The Corporation for Public Broadcasting today teamed up with four U.S. communities to create locally based content and forums.
The CPB's Civic Networking Initiative (CivNet) will be similar to online publishing projects such as Microsoft's CityScape and America Online's Digital Cities, providing town hall forums and local maps online. But it will be more original, according to Andy Carvin, CPB media project officer.
"We created this as a response to Digital Cities because we're very concerned with this whole notion of turning community networking into commodities," Carvin said.
Localized content is slowly making its presence felt on the Net from companies that hope to gain market share and advertising dollars. Some see it as a backlash against the mass-market online sites, which sometimes make it difficult to find timely, local information. Others see it as a natural progression, just the way that metro daily newspapers have been creating zoned editions for suburban neighborhoods.
Carvin said he applauds AOL and Microsoft's efforts but doesn't think they will survive as a true community network. "AOL and Microsoft can offer lots of funding and national clout, but they don't have the experience within the community to truly understand the community's needs," he contended.
To address this problem, CivNet is working with public broadcasters, schools, software designers, and social service organizations to work with community members to create local environments.
The CPB has granted four communities, from the rural Idaho panhandle to urban St. Louis, $80,000 each to build forums, content, and even barter programs. For example, participants could earn donated computers by volunteering their time and skills to work for the network.
The grant recipients include: the LINCT Coalition of Chicago and Hampton Bays, New York; the St. Louis Development Corporation of St. Louis; the Davis Community Network of Davis, California; and the Inland Northwest Community Access Network (TINCAN) of Spokane, Washington, including eastern Washington and the Idaho panhandle.
Each community has chosen to take a different approach based on the needs of its citizens. For example, the TINCAN project in Washington will develop an environment to allow users to discuss current events and download information related to the topic of discussion. The LINCT project will focus on educational issues and volunteer projects.
The four applicants were chosen from 120 communities representing 35 states and the District of Columbia, based on creativity and content. The application process was, for the first time, conducted online rather than on paper.
Interested towns and cities may have another chance to build a network depending on the generosity of Congress, according to Carvin. The progress of each community will be posted on the CivNet home page.