Nine years later, the technology catches up with the vision.
Back in 1996, I was hired for my first full-time job by a non-profit organization called the Ozarks Regional Information Network (ORION). ORION was one of the pioneers of the Community Information Network movement in the United States. They were formed by several area organizations with the vision “to insure equitable access to local public information to anyone regardless of social, economic or personal factors“. I watched ORION move from having an emphasis on the word “access” (because when ORION started no one in Springfield had Internet access) to an emphasis on the word “information”. CINs evolved as ISPs became common place in America and started pushing the envelope with new Internet technologies. Moderated chat rooms became virtual townhall forumns for public interaction with their government officials, database-driven templated sites were created to house community services directories, and government Geographic Information System data was released to the masses through online mapping applications.
Two weeks ago I had a tonsillectomy to relieve chronic sore throat problems. As I moaned, groaned, and recouperated after the surgery, I found that I finally had some time to goof-off on the Internet. Now I’m almost always online, but I rarely have time to really just play around and see what new, cool stuff is out there. So I started experimenting with new extensions for firefox, del.icio.us bookmarks, and several other social networking applications.
One thing that kept popping into my head as I experimented with these sites was “man, just think of what we could have done if we had this technology back in the ORION days!”. Alas, ORION is no more. Some of it’s services were re-absorbed into the Springfield-Greene County Library District’s site, but many others just disappeared as ISPs became common place and the organization’s funding withered. At the time, people were more interested in emailing distant friends or making big bucks in the dot-com boom than they were in networking within their community.
Things have changed. It is amazing to see how much the Internet has changed since those early days. Finally people are grasping the concept we were trying to push back then: information is powerful, and a community is the best source of information.