquim at its Prato Centre in Tuscany, Italy. Academics, practitioners and policy makers met to consider sustainability and community technology.

There was a New Zealand connection with Victoria University of Wellington being listed amongst the sponsors of the event. Barbara Craig from the university presented on the Connecting Communities pilot projects, and Wellingtonian and former 2020 Trust chairperson Ian Thomson presented on the government’s digital strategy.

The list of presenters is a who’s who of the community informatics movement from around the globe. Of course, it’s a list dominated by academics who are able to access the funds necessary to participate in such an event. A full archive of papers and abstracts is available on the conference website.

The inaugural issue of the Journal of Community Informatics was released to coincide with the colloquim. The Journal will include peer reviewed articles as well as commentaries and reviews. The publication is primarily available online, though hard copies are available on request.

Writing in the introduction Canadian community networker Michael B. Gurstein sets out the purpose of the Journal. He states:

“its mission [is] to present the work of those concerned with enabling communities with ICT, to provide a forum for the creation of a professional and critical discourse on the strategies and impacts of this enterprise; to help create a framework and a legitimation for those who choose this as the focus of their professional efforts; and to act as one hub among many for linking the various networks of those with interests related to community-based technologies”.

The first issue features articles about projects and policies in India, Canada, UK, South Africa, Russia and Latin America. The spread of topics underscores the international editorial board’s efforts at reaching a global audience. From my cursory look at the journal, it looks very valuable.


A new way of thinking about copyright

Creative Commons spectrum of rights

This cartoon, courtesy of Creative Commons, gets to the heart of an alternative to full copyright. Artists, musicians, photographers, writers, bloggers, educators, filmmakers, photographers and others are using the Creative Commons licence to allow people to legitimately redistribute or re-use their work under licence.I have seen the CC logo around the place but I hadn’t really understood its real importance until I heard an interview about it on the latest Digital Life programme. Simon Morton, producer of the weekly show broadcast on Radio NZ, interviewed Stanford University Professor and Creative Commons Chairman Laurence Lessig in London. Lessig was in London talking with the BBC about using Creative Commons licences. The BBC want to make it as easy for people to license and upload it’s entire archive (coming online soon).

The sample cartoon above is just one of the many ways you can learn about the Creative Commons concept. A five minute video and case studies are also available on the website. And subscribers to Wired Magazine will find in their November issue a CD with songs by major artists such as David Byrne, the Beastie Boys and Gilberto Gil. Readers are being encouraged to share, copy, and make new art from the songs, without being haunted by legal threats.

Already four million people have created licences. It’s a concept that people working in community organisations and NGOs should look to support: making content available for adaption and re-use fits well with the values of the sector. It would be good see the community sector leading its uptake here.


Community technology from home of the big spud

The computers at the Robertson Community Technology Centre (CTC) are named after potatoes. Pontiac, chips and mash are among the names of the PCs and Macs you’ll find. I learnt about all of this and more on the most recent edition of “The Buzz”, a technology focused programme broadcast on demand from Australia’s National Radio website (and live on air every Saturday at 8am for folk in Australia).

The Robertson CTC opened in May this year as part of a network of 83 community IT hubs in NSW. It sounds very well equipped with video-conferencing, powerful G5 Macs for multimedia work, and a training suite. According to the co-manager, Melissa Shepherd, the facility is as much a community hub as it is about IT.

There are regular film screenings and art exhibitions in the cafe space, and talk of a piano sitting alongside the technology. People are welcome to drop-in for a yarn.

Richard Aedy talked to some regular users who seemed very happy to have such a good resource in their small town. The CTC is 25km for the nearest library and one and half hours from Sydney. It’s early days for the Centre, and Melissa Shepherd admitted the facility wasn’t being full utilised. The first two years are funded by state and central governments – will be interesting to see what progress they make in coming months.

The other segment of 2nd October edition of the “The Buzz” was a quick review of Australian political party websites in the lead up to the 16 October election. Susan Wolfe, Managing Director of The Hiser Group usability and user-design company, based her assessment of the websites on principles of usability.

Top points went to the Greens, who were commended for the biggest improvement. Even so, according to the Hiser Group’s detailed report (which is freely available online) there were no clear leaders. A common criticism of the other party websites is a lack of clear structure with too many choices.

Keep an eye on The Buzz’s programme schedule as Richard Aedy covers topics related to activist and community use of innovations and new technology.

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