Connect 96 Conference Report (day 1)

By Steve Cisler ([log in to unmask]) copyright 1996. This report may be
redistributed on non-profit BBSes, listservs, web sites, and ftp
archives. It may not be mirrored or placed on servers owned by
America Online, Prodigy, MSN, or for-profit ventures without the
express permission of the author.

The URLs included in this report are just a sample of what you can
find on the home page for the Connect 96 conference. That will lead
you to more info about the people and projects covered in this report.

Connect 96 is sponsored by Smart Valley, Inc. and Stanford University
and is being held in Palo Alto, California, September 8-11, 1996. The
conference chair is Harry Saal who helped build Smart Valley into an
influential organization in the Silicon Valley by bringing people
together, mostly from the world of high tech business, and getting
them involved in projects that would benefit the region. Many of those
who had worked with Saal or had benefited from his time and
knowledge were here to pay tribute.

Regional chairs from parts of the U.S., Japan, Singapore, and Europe
chose projects to participate in the different  panels and workshops.
The price for general admission was $1500, and this proved to be a
barrier for many people who would have benefited. Later, scholarships
were made available, providing a steep discount to others, and this
brought the attendance up to about 125.

So who is attending? About a third are from other industrialized
countries: UK, Sweden, Holland, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Australia,
France, Germany, and Canada. A computer training center project from
Romania is also on the program. About 80% of the attendees are men.
Lots of suits (I wore one), but the late summer heat may loosen a few
ties on the second day.

The opening talk was by Regis McKenna who is on the Smart Valley
board and who has lived through the various Silicon Valley
revolutions (chips, PCs, and now networking). He spoke mainly about
the effects of the high tech revolutions on our lives. Like many of us,
he used the term "community" without really defining it. For some
here it was a group of seniors online, for others it was a synonym for
everyone in a region of 4 million people, and for many it was a nice
term to wrap around regional infrastructure projects that mainly
involved pulling cable and hooking up businesses.  McKenna was most
interested in real time interactions on networks and how it changed
the way we live and do business. The pace is disruptive to the
planning process--no time for strategy--and it can cause further
fragmentation in our lives, but he saw networks as a way of rising
above the fragmentation. The real time capabilities of the network
change people's expectations about products, about service, and about
access to information. It diminishes the importance of place, and he
claims that the individual is not worried about Big Brother, as in the
50's, but just the opposite. The government is worried about the
capabilities of the individual. I don't agree, and neither do surveys
that show a strong concern by individuals about privacy, about
surveillance by both government and commercial entities.

McKenna had a diagram of the interaction between the real-time
corporation (downsized, wired, responsive, decentralized); the
real-time infrastructure and the public market. There were no
"citizens" on this diagram: just customers, beta testers, and users.
Given the number of good citizen projects that McKenna is involved in,
I think his diagram should reflect the civic part of the generic
consumer. This is the one part that may help offset what McKenna
talked about as a downside--the growing discontent of well-wired
consumer. "We do not know how to live in a boundaryless world."

Although he had to leave after the talk, he would have seen that
geographic boundaries do have meaning to the people representing
regional projects who presented. Concentrating ones efforts on a
region or town or neighborhood is the common thread these diverse
people share. Some efforts are so tied to a given champion or
charismatic project manager that they will flourish only in the area
where he or she is working. Of course, the hope is that there are
practices and goals and procedures that can work in Antwerp, Kuala
Lumpur, or San Diego and not be linked to a strong personality. Many
of these projects have a regional focus because that economic
development is at the core of most of these projects, and the
economy helps define the limits of the region. Bill Miller of Stanford
claimed, "Globalism has reinforced regionalism" and weakened the
nation-state. Of course the Asian disagreed. Kuk-Hwan Jeong of Korea
said, "There is no difference between regional and national when it
comes to networking."

Harry Saal, in his opening remarks, was most candid about his
successes and shortcomings during his years as director of Smart
Valley. Interestingly, he was looking for projects that could not be
replicated. These would show that Smart Valley was in the forefront.
At the same time he realized that SVI and others do have a lot to
share. An organization called ANCARA has recently been formed.
Advanced Networked Cities and Regions Association includes projects
such as Smart Valley and similar ones in Eindhoven, Stockholm,
Singapore, Japan, Orlando. The membership is $10,000 US a year, and
not just any community network can join. One goal is to encourage the
private sector to do trial projects.

A number of the Asian projects, especially in Malaysia and Singapore,
are quite open in the need for a top down approach with government
taking a very strong hand to provide money and direction and
encouragement to the other participants who seem to be primarily
from the business sector.

The most valuable part of the program for me, apart from meetings in
the halls, was the workshop format where people agreed to be case
studies for other panelists and the audience to analyze.  Jessica
Lipnack of MassNet was frank in discussing how their networking
project had bogged down because of hostility from the business
sector and lack of a concrete outcome. One panelist said to give up on
big business and concentrate on other small networkers, but Stephen
Yeo, head of Singapore's National Computer Board, urged her to not
give up.

Chris Drew of the Northern Informatics Applications Agency in the UK
was the guinea pig for the fund-raising workshop. He represents a
poor, rural area on the border of Scotland and is finding fund-raising
to be the hardest part of his job. The others on the stage were all
from more urban areas (Association of <S.F.>Bay Area Governments,
Potomac KnowledgeWay in Virginia, Smart Islands Japan, and a San
Bernardino California project) but they provided valuable feedback
but no signed checks. Potomac KnowledgeWay  was represented by
April Young, but the project had its impetus from Mario Morino, and
the organization is engaged in a fund-raising drive to find $10 million
over five years. Part of this money will be forthcoming as more of the
Washington area powers-that-be face the fact that downsizing the
Federal government is not going to stop, no matter who is elected
this year. The region has to remake itself into much more than the
seat of federal government and bureaucracy.

Panelists on the other sessions included Andrew Cohill of Blacksburg
Electronic Village; Michael Bookey of the Issiquah WA project; Tooru
Ono of New COARA, Oita prefecture in Japan, and Anders Constedt
from the city of Stockholm, Sweden. These panels covered getting
started and the role of leadership in regional networks.

During the long evening reception short poster sessions were held
near the food and drink, and many of the projects from Australia,
Malaysia, France, Japan, and other countries had 15 minute time slots
to make contact with interested attendees.

Mary Furlong, the founder of SeniorNet, the very successful non-profit
that has provided instruction and an online community for people over
55, has resigned and is starting a for-profit Global Senior Network
that will be web-based and advertiser supported. Listening to her
presentation and seeing the effects of her past efforts, you can
understand why nobody she approaches for support can ever say no!

As I drove home from Palo Alto the first evening I felt as though it
had been worthwhile. So many people interested in community and
regional networking have a feeling that this is totally new, that they
are pioneers. George Koron of Hewlett-Packard thought this was the
first international conference on the topic, but in reality, it is the
fourth or fifth one. There is so much going on that even people who
are well connected like Harry Saal or who attend a lot of these
conferences like I do, just cannot keep up with all the major projects
(nor the smaller ones). In spite of the advanced networking, it is hard
to be aware about what is happening. This is a great opportunity for a
person, a business, a school, or a government agency to tackle, but a
clearinghouse would be a lot of work to keep up to date information
on all the international projects springing up. Not just the regional
mega-projects but the grass roots ones, the library efforts, the
for-profit ventures. Having a list of URLs is just not the answer.

Tomorrow: Global perspectives; managing volunteers; role of the
organizational structure; role of vision and goals.

See for URLs about this conference and the projects