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Abstract -- Friends and Partners: Building Global Community on the Internet
R3: Networks as Empowering Technology
Friends and Partners: Building Global Community on the Internet
- Cole, Greg
- Bulashova, Natasha
"Friends and Partners" is an information system developed by citizens of
the United States and Russia for the express purpose of building community
between individuals and organizations from the United States and countries
of the former Soviet Union. The support of the International Science
Foundation, Sun Microsystems, RELARN and the North Atlantic Treaty
Organization (NATO) have helped this year-old Internet service become one
of the more active information and communications services on the Internet
today -- with over 700,000 information accesses from its World Wide Web and
WAIS servers and over 1,300 subscribers from 40 countries to its electronic
Developed by two people who had never met one another, the service has
provided an intensely rewarding learning experience in which the authors
have had to deal with an enormous variety of technical issues, information
management problems, communications difficulties, and cultural differences.
The authors hope that 'telling the story' behind its development might be
enlightening for others - both in terms of what we have learned about the
capabilities and limitations of the Internet for supporting such
international services, but also the challenges of working across
traditionally difficult geographic, political and cultural boundaries.
Our motivation in beginning this service was to help build a community of
individuals interested in furthering active partnership between people and
organizations in our countries. From the beginning, we concentrated on two
primary services: (1) an information base which would attract people from
both regions of the world; and (2) a mechanism for encouraging and
promoting active communications. We have discovered that the combination of
the World Wide Web (with associated WAIS databases) with an e-mail
listserver has provided a good foundation which we have extended with the
use of such 'live' interaction tools as Internet Relay Chat, CuSeeMe,
mBONE, and Sun ShowMe.
"Friends and Partners" was designed to be a framework of information and
communications services. Therefore, the focus has been to help others
develop and publish content material specific to their interests and areas
of expertise. We enjoy active cooperation now with many organizations from
the government sector, higher education, business and private industry, the
'third sector' and non-profit organizations, supra-governmental
organizations (such as NATO) and private citizens. The challenge has been
to help enable individuals from these groups become information providers
and support them in their efforts - working across a wide variety of
computer platforms, levels of network access, and computer/information
literacy. We propose to discuss our role as the creators and maintainers
of the basic infrastructure which enables communication and information
sharing among this growing community.
The proposed paper will be comprised of the following sections:
Conclusion. Even though the authors have had several years of experience
with unix-based, client-server computing and with the Internet, using this
infrastructure to develop globally accessible and relevant information
services remains an interesting challenge and a tremendous learning
experience. We continue to be amazed at what is possible. There is almost
no end to what a little bit of technical knowledge, some imagination, a lot
of heart and, mostly, a lot of hard work can achieve. The development of
"Friends and Partners" has been an incredibly rewarding experience for the
authors and one we are anxious to share with others.
- A general history of how the service has developed and a
description of the information services available.
- Technical issues.
- Information Management Issues.
- Opportunities and new partnerships.
- Principal problems. The issue of metered or "tariffed" Internet
traffic in Russia has proven to be one of the most serious impediments to
our work. We have learned first-hand the value of the flat-rate method of
paying for Internet connections common in the United States. Obviously, the
issues of ubiquitous access (or lack of) and network bandwidth are problems
we deal with constantly. Getting people "connected" continues to be the
most important issue we deal with.
- Cultural and Language Differences. Besides the obvious language
barriers involved in any joint US-Russian endeavor, we have had to deal
with two cultures whose fundamental differences have led to interesting