Figure 1: Integrating Community Portals into Access.Ca ……………………………7
In January 2000, IHAB commissioned Telecommunities Canada (TC), a national association of community networking organizations, to create a draft community content template for urban and rural communities.
Drawing upon content channels from the Community Portal software developed by TC in 1999 with Industry Canada support, and using fresh input from 24 TC affiliates in both urban and rural Canada, the template indicates the categories of community content required for reasonable coverage of desired topics.
Under the contract, an operational Community Portal was established in Powell River BC. Powell River is a community of under 50,000 population served by the Powell River Community Network, a Telecommunities Canada affiliate. This Portal includes local content matching some of the categories in the draft template.
2.1.Community Content Categories Template
The appended template (Appendix 5.1) lists 75 community content categories compiled from input provided by 24 community networking organizations. The list of contributors (Appendix 5.3) shows a good range of communities, both large and small, rural and urban, covering eight Provinces across Canada.
Local community information and local services are important to Internet users.
In Community Networking and Access Initiatives in Canada (Public Interest Advocacy Centre, November 1998), Andrew Reddick analyzes the ‘Importance of Relevant Content’ in attracting Canadians to the Internet (emphasis added):
Use patterns suggest that the types of content services which have drawn users consist of public services which offer some societal or personal benefit, such as education, health, training, government and non-profit organizations, research, heritage and cultural information, as well as general information resources and services offered by certain types of companies, such as news, sports, entertainment, weather, computer and information technology information….While the Internet is often touted as technology which offers up national and international communication and information opportunities and resources to the public, trends suggest that what is of as much, if not more, importance for the public is the availability of rich, extensive and diverse local or community information and communication resources to complement these distance resources.
The community networking experience in Canada and the content category input received from networking organizations under the current project bear out Reddick’s findings.
2.3.The Local Perspective
Desirable community content takes into account uniquely local information and services such as public transportation schedules, local social services resources, local business directories and local discussion forums. It also includes general public information and services of regional, national and international interest.
In addition to generating local community information, communities filter and prioritize general community content categories to reflect local needs and interests. Generating uniquely local information and putting a local spin on the selection of general information are key elements in providing relevant community content.
No two communities are the same. A tool to help communities create and present relevant community content needs to be flexible. It needs to present a sufficiently broad range of options to enable communities to pick and choose content categories that are meaningful to them.
2.4.The Individual Perspective
Internet users appreciate easy access to community content and communications tools. Searching for relevant content can be an exhausting and time-consuming task, even if one has the skills to do it.
New users especially appreciate having a homepage that makes it easier to get started and easier to locate the information or other resources they want.
A local community homepage or portal is a good place to start, provided that it can be tailored easily to suit individual needs and provides access to non-local resources as well as local ones.
By the same token, a national homepage or portal is a good place to start if it is personally customizable and is easily linked to a local Community Portal that furnishes uniquely local content and a uniquely local view of the world.
3.THE COMMUNITY PORTAL
3.1.Community Portal Software
3.1.1What is it?
Telecommunities Canada’s Community Portal is a pre-formatted yet customizable home page -- an Internet gateway that simplifies and personalizes use of the Internet by helping communities and individuals to tailor their on-line experience.
3.1.2How does it work?
The Community Portal encourages access to Canadian content and services by positioning them at the forefront. At the same time, it is customizable so that communities can present resources that are locally relevant and individuals can access content that meets their personal needs.
Pre-formatted channels display groups of links to information, resources and services. Channels of national interest are kept up to date in a central repository. Local hosts such as CAP sites can create their own pre-formatted channels, including local directories, for display to local users.
Individuals using a Community Portal for the first time are presented with a default page of existing content channels set up by the local host. Additional content can be selected from an underlying template of content categories. Users can delete or add channels at will and can create their own channels.
An individual who creates a channel for personal use has the option of making that channel public (or proposing that it be made public) so that other local users can select it from the underlying template of content categories. Local hosts can intervene by setting up an approval process to vet proposed public channels.
3.1.3Who is it for?
A Community Portal can be used by any business, organization or government department as well as community learning networks, CAP networks, CAP sites, local community networks and individuals.
Telecommunities Canada and its partner, CSP Internet, developed the prototype Community Portal with seed funding from Industry Canada. Version 1.0 is currently operational and undergoing a test phase. In addition to the Powell River Community Portal at http://portal.prcn.org/ three other examples are available for review at http://portal.tc.ca/, http://portal.bccna.bc.ca/ and http://portal.victoria.tc.ca/