Open Source for Community Networks

Andrew Cohill, a noted author on and pioneer of community networks, opened our session. He discussed a cash award program that the Association For Community Networking is offering open source developers. Linux hackers with experience building custom distros should take note: you could do something good, have a bunch of fun and pick up some money along the way.

Then I talked about why I thought open source software was a good choice for building online communities. I like the way it tied to some of the points Andrew made. A lot of the packages he mentioned re-appeared in my presentation. I indicated when creating an online community you should enumerate your needs and then identify solutions. That's really the process that AFCN started with the grant program.

The most enthusiastic discussion happened around some digressions. I highlighted the open Jabber instant messaging protocol. Andrew pointed out how great that is to create safe, secure chat environments for kids. I started a RSS advocacy rant ("push technology done right"), and Gary Chapman jumped in enthusing about its possibilities.

To close, Gary highlighted some of the work on community informatics being done at the LBJ School. Gary bemoaned the fact that "computer literacy" has come to mean "knows how to use Word and PowerPoint." I learned about the CommunityNetworking.Org website and weblog that's being run out of the LBJ School. They are exploring ways to use low-cost technologies to get the remaining 85% of the planet onto the Internet.

I stayed for the panel after us, which was on Social Software. As pleased as I am with myself for doing my stuff in HTML, Adina Levin did an awesomely cool thing for her presentation: she used a wiki.