Pit Schultz on Sat, 27 Sep 1997 20:14:32 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> >Public Access in laundromats

[ you may thought that free access is dead and poor people are already
out of the net. besides the bandwidth collectives, boroughed access
and deprivatized terminals in the niches of the real urban space, there
are places like geocities, hotmail and other 'free' services which
could be called digital ghettos, centers of a suburban netculture,
with all kinds of anonymous, romantized and illegal activities. this
quote tells the story how good is the 'good net' which is socially
acceptable. /p]

Lesson of Public Access
By Gary Chapman and Lodis Rhodes

An important lesson about how to foster effective public access to the 
network revolves around where to put public-access computers. Most community 
networks still tend to site their terminals in schools and libraries. But 
our experience shows that it is better to locate public access computers not 
in the quiet solitude of libraries but in venues in which people in 
low-income communities tend to gather informally during the course of their 
daily lives. What's more, many libraries do not permit patrons to develop 
their own Web pages or to upload files to Internet servers; librarians tend 
to view the Internet as a reference tool, not a means for personal 
publishing. We've had success locating terminals in churches, recreation 
centers, and local businesses, and hope to put additional computers in 
cafes, laundromats, alternative schools, youth centers, shopping centers, 
and even bars and sports facilities. After all, the skills required for 
using the Internet are acquired by sharing experiences with others, and in a 
social atmosphere. 

Regardless of where the terminals are situated, users need to be able to put 
their own information on Internet servers. But this generally requires that 
users have access to a server's file structure--an ability that system 
administrators are wary of providing. Some community networks are therefore 
beginning to experiment with software tools that will allow people to create 
Web pages in "protected" areas of a server and that do not require 
sophisticated programming. The City of Austin, for example, has developed 
software that allows nonexpert users to create Web pages without knowing 
hypertext markup language or how to load Web pages onto a server; pushing a 
button automatically inserts all the necessary codes to format the text, 
create hyperlinks, and deposit the page into the right space on the server's 
hard disk. This system may enable local nonprofits and neighborhood
associations to maintain Web sites without assistance from a system
administrator or an expert Web page developer. 

An even more urgent need is for software that makes it practical for 
community networks to offer the one service that has more than any other 
wedded people to the Net: electronic mail. Neither the Austin Free-Net nor 
many other community networks offer e-mail. The costs of constantly creating 
new accounts, eliminating dormant ones, and managing "bounced" mail are 
beyond the means of volunteer- run networks. In the commercial world, e-mail 
accounts are usually made available to people who are part of a relatively 
stable group, such as a university community or corporation, or to customers 
who pay by the month or year. There are no precedents for people using 
e-mail on a pure "pay-per-use" basis akin to the purchase of postage stamps. 

Millions of people are reportedly using free e-mail accounts provided by 
HotMail, a company that derives revenue by selling advertisements that users 
see each time they access their account. Unfortunately, HotMail suffers from 
a fundamental security flaw: hitting the "back" key on the browser has 
brought to the screen the mail written and received by previous users of the 
same terminal, presenting a significant privacy concern. HotMail has 
announced a new feature in its service--a "logout" button that will clear 
the mail from a public access terminal--that, if it works the way the 
company promises, will solve this problem. 

Much work remains to tailor the software and hardware of public-access 
stations to accommodate users who cannot afford personal computers or 
Internet accounts. We are confident that the computer profession can come up 
with solutions; whether those will develop into a profitable market remains 
to be seen, but in the meantime, we can hope that skilled programmers and 
responsible companies view this task as a public service to the nation. 

quoted from:
Nurturing Neighborhood Nets
By Gary Chapman and Lodis Rhodes

[see also the current article in http://www.rewired.com]

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