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1998 Annual General Meeting Reports
Tuesday, April 13, 1999
Chair's Report to the 1998 AGM
This report synthesizes the work we have completed and the adventures Chebucto has had over the last year. As well, it includes my reflections on where we have been and where we need to go. There have been a number of major accomplishments.
We are now a federally registered charity! Happily, we must begin the detailed work of revising our accounting system to carefully record donations, etc. Peter Mortimer put us on this road almost two years ago. In a related vein, Doug Rigby and Sharon Parker have spearheaded an effort to reorganize the bookkeeping so that Chebucto now functions with a detailed budget reflective of our various activities. An obvious challenge is to continue to grow and expand this capability.
We launched point to point protocol (PPP) access, which means we now offer dial-up graphical access. Quite apart from a "market" demand for this service, I firmly believe and hope this represents a shift in perspective. We are no longer serving the text-only market. We intend to offer competitive, alternative graphical access to the people of Halifax. David Murdoch and Andrew Wright have been instrumental in bringing about these changes. In this spirit, I think it is important to point out that we have maintained the same rolling, variable quota that we use for text-based access. We don't offer so many hours/day-we offer access that is shared based on hourly demand-if our service is busy, people get on-line, but get shorter access times. We also developed a Users manual, with the capable work of Richard Rudnicki, Mark Rushton and Blaine Murphy. (Available for $5 from the office.)
Access Your Email Worldwide
It is also now possible to check your Chebucto email worldwide from any computer connected to the Internet running a web browser. Previously this was possible only through the use of the arcane telnet connection. Check out this new service at http://imp.chebucto.ns.ca/ This is but one example of the tireless efforts of the Technical Committee.
Led by David Murdoch we have successfully completed several community development projects, most notably the Health Canada training program for health information sites across Atlantic Canada. As well, we have just recently received funding for several more training and access initiatives. This funding includes money to establish a Provincial Server. We are following the lead of the British Columbia Community Network Association in implementing this type of service. Combined with terminals in Provincial Libraries, the provincial server truly allows people throughout Nova Scotia to have universal access to email and the Internet. One of our strengths is as a community organization, helping to build a sustainable, electronically enabled community.
Bernie Hart has maintained our high profile across Canada through his indefatigable networking efforts. As a result, when people in other provinces and in the Federal government think of successful community networks, Chebucto is at or near the top of everyone's list.
Fundraising and Development Strategies
We decided in early 1998 to use some invested funds to pay for the professional services of Richard Rudnicki. It was a great relief to me to have dedicated help moving us forward on a number of projects. In a similar vein, early in 1999 we made an even more difficult decision to recruit an Executive Director. I have great hopes for the role that this person will play. As you now know, this meant laying off our long time and very able office person, Blaine Murphy. Blaine's contribution as the voice of Chebucto was very significant and will be missed. Blaine has already taken a new full-time position with InfoInteractive.
Sue Newhook has gracefully guided the communications committee. Our profile is rising in the community and we are much more responsive to media requests as a result of this work. There is clearly much work to be done yet.
The number of policy related issues have fallen off dramatically, in part, I am sure, because of Michael Colborne's deft handling. Marni Tuttle took her hand at the endless stream of membership email. I am continually impressed with the detail and responsiveness of userhelp (firstname.lastname@example.org). David Murdoch has ably served as Chebucto's General Manager, as well as acting as advocate-general for both Chebucto and Halifax Community Access Program sites.
Despite these successes, there are, however, core areas still needing attention. Chief amongst these are our Information Providers. We have a good, but overly complex service and we have not been able to effectively marshal our efforts to improve the functionality and features for existing and new IP's. We did offer Virtual Domain Names this year, for a fee. We will need to continue to market this service. Also, the presentation of our website remains one of our biggest failures. Although the information is almost encyclopedic, the interface remains virtually unchanged since 1995. Many sites with much less depth than ours are able to present a visually more appealing look, with much more compelling information architecture. Although there are aspects of this task that are overwhelming, at some level the need is straightforward. Membership declined this year. This trend started two years ago. In the near future we will be competing in a world in which the majority of Haligonians have high-speed Internet access and are using electronic commerce-enabled sites. How will we provide useful Internet access for our users in this world? How will we be helping enable our IP's? Although we remain Halifax's second largest ISP, our role as a niche player is, unfortunately, becoming clearer. Innovative strategies will need to be adopted to address this decline. Partnerships may be one way to work through this challenge. Despite the considerable efforts of Charles MacDonald and Joyline Makani, we have not been able to capitalize on our volunteer base. I am concerned that some of the same faces are doing the same work as two years ago. We need to develop better systems for attracting and engaging committed volunteers.
The Year Ahead (and beyond)
Looking forward, I see more opportunities and challenges. We have successfully navigated the "new organization" phase of our existence. We have kept universal access and the use of electronic communications as a key to community economic development on Nova Scotian's agenda. We need to step up to the challenges facing us as being online becomes the norm, rather than the exception, for Canadians. Two last thoughts. First, one role an effective not-for-profit organization can provide is on-the-job experience for volunteers. I have recently benefited from this and am grateful to the many people who have worked so hard to maintain Chebucto. Second, I would like to thank the many people with whom I have worked closely over the last two years. I am grateful to each of you for all that I have learned. I look forward to seeing and hearing of the successes of Chebucto in the new millennium!
In the last year, we conducted seven sets of our three User Training sessions - each session last two hours. We also held a workshop on basic HTML, intended for Chebucto users who want to add to their personal profile. The classes have ranged in size from six to fourteen participants. The demand for training has slowed in the last two years, so courses are being held less often.
CCN Userhelp received 3,214 emails in the year ending March 31, 1999. Approximately 39% were forwarded to other departments such as tech, office and ccn-ip for followup. Several volunteers left us for various reasons such as career or health and we now need new volunteers to help the core group still available. Another 1,000 plus emails were handled in relation to our new Chebucto Plus service, offering PPP to our members, however, many of these were basic startup questions. Some of our Userhelp volunteers also supply answers on PPP-Help in assistance to several dedicated PPP-Help volunteers.
Comparing the two "Net Worth" tables [see Appendix show that Chebucto Community Net Society (CCN) had an opening balance on Jan 1/98 of $48,274.62 and a closing balance on Dec 31/98 of 29,356.16. The Net Worth tables also indicate subcategories including bank accounts, investments and liabilities. We consider the ability to pay our telecommunications costs through a Dalhousie account an administrative asset although in accounting terms, it is correctly shown as a liability account. The difference between the opening and closing balance - $18,916.46 represents expenditure minus income. It matches the final figure in the Income and Expense Report for 1998 and reflects the result of planned expenditure on a fund raising project. Ninety-two percent of our income ($74,617.66) came from membership donations. Within this, forty-four percent ($32,718.33) came from "Full" ($20.00) memberships, twenty percent from "Family" memberships; seventeen percent came from "Supporting" memberships and seven percent from "Sustaining" memberships. (See Appendix for graph of Membership Revenue 1998). As this last membership category came during 1998 to include a graphic/PPP service, income from this category has continued to rise as members have chosen to upgrade their membership. The impact of this begins to show in the first quarter of 1999. During this period "Sustaining/PPP" memberships accounted for twenty-nine percent of membership income. (See Appendix for Income Expense Report 1/1999 through 3/21/99 and graph of Membership Revenue 1999). In 1998, CCN also received income from participation in a Health Canada Project. While even greater participation is expected in similar projects in 1999, the 1999 budget only forecasts a conservative $3,000. Fifty percent ($49,565.09) of the total expenses ($99,796.98) in 1998 were on telecommunications. Payroll accounted for a further twenty-five percent ($24,872.94) while Projects accounted for seventeen percent ($16,789.46) and Computer Equipment five percent ($5,473.54). (See Appendix for graph of Expenditure 1998). The 1999 budget forecasts total revenue of $87,300 and total expenditure of $101,650 reducing CCN's net worth at Dec 31/99 to an estimated $4,550. The first quarter income in 1999 of $27,598.64 was $2000 more than the first quarter in 1998. This encourages us to believe that the budgeted income from membership of $83,300 will be reached by Dec 31/99. CCN's 1998 financial records were verified by Shirley Banfield of Pro Bookkeeping Service, Mount Uniacke, Nova Scotia.
Communications Committee Report
As you have heard and will hear tonight, Chebucto is going through a number of major changes, both internally and in terms of its place in the community. The Communications Committee is going through some changes as well. This report begins with an overview of what we've done in the past year, then takes a look at some of the specific projects we're looking at for the coming year, and talks a bit about where we want to go.
A. Projects and events 1998-99
B. Projects for the upcoming year include
C. General Focus
As more and more voices move into the online community, Chebucto Community Net sometimes seems to be lost in the hubbub. We need a higher community profile for a number of reasons: to reach people who are ignored by commercial providers, to let more community groups and small business people know we're here and useful to them, and to keep and feed the members we already have. Our first priority is to improve communications among Chebucto's membership. When the society first began, it was one of a very few service providers in the Halifax area, and other providers were quite expensive. Neither is still true. For a number of years our membership grew quickly, but that has changed as well. It's easier to keep people than to get them back, and the Communications Committee is looking for ideas-and help-from anyone who has either to offer. The hardware and software are only tools. Chebucto Community Net will live or die on its people and on the way we communicate, both among ourselves and with the community at large. Chebucto's strongest feature is not so-called "free" service. It is its goal to establish AND maintain a virtual community that is at least as lively, informative and inclusive as the literal one. The Communications Committee's focus is to see that the general public and our membership understand that goal, and keep it in sight. If anyone has any comments or suggestions on any of this, we'd love to hear them. Let's talk about them here, or you can send an email addressed to ccn-comm.
Policy Committee Report
The Policy Committee has two roles:
The past year has been a relatively quiet one as far as complaints are concerned. This may be due to a maturing of attitudes of internet users, perhaps newsgroup users are becoming less combative or less likely to complain, or maybe we just had a lucky year. The Committee tries to deal with complaints in an educational, rather than a punitive, manner. Many complaints are the result of ignorance, not malice. Our goal is the development of productive CCN community members, rather than punishment. Since the adoption of the Commercial Policy last year, more CCN users are using their accounts for commercial activity. Educating people on the appropriate use of their accounts for commercial purposes is an important part of the Committee's role. The Committee wants to ensure that policy development continues to support commercial activity rather than create obstacles.
Some initiatives for the coming year include:
1998 - Report from the Documentation Teamleader
The documentation team is repsonsible for user documentation, primarily the Helpdesk.
Over the past year, the documentation team activities have been restricted to the ocassional ammendment of documents that are no longer correct (usually broken links). The development of the new documentation for the Chebucto Plus service has started, but these documentation activities have occured spontaneously and not as an organized "documentation team" effort.
A significant challenge exists with respect to the maintenance of CCN's French language documentation. No volunteers have ever been identified to assist in the maintenance of this resource. As the current (English) documentation evolves (and the new Chebucto Plus documentation is developed) there is a danger that the French language documents will become so far out of date as to force their abandonment.
1998 CCN Annual Technical Report
The past 12 months have been challenging/exciting times for the technical aspects of Chebucto Community Net's operations. At the beginning of the year we were struggling with high load averages that were causing the system to respond very slowly. In September we moved all dialup user services to a newer, more powerful computer which also brought a new operating system, and a new version of our CSuite software. In December we launched our new graphic service "Chebucto Plus" which requires new technical and administrative tools and support.
The CCN Technical Committee currently serves three groups of users; our traditional text-based dial-up accounts which use our Lynx Browser interface; Information Providers who require convenient access to their web sites; a new and growing group of users of our new (PPP) graphical interface "Chebucto Plus" services. Each of these groups has a different set of needs, and over the past year the CCN Technical Committee has attempted to improve services to each of these groups.
This year, our dial-up users have been the focus of many changes in hardware and software. Over the last year we've been faced with several large challenges relating to hardware resources/issues and we're still working to resolve one chronic problem that has baffled some of the best minds in the industry. There have been some warm, bright spots including a new version of Lynx that provides better access to sophisticated web sites and a new "welcome page"
The most dramatic improvement has been the introduction of a new file transfer protocol (IP-FTP) service that allows information providers to upload documents directly to their web site. This makes CCN as accessible as any other service provider.
The introduction of the service involved new hardware, phone lines, software, installation software, documentation and support. A services web-site for Chebucto Plus, which enables some of the features that text-based users access through Lynx has been built, but it is not clear that its maintenance belongs with the Tech team.
A web email (Hotmail type) product that will allow a CCN user to check their mail from any location if they have access to a web browser (...almost ready). A "local" IRC chat room server that could possibly be used to provide new "live" helpdesk services, "virtual committee meetings" for CCN and IP's, or simply to provide IRC "chat" services for our users (...early testing). We are also gradually working toward the retirement of two old domain names (cfn·cs·dal·ca and ccn·cs·dal·ca). Performance improvements, to support future membership and email usage.
Joining the Technical Committee
The committee continues to be challenged to find ways to effectively integrate potential volunteers into the technical team. Now, as in the past, system security and considerations relating to user confidentiality require a gradual broadening of a new volunteers powers. This has often limited a volunteers ability to make an immediate contribution and may have contributed to "drop-out" and our loss of a potentially valuable resource. We hope that a formal confidentiality agreement, a strong orientation program and other volunteer policies can be developed to help the technical committee face this challenge. You do not need a technical background to contribute to the technical effort. A member(s) who could help us develop a strong orientation program would be a valuable asset, as would individuals with an interest in research, testing, and documentation. Acknowledgement to all CCN Tech volunteers including for their contributions over the last year; and the volunteers who have joined us in recent months. Acknowledgement also to both Dalhousie University's Communication Services and the Department of Math and Statistics for their support.
What is Planned for the Future
David Potter (for)
1998 External Relations/Development Report
As the person responsible for external relations I presently represent Chebucto in the following capacities: Atlantic Director, Telecommunities Canada; the Nova Scotia Federation of Community Nets; the Nova Scotia Community Access Selection Committee; and the Halifax Regional Municipal CAP Working Group.
Halifax Regional Municipality