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Software Solutions for Community Networking

Wed May 15th 8:30am


Software solutions of the server side
Administrator at Internet Public Library

When exploring server software options, one should ask:

What do you want to do?
What are the goals, directives, and needs?
What kinds of features and functions do you want to have?

Features you should look for in terms of worldwide web service to serve documents:

Is it secure?
Does it run easily?
User support?

Unix systems now run on personal computers rather than workstations. Information retrieval features are being implemented on desktop machines. A database and CGI scripts can be used to provide search features to users. The advantage to this is that you do not have to change existing software to a large degree.

Interactive Electronic message Exchange Formats:

Synchronous- particpants communicate in real time.

IRC is similar to Ham Radio. IRC is immensely popular and utilizes fairly low bandwidth.

MUD. Game playing is only one application MUD. MUD continues while IRC does not.

Asynchronous- particpants choose the time during which they would like to communicate.

Discussion Groups

Bulletin Boards

Usenet is appropriate for low-bandwidth situations.
Usenet is easily available and can scale across a large number of organizations.

E-mail mailing list (Listservs) The advantages are that the users come to where they already have experience to retrieve the information, their basic e-mail account. You can get an organization to run mailing lists for you. You can also run listservs for other organizations in order to finance your own mailing lists servers.

Web based message boards- users can reply to articles and start new articles. There are a number of good programs on this. This is also referred to as web conferencing.

Hypernews is a software system that is very easy to administer and setup.

Knowledge and utilization of good scripting language(s) is very crucial.


Teresa Hackler of Smart Valley Inc. explained how her organization implemented Public Access Network (PAN), a public kiosks system in Bay-Area in California. The public kiosks are all connected via 56Kb lines and feature full graphical interfaces.

Smart Valley is a high tech, non-profit, trade association that strives to advance use of the NII by bringing technology to the everyday person. Smart Valley seeks to help close the knowledge and access gap to NII resources.

Smart Valley operates solely through in kind donations from private industry. Projects focus in the areas of business, community, education, and government. Smart Valley began providing public access in June 1996, and currently operates 12 public kiosks, half of which have printing facilities, in seven different cities in the Bay-Area. Smart Valley operates in partnership with the sites where they install their machines. A technical system administrator oversees each sight.

PAN manages its webpages by using a combination of the Filemaker Pro Database to create databasees of links. CGI scripts (Perl) are written that extract the links from the database and set them in HTML. In other words, Pearl scripts and CGI bin scripts are used to create the HTML from data in filemaker database.

The database can then be exported and run through software programs that check the data and HTML links to ensure that the links are up-to-date and correct.

I/PRO is a new company that tracks usage of web pages on an intranet level. Web usage on an Internet level can be tracked by utilizing the Netscape Proxy Server. The Netscape proxy server tracks what links people explore from the public kiosk. All URL requests from the public kiosks are first point to the Netscape Proxy Server. The proxy server retains the information. CGI scripts are written in order to process the data. This gives Smart Valley a level of tracking that they didn't have before. The Netscape proxy server requires 32 Mb of RAM.

Following are recommendations on setting up a public kiosks system:

Community networks can actually be set up with a Pentium 100MHz, 32 MB DRAM, and Windows NT.

Choose a uniform platform

Windows NT

Security is a number one concern. Put kiosks in a secure environment.

Surfwatch (we give it to our children).
We don't require the use of censorship software filters, but we do provide the software to the person overseeing each public kiosk for use, if desired.

It is important to have software that returns the system to the beginning page after a period of non-use. This allows users to begin from a specifically designed starting point.

Configure helper apps at once. Security makes it difficult to add additional helper applications at different times.

Remember that user authentification software is not really refined as of yet.

On PAN services are provided to users without an individual account. This raises issues of accountability in terms of Internet user behavior.

Notetaking by Marcel Allbritton