The Powell River Community Network (PRCN) established a Community Portal in February 2000 with support from Telecommunities Canada. Shortly after the Portal became operational, Bev Collins, Manager of PRCN wrote:
We have already gotten positive feedback on the portal and the PRCN is excited about offering it as another "added-value" service for our customers. We have youth working on content and we hope to put together a section for Youth. We have already created a GAME SPY Channel because gaming is so popular in Powell River. Our First Nations CAP site, Sliammon, will also be building a channel. We are very excited about the "content-building" side of implementing the portal.
At its launch, the Powell River Community Portal featured a “Powell River” channel with links to the Chamber of Commerce, Kathaumixw, Logger Sports, local Musicians, the Public Library, the Visitors Bureau and the Sliammon First Nations.
Other prominently placed channels included the HRDC Job Bank for Vancouver Island, BC Ferries Schedule, KidTutor.com, Exchange Rates (a currency conversion tool), Government of BC News Releases and several news channels.
Once we got started on the Portal, it did not take long to implement. Feedback from our technician indicates that documentation was the biggest hurdle. I think that once it is well documented it will be easy for other sites to implement.
In a telephone interview conducted by TC’s Executive Director, PRCN’s technician said that the documentation currently available with the Portal software needs to be more comprehensive and should be written with a view to making installation easy for volunteer-based sites that may lack technical expertise.
PRCN staff also recommended that more help files be added to the interface to make it simpler for computer novices to set up and customize their personal Portals.
Generating uniquely local information and putting a local spin on the selection of general information are key elements in providing relevant community content.
As local networking organizations, Community Networks and CAP sites are ideally placed to present locally relevant content to local users and to encourage the creation of uniquely local content by local information providers and local service providers.
Building upon existing infrastructure, resources should be provided to Community Networks and CAP sites to encourage the presentation of locally relevant content. Tools such as the Community Portal software and regional servers to house local Portals should be made available.
4.1.2Test funding models
With a view to helping Community Networks and CAP sites establish local Community Portals, funding models should be tested to evaluate sustainability and seed funding requirements.
In field tests of the Community Portal it has been shown that individuals can be important contributors of desirable content. Encouraging users to make personal channels publicly available increases the amount of relevant community content on the local Portal. Community Networks and CAP sites hosting Community Portals should establish a local vetting process to allow local users to propose public content channels.
Regionally relevant content channels should be shared by neighbouring Portals through a regional server.
4.2.Make it personal
Field tests of the Community Portal suggest that individuals appreciate being presented with a page of default channels as a starting point. Equally important, they value the ability to customize their personal Portal by deleting unwanted channels, adding channels from a template of available content, and creating their own new content channels. The degree to which people use and personalize their Portal likely depends on how easy it is to do so.
Their may be some merit in creating default pages of content channels based on user profiles – a seniors template, a youth template, a family template, and so on. However, profiled templates are likely to be useful only to the degree to which they are easily customizable by the individual.
An interactive process of selecting content channels based on areas of interest may be the most helpful approach.
The Community Portal software has demonstrated strong potential as a tool for presenting local community content.
Written documentation should be produced to make the software easier to install, especially for volunteer-based sites that may lack technical expertise.
Additional help files should be developed to make the interface as user-friendly as possible.
Further development of the software should be undertaken to make it easier for new users to customize a personal Portal. An interactive approach should be considered as a way to walk the user through the process of selecting desired content.
Software developments should ensure that the Portal software is compatible with Access.ca initiatives and priorities.
4.4.Integrate Community Portals into Access.Ca program
T o ensure the availability of uniquely local content Canada-wide, locally hosted Community Portals should be integrated into the Access.ca program.
Figure 1: A user obtains community content either by visiting a national Website or by visiting a local Community Portal. Local Community Portals are also accessible through a national directory of CAP sites, Community Networks and Community Portals.