Dalhousie University - Computers and Society - CS3090
Community networks or free-nets are not-for-profit organizations that provide access to electronic networks, usually the Internet , with little or no direct cost to the user. Such systems are usually run by volunteers and organized around a donation model where the funding comes from individual donations, corporate sponsorships and government grants(Beamish, 1995; Patrick & Black, 1996).
In this study we focus on a well established system and, by comparing its proposed mission with a user survey, interviews, meeting minutes and system logs we try to determine if its goals are being met.
Established in 1993 (see Appendix A for milestones), Chebucto Community Net (CCN - URL: http://www.chebucto.ns.ca) is a community network serving the metropolitan Halifax area (1994 county pop.349,900). Since its inception more than 15,000 accounts have been created with 11,000 being used at some point in time. After 3 years of activity, more than 6,000 active users and 24 phone lines, CCN can be considered a success story in the community network movement.
Although people are encouraged to donate and become paying members, there is no fee to use the system. All that is necessary is to fill in an on-line questionnaire and mail a user agreement with a photocopy of a piece of identification.
There's no age limits but people younger than 18 years need their parents permission to get their own accounts.
There are approximately 10 Public Access Terminals (PAT) located throughout the Halifax area, mostly in public libraries.
CCN users have access to all usual Internet services such as e-mail, newsgroups and the World Wide Web. IRC or other forms of real-time chat are not allowed. CCN is also a WWW server and at the moment more than 200 local non-profit organizations use the system to electronically publish their information at little or no cost.
In addition, CCN maintains several local mailing lists and newsgroups.
To promote a fair distribution of
phone lines, users are automatically disconnected after being on-line for
one hour consecutively and have to wait two minutes before re-accessing
"Every Nova Scotian will have free access to a community network, as part of a province-wide electronic network linked to the world-wide Internet."
- Metro Community Access Network Society (MetroCAN) business plan
MetroCAN is the original committee that founded CCN. In March, 1996 they changed their name to the Chebucto Community Net Society. A mission statement was drafted very early in CCN's history, demonstrating that there was a vision behind the project since its inception. In some way or another, those words were echoed throughout CCN's business plan and final mission and vision statements.
To fulfill its vision, MetroCAN decided to first establish a local community network that would serve as a focal point for similar developments around the province. The local network would provide guidance and support, and would develop software (Chebucto Suite) to support the movement. Some of the members of MetroCAN left and formed their own group to establish a province wide society.
Thus Chebucto Community Net (CCN) was formed with the following mission:
- help meet personal and professional information needs of people;
- foster communication among individuals and the institutions that serve them;
- support community groups in their efforts at professional development, outreach and community service;
- enhance opportunities for sustainable, community-based economic development; and,
create a favorable environment for business and employment growth;
- cooperate with other groups to foster and support the development and linking of community access networks in other parts of Nova Scotia, Atlantic Canada,
and the rest of Canada and the world.
In this case we can say that the medium has become the message. Due to its success and required dedication, CCN became an independent voice in the provincial movement and some of its original volunteers left CCN and went to start a provincial umbrella organization, the Federation of Nova Scotia Community Networks.
As already observed by Beamish(1995) is still too early to pass judgment in the community network movement and especially CCN but it is essential to have periodic assessments to measure its direction and speed towards its goals.
The question now is: Is CCN fulfilling its vision?
The survey (Appendix B) was sent to all "active users" on CCN. The definition
of an "active-user" was somewhat arbitrary. An account was considered "inactive" if it had not been used in the past 3 months.
To assure anonymity, the answers from the survey were sent to an e-mail account especially set up for this purpose, administered by David Trueman. A GAWK routine stripped the e-mail header making it impossible to trace the information back to the individual. As a reliability test, the user ID of every respondent was kept in a separate file. Thus we know who answered the survey but we can't link an individual to an specific survey.
The survey can be roughly divided in 3 questions:
1.Who is using CCN?
A profile of the user base: gender, age and socio-economic data.
2.How are they using the CCN? What are the most popular services?
Usage statistics. E-mail, newsgroups, etc....
3.Is CCN fulfilling its goals?
Compare the results of the previous questions with CCN's vision and mission statement.
Also CCN's system logs and WWW access were made available by David Trueman after deleting any personal information.
The first interesting result of the survey is the return rate itself . We received a total of 1,392 surveys back. The survey was sent to 6,000 users thus giving a 23.2% response rate, far beyond any similar study (Patrick and Black, 1995). It's hard to pinpoint the reason for such result. It seems to indicate a local attitude towards community participation but we have no hard data to back this up. The survey was also very short in comparison to similar studies, which probably help to achieve this response.
CCN has basically 2 kinds of users, users and members. The only difference between the two is the fact that a member helps support CCN through his or her membership.
Asked if they are members, 85.4% said they're were but the system wide figure is more like 50%. Considering it was a simple direct question and there was nothing to lose or gain by lying, we can think of 2 possible explanations:
1.there is some confusion among the users, about what constitute a member (thanks to David Trueman for bringing this up). A CCN member, means a supporting member, in contrast to a user who doesn't pay any fee. Although we cannot prove this there is anecdotal evidence that it is occurring.
2. the users that become members are the ones that place more value on CCN and thus more likely to answer surveys related to CCN.
By comparing the user IDs that returned the survey with the system logs, David Trueman was able to establish that indeed, the membership ratio in our survey is closer to the system wide figure instead of the result reported. This clearly indicates that there's a misunderstanding among users about what constitutes a member.
Gender and Age
While females are still under-represented (chart 1), when compared to other systems (Patrick, Black & Whalen, 1995), CCN shows more gender equality. Almost 30% of CCN users are female, which is the highest rate ever reported for this kind of system. Census data shows that 51% of the population in the Metro area is female.
This ratio is more or less constant in all age groups, except in the <=12, where female participation grows to 38% and the >=65 where is the worse gender inequality, only 13% of users on this group are female.
Almost 50% of CCN users are between 36 and 50 years old. This seems to indicate a slightly older group than the usual stereotype depicted by the media but it's similar to the results found in Ottawa by Patrick, Black & Whalen(1995).
Household and Personal Income
Almost 40% of the respondents reported a household income of more than $45,000/year but this number changed drastically when compared to the Personal income. More than 35% of the respondents reported a personal income of less than $10,000/year (chart 10 and 11). This apparent discrepancy can be explained by the large number of users that are students (20%).
These results are very similar to the figures obtained by Patrick, Black and Whalen (1995) for the National Capital Freenet in Ottawa.
Place of residence
There are only 2 ways to login to CCN: by modem or through telnet. Thus it's not surprising that 89% (chart 3) of it's users live in the local calling area. Another 5% live outside CCN's calling area but still in NS. Nevertheless, this figures are higher than the ones reported in Patrick, Black and Whalen(1995) for any similar system.
This obviously shows that CCN is fulfilling its role as a local resource and a negligible amount of people outside metropolitan Halifax use the system.
The single most important category was student (chart 2), followed by other, professionals (lawyers, physicians, etc...) and self-employed. 17% of the users reported "other" as their employment, this clearly indicates that next studies should have more choices or maybe a free form kind of question related to occupation.
Most of the users (69%) use CCN phone lines to connect (chart 4) and by far the preferred method to connect to CCN was using a home computer followed by telnet and dialing from work. In contrast, 90% of NCF users (Patrick & Black, draft 1) used primarily their home computer to connect to the system. Connections from work were also ranked second in Ottawa. Public Access Terminals were the least used kind of connection.
In this question we're trying to establish how people use CCN. The graph (chart 5) shows that most of the respondents use CCN as a personal communication tool. Recreation and Education are also popular and at the same level (~30%).
It's not surprising that Business was the least popular category as CCN has several restrictions to business use which can be summed up as "businesses are not allowed to advertise". These restrictions have very recently been relaxed. The CCN Society felt that they had to attract more local business to fulfill its mission.
Although users reported that they spent almost half their time using e-mail, the system logs show a different picture (chart 6 and W1). According to the system logs, people spend more time browsing the Web, followed by e-mail and then newsgroups.
Humans are usually not very good at recording time, especially when distracted by some other activity. Anyone that has spent some time "Web surfing" can understand this apparent discrepancy. It just seems natural that people would "feel" they spent more time reading and answering e-mail instead of aimlessly browsing the Web. Patrick & Black (draft 1-1995 ) report a similar situation with respect to number of logins per week at the NCF.
On a weekly basis, 29.6% of the users spend an average of 2 to 5 hours on-line. Another 23.5% of the users spend between 5 and 10 hours. The distribution is skewed to the lower ranges and only 6% of the users spend more than 20 hours on-line on a weekly basis.
Chart 7 shows the usage type grouped by frequency of use, it's interesting to note that both extremes of the graph, the users that spend less than 1hour/week and the users that spend more than 20 hours/week, show a higher proportion of time spent on Personal Communication in comparison with the middle ranges which have fairly constant proportions.
First time on the Internet
Almost 60% of the users were introduced to the Internet by CCN. This result alone is very encouraging on regards to CCN mission and objectives.
Only 16.4% users utilized CCN training sessions. When paired with the number of first time "netters" on CCN, this result indicates that most of the users do not consider formal training necessary to use CCN by most of the users. Although this result can be viewed as a positive assessment of CCN on-line training and user interface, it's hard to measure the amount of informal or user-to-user training involved.
There are more than 200 local non-profit organizations publishing information on CCN and when asked if CCN helped identify local organizations, slightly more than 50% of the respondents (chart 12) answered yes. On the other hand almost 30% responded that they did not care about local organizations. Interestingly, the majority of people that stated that the CCN did help them to identify local organizations stated that the CCN did not make them become more involved in local affairs. About 25% of the respondents actually got more involved in community affairs due to CCN, which shows that the CCN is a useful tool for promoting community involvement but the number of people who actually become more involved in the community is not large. One problem with these questions is the definition of "community involvement." Some of the respondents may have felt that exchanging e-mail or reading local newsgroups constitutes "community involvement."
Considering that e-mail is the most used resource it is not surprising to find that "Contacting friends/relatives" is considered the biggest benefit of using CCN (chart 8).
"Informal learning" and "Entertainment" come in a close second, which explains the high amount of web browsing.
It's somewhat surprising that "Work/Business" was cited considering CCN business policy.
What people want
Basically users want information (fig. 9). Education/research and employment information were the highest items, followed by games and real time communication.
Considering the amount of information already available on the Internet, this seems to indicate that users want more organized information. Something that they can use without too much effort. It also appears that they want information useful to their daily lives as opposed to vox populi.
Beamish(1995) proposes that the success of a community network should first be measured by their sustainability and growth. If it cannot survive and/or it is not growing, there is not much sense to assess its long term goals.
In the model followed by CCN, donations and memberships will always be a very important part of their operational budget. The fact that several users consider themselves members, indicates that CCN needs to do a better job on communicating with its users.
On respect to growth, new accounts continue to be created at an estimated rate of 750/month (B.Murphy, pers. comm.).
According to the latest budget figures (URL: http://www.chebucto.ns.ca/MetroCAN/AGM-1995/fin-report.html), CCN seems to be in good health financially, there is no fat to burn but the muscles are all adequately fed.
So then the question becomes, how about the long term goals?
"Every Nova Scotian will have free access to a Community Access Network, as part of a
province-wide electronic network linked to the world-wide Internet."
There are several community networks already established around the province and several more are close to coming on-line or are in formative stages. CCN has been very active in the provincial and even global level in the community network movement by developing and distributing their software Chebucto Suite. Its members have been traveling all over the province to help establish other community networks and they're active in the Federation of Nova Scotia Community Networks, the provincial umbrella group.
Also, CCN maintains a program called: Virtual Communities, where it offers to host the information of a community by creating a virtual community network in their system but separate from CCN. The first community to use such a program (Windsor, NS) should be coming on-line in the next few months.
Although it's too early to know if their vision will succeed, there's no doubt that CCN is working very actively to pursue its vision of an "all wired Nova Scotia".
A more detailed study, comparing the income distribution with census data will be necessary to know if CCN has a good representation of all strata of the local community. Although our ranges are somewhat different than the ones used by Patrick, Black &Whalen(1995) in Ottawa, the results seem to indicate a close match. More studies will be needed to assess the situation in Halifax.
Similar to other community networks, the business community is still underrepresented on CCN. There's a timid movement by the board of directors to allow limited advertisement in the system but so far the results are negligible. This behavior puts a big question mark on CCN's capacity to "enhance opportunities for sustainable, community-based economic development, and create a favorable environment for business and employment growth". Beamish (1995) found that this is a common trait in the community network movement. Community networks usually shun businesses because their presence is vaguely seen as incompatible with the goals of community networks.
Business is a vital part of any community and more often than not, a community is defined by its economic activity. Thus it is fundamental for CCN to find a way to welcome business without compromising its goals.
Even though social interactions was considered one of the benefits of using CCN and almost 50% of the users found local organizations through CCN, the immense majority did not see CCN as a factor in their community participation. This somewhat contradictory information seems to indicate that on-line interaction is being considered a social interaction in itself and separate from the "real" social interaction in the community.
Because membership is such an important part of their budget model, more emphasis should be placed on communication with the users. There seems to be a widespread notion that every user is automatically a member.
The socio-economic charts indicate that CCN has made inroads into all types of demographic groups, as it has always sought. CCN users are not the stereotypical group of young, technically inclined people.
Our overall conclusion is that although CCN seems to be working towards its major vision, some areas, especially on respect to enhance business activity and community participation need a more proactive approach in order for CCN to met its goals.
Beamish, A. (1995). Communities on-line: Community-based computer
networks. Master Thesis, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, MIT.
URL: http://alberti.mit.edu/arch/4.207/anneb/thesis/toc.html Nova Scotia Department of Finance-Statistics Division.
URL: http://184.108.40.206:80/fina/stats.div/aastats.htm Patrick,A.S.(1996). Services on the Information Highway: Subjective Measures of use and Importance from the National Capital FreeNet. DRAFT -- Version 1.11 -- 96/04/12
Patrick, A.S. &Black, A.(draft 1- 1995).Implications of Access
Methods and Frequency of Use for the National Capital FreeNet. DRAFT Version
3.5 - 96/04/12
Patrick, A.S., Black, A.(draft 2 - 1995).Losing sleep and watching less
TV but socializing more: Personal and Social Impacts of Using the National
Capital FreeNet. DRAFT version 2.10.
Patrick, A.S., Black, A. & Whalen, T.E.(1995). Rich, young, male,
dissatisfied computer geeks? Demographics and Satisfaction from the National
Capital FreeNet. In D.Godfrey & M.Levy (Eds.), Proceedings of
Telecommunities 95: The international Commuity Networking Conference (pp.
83-107). Victoria, British Columbia, Canada: Telecommunities Canada
Laura Jantek (Halifax City Regional Library),
Marion Pape (Provincial Librarian)
Shauna McNeil ( coop student with ACOA)
John Chesley (Industry Canada),
Michael Dow (NSTN)
David Murdoch (UniForum Atlantic)
These people met during the conference and back in Halifax started the movement that lead to CCN.
Best Community Site.
Internet Person of the Year (David Trueman).
Hello, We would like you to take a few minutes to complete this survey of Chebucto Community Net (CCN) users. This survey will be used to find out how well the CCN is accomplishing its goals, and what CCN users think of the CCN. The deadline for returning the survey is Wednesday, April 10th, 1996. Most of the questions are quick fill-in-the-blank census-type questions. This survey is formatted so it can be automatically processed, it only appears long. Please don't alter the physical arrangement of the survey, the computer may be unable to process your answers. You do not have to answer all the questions, but the more you answer the more helpful it will be. To complete the survey: 1. Press r to reply to this message. 2. The computer will prompt you to "Include original message in Reply?" Press y. 3. The survey will be included in your reply message. Move down to the survey itself and type in your answers by placing letters or numbers next to the choices. There a few examples below to guide you. 4. When you have completed the survey, press Ctrl-x to send your message. THIS SURVEY IS ANONYMOUS Your survey will be sent to a program that automatically scrambles your e-mail address in a way that cannot be reversed. The survey is then forwarded to a human for processing. No one will be able to tell who filled out the survey. There are two different types of questions. Here are a few examples. Some questions have only one answer, place an "x" to the left of your choice. Example: Q 0 What is your favorite fruit? (mark one choice with an x) :Peach :Apple x :Banana :Orange :Grapefruit :Other- Some questions have a list of items to be ordered from most important (5 points) to least important (1 point). If there are items that are not important to you do not put numbers next to them. Example: Q 0 Which fruits do you prefer? (rank your choices, 5= most preferred, 1= least preferred) :Peach :Apple 5 :Banana 3 :Orange :Grapefruit 4 :Other- passion fruit In the above example this person likes bananas the most, followed by passion fruit and then oranges. This person does not like peaches or apples at all. You can use numbers more than once in the same question if you wish. If you want to use the "other" category, put your mark (e.g. 4, or x) before ":Other-" and your description afterwards. Your description must fit on that line. In the above example the person typed in passion fruit. Don't worry about the items going out of alignment when you fill in your answers. And now... the survey: Thank-you for filling it out! ____________________________________________________________________ Q 1 Your Age: (mark one choice) :Up to 12 :13-17 :18-25 :26-35 :36-50 :51-64 :65 or over Q 2 Your Sex: (mark one choice) :Male :Female Q 3 Annual Household income: (everyone where you reside; mark one choice) :Less than $10,000 :Between 10,001 and 20,000 :Between 20,001 and 30,000 :Between 30,001 and 45,000 :Between 45,001 and 70,000 :More than 70,001 Q 4 Personal income: (mark one choice) :Less than $10,000 :Between 10,001 and 20,000 :Between 20,001 and 30,000 :Between 30,001 and 45,000 :Between 45,001 and 70,000 :More than 70,001 Q 5 You reside within: (if you have more than one residence, please choose the one you use most often) :Metropolitan Halifax calling area :Outside Halifax calling area but within Nova Scotia :Other Maritime province :Other Canadian province :United States :Other- Q 6 Your primary occupation: (mark one choice) :Professional (Engineer, Lawyer, etc.) :Civil Service :Education/Research :Military :Self-employed or business owner :Employed, but not in one of the above categories :Student :Homemaker :Retired :Unemployed Q 7 Are you a CCN member? :Yes :No Q 8 You connect to CCN using: (rank your choices according to amount used. 5=most often used, 1=least often used) :dialing from a computer at home :dialing from a computer at work :PAT (Public Access Terminal, e.g. at the library) :Through another account, using telnet :Other- Q 9 Do you use CCN for: (rank your choices according to amount used. 5=most often used, 1=least often used) :Recreation :Business :Education/Research :Personal (communicating with family and friends, etc.) Q 10 What proportion of time do you spend doing: (Answer in percentages - they should add up to 100; omit the % sign.) :E-mail :News :Web browsing local resources (local information providers) :Web browsing other resources Q 11 How many hours per week do you spend using CCN? (mark one choice) :Less than 1 hour/week :1-2 :2-5 :5-10 :10-20 :More than 20 Q 12 Were you introduced to the Internet by CCN? :Yes :No Q 13 Have you ever attended any CCN training session? :Yes :No Q 14 Do you have another Internet account? :Yes :No Q 15 If your answer to Q 14 was "Yes," who is providing the account? (mark all choices that apply) :School/university :Work :Commercial provider :Other freenet/community net Q 16 If your answer to Q 14 was "Yes," what do you use this other account for? (check all that apply) :For business purposes :For education purposes :To get features that aren't provided by CCN :I don't use my other account :Other- Q 17 Which features would you like CCN to provide? (rank your choices according to importance. 5=most desired, 1=least desired) :Graphical browsing(Netscape, Mosaic, etc.) :Less busy phone lines :Better user support :Faster/more reliable system :Better interface :Unix shell Q 18 Has the CCN helped you to identify local organizations for you? :Yes :No :Don't care Q 19 Has the CCN helped you to get more involved in community affairs? :Yes :No :Don't care Q 20 How does the CCN benefit you? (put an x next to all that apply) :Formal learning (actual courses) :Informal learning :Access to professional services (doctors, lawyers etc.) :Teaching :Access to commercial services (shopping, etc.) :Access to social services :Improving general literacy :Contacting friends or relatives (e-mail etc.) :Government access and/or participation :Work or business :Entertainment :Social interactions (meeting and talking with people) :Improving computer literacy Q 21 What would you like the Internet to provide? (rank your choices, 5=most desired, 1=least desired) :Games :Employment information :Shopping :Voting information :TV programs or movies on demand :Real time video communication :Educational/Research information :Conducting business :Other That's it. Thanks again! ------------------------------------------------------------------