Print

Print


COMMENTS on PUTNAM BARBER'S PROPOSED UTILITIES
 
------------
Date:         Wed, 29 Jun 1994 07:48:47 -0700
        Putnam Barber <[log in to unmask]>
 
------------
MinderFinder -- community calendaring.
Poplist -- creates a listserv for anyone who wants it.
 
        Good, necessary utilities.  These should
        create tree-structured lists, so that large discussions
        may be broken down into smaller ones without these
        becoming remote from one another.
 
--------
Comsense -- automated consensus-building and priority-setting
process.  Participants can offer refinements to proposals that
increase their level of commitment to the outcome and identify
others who share similar inclinations.
 
        What about real consensus decision-making?  The above
        paragraph describes an advisory process with the real
        power lying in the plurality voting system (Town-Meeting)
        to be used afterward.  This is not for what the Society
        of Friends made a religious revolution.  To create
        a good democratic process today will require some new tools,
        such as automatically drafting people by lot to speak and
        to be on juries (committees) according to the logic of the
        flow of the discussion.  While this might not seem
        so new to the ancient Greeks, today it would require
        a major effort to achieve a consensus over the
        conception of consensus.  In the meantime most of
        the larger community may boycott the proceedings,
        which they may see as excessively long winded.
 
---------
Towncrier -- allows anyone to propose a "message of the day" for
the community net.  Some committee or other legitimate group
selects the message(s) to be posted systemwide.
 
        Who gets to determine "legitimate"?  Databases suffer
        from the same problem as do cities, that is proximity
        to the root of the menu tree (or city center) confers
        windfall profits to the occupant.  Using a committee to
        distribute this advantage converts this to the political
        problem of choosing the committee.  The most effective
        method used by cities to solve this problem is land
        value taxation.  The equivalent solution of granting
        positions on menu trees to the highest bidder, however,
        would be a hard political sell in the current community
        networking culture.  In practice the messages would
        be generated by those willing to put up with
        the political squabbling.
 
--------
Helpline -- Automated "ask the expert".  All users are
periodically asked to volunteer their expertise by subject area
and level.  Those who do so are kept on a rotating panel.
 
        Good performance of "ask the expert" systems in the
        real world has yet to be shown.  A study by Bryn Geffert
        of the Heartland Freenet showed that professional
        reference librarians consistently outperformed
        volunteer experts in their speed and appropriateness
        of response.  Some type of hybrid system in which peer
        groups, professional reference personnel, and experts
        respond to questions in a layered structure needs to be
        developed as this is what works in the educational system.
 
------------
Postbox -- delivers "mail" to any identifiable address in the
community, whether or not the addressee has e-mail, whether or
not the address is properly formed.  Familiar entries on "To:"
lines are handled automatically (with an automated response by e-
mail to the sender that advises where the mail has actually been
sent, in case it's an automated mistake).  Unfamiliar entries are
handled by "dead letter" clerks -- probably volunteers, it sounds
like fun.  The new routings are built into the database, so
future mail to the same nonstandard address can be handled
automatically.  e-mail to fax gateways, e-mail to lan gateways,
plain old nike-mail, and when needed USMail, etc., etc., are used
to complete delivery of mail.  This is stuff like letters to the
Mayor, the editor of the paper, city council members, officials
of visible businesses and nonprofit organizations, etc., etc.  It
makes the system useful when not everyone has an e-mail address.
And it puts the burden on the system, not the user, to know the
e-mail addresses of familiar figures.
 
        We all know that the lack of adequate directories is
        one of the principle failings of the Internet, but
        is the utility described desirable?  There are
        few volunteers that would find the work "fun" for long,
        so the system would  be overburdened. In practice
        it would serve to further centralize communications
        to the bureaucrats when what we need is better lateral
        communications.
 
-----
Piper -- (as in "pay the...").  Automatically asks for and
acknowledges support from each user of the network on a schedule
that reflects the system's needs and the preferences of users.
 
        Necessary, but a "pipe dream" at the moment, per comments below.
 
------
 
Putnam Barber continues:
 
 
I had fun dreaming these things up.
 
But! developers please note!  These facilities are going to be used by
people who are +not+ interested by computers and don't find satisfaction
in outwitting inept interfaces.  Nancy Willard correctly urges that the
"front end" of a community network should be seamless and consistent.  I
don't know enough to have any idea how that goal is going to be met, but
I stongly share Nancy's view that it should be established early as one
of the operating standards of the movement.
 
The implication of most discussions I've seen to date is that the goal of
the community-network is to serve a "market" of individuals in their roles
as consumers and voters.  What I'm urging here is to add a goal of serving
people in their roles as leaders (and members) of associations and
organizations that perform vital community functions.
 
 
        Just who are these developers?  Most venture capitalists
        wouldn't touch these facilities because they are loaded down
        with problems of user acceptance.  To produce them in
        a "seamless and consistent" fashion would require thousands
        of hours of effort in conferencing, writing, and debugging.
        Volunteer developers are going to be hard to come by, because
        the qualified people have spent a lot of unpaid hours developing
        their skills, can get $50 per hour or more for their labor,
        and are not inclined to be generous when they see most people
        only putting $1 and $5 bills in the hat. The "market" includes
        "producers" as well as "consumers and voters". Though it may be
        "fun" dreaming up potential facilities, goals are going to be
        met when disciplined community organizations set realistic
        budgets to create the systems they need.
 
 
larens imanyuel
University for the Earth
[log in to unmask]
 
+++++++++
 
For community networks to represent a powerful tool for
positive social change they must help create community economics.
 
+++++++++