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 +# A Manifesto for Online Communities - and digital inclusion (1999)
 +
 +David Wilcox on March 9, 2010
 +
 +While looking at [an old site](http://​www.partnerships.org.uk/​) I set up
 +back in the 1990s I came across [A manifesto for online
 +communities](http://​www.partnerships.org.uk/​cyber/​index.htm),​ written by
 +a group of us back in 1999, and published by the BBC as part of its
 +[Webwise](http://​www.partnerships.org.uk/​bol/​plans.htm) campaign. It’s a
 +sort of early unofficial digital inclusion plan.\
 +
 +In the week of the [National Digital Inclusion
 +conference](http://​www.eventsforce.net/​civic/​frontend/​reg/​thome.csp?​pageID=6475&​ef_sel_menu=219&​eventID=27&​eventID=27),​
 +and following the recent launch of the [National Digital Participation
 +Plan](http://​nds.coi.gov.uk/​clientmicrosite/​Content/​Detail.aspx?​ClientId=431&​NewsAreaId=2&​ReleaseID=411722&​SubjectId=36),​
 +it seemed fitting to look back at how far we’ve come over the past ten
 +years. Or not. In 1999 we didn’t have UK online centres urged in the
 +manifesto … and easy access to the Web was only five years old. Well,
 +not that easy since we were mostly on slow dialup connections (many in
 +rural areas still are, of course). Here’s the manifesto summary:
 +
 +If we believe that the Internet and development in cyberspace should
 +enhance rather than restrict democracy, enable us to be active
 +citizens - and that everyone should have an opportunity to participate -
 +these are draft proposals for a manifesto for online communities.
 +
 +1.  Every citizen, regardless of their economic circumstances,​ should be
 +    able to share the benefits of the Information Age - including better
 +    communications,​ greater participation,​ electronic life long
 +    learning, and e-commerce. To achieve this they should have access to
 +    local **community technology centres**, plus public online forums
 +    and services to create an **online community**. The centres will
 +    provide technical support and help ‘on the ground’, the forums will
 +    be ‘virtual spaces’ for online communities related to\
 +     ​localities.\
 +2.  Centres and online communities should be easy to find - signposted
 +    locally, and through a **national gateway**.
 +3.  **Public support** should be available, particularly in low-income
 +    neighbourhoods,​ where the market is unlikely to provide facilities
 +    on a sustainable basis without public funding.
 +4.  Development of centres and online communities should be piloted
 +    through **pathfinder projects**, with community participation.
 +5.  There should be a **network** and support for the local champions
 +    and partnerships who will develop the centres and online
 +    communities.
 +6.  A **virtual resource centre** should be developed to provide sources
 +    of advice for local champions and partnerships,​ and a neutral space
 +    online for discussion of the development of centres and online
 +    communities.
 +
 +[Full manifesto here](http://​www.partnerships.org.uk/​cyber/​manifest.htm)
 +
 +You can read [more here](http://​www.partnerships.org.uk/​cyber/​index.htm)
 +about the background to the manifesto, and [the action
 +plan](http://​www.partnerships.org.uk/​cyber/​plan.htm) we promoted to put
 +it into practice. Former BT futurologist Dave Greenop developed [some
 +cyberspace scenarios](http://​www.partnerships.org.uk/​cyber/​scene.htm). I
 +think you’ll recognise much of today’s world in them.
 +
 +The [Draft principles for
 +cyber-realism](http://​www.partnerships.org.uk/​cyber/​princ.htm) also seem
 +relevant today.\
 +1 New media technologies are not
 +neutral - they will change our ‘real communities’ for good and
 +ill.\
 + ​Increasingly we will live our lives partly in the real world and partly
 +in the virtual communities of cyberspace. These online communities - or
 +cyberplaces - will provide facilities for shopping, gaming, socialising,​
 +debating and doing business. Who gains and who loses by this will depend
 +substantially upon four factors: who has access to cyberplaces,​ who
 +design and constructs them, who controls them, and who has the skills to
 +use them.\
 +\
 +2 The main construction of cyberplaces
 +will be commercial.\
 + Much of the fabric of our towns and cities has been constructed by
 +private developers, and the same will hold true for cyberplaces. Once we
 +get beyond basic email and ‘do it yourself’ web pages, the major places
 +visited on the Net are being created for business purposes. Investors
 +are nurturing online communities by free services and other attractions
 +so that these communities can be sold to - or sold on to others. They
 +must provide returns to shareholders. These pioneering efforts can
 +provide us with great benefits as consumers - but not, on their own, as
 +citizens.\
 +\
 +3 In cyberspace - just like real
 +space - position matters. Increasingly this will be privately
 +controlled.\
 + In one sense cyberspace may be limitless. There are few forseeable
 +limits on the ability of individuals,​ groups or companies to create
 +their own cyberplaces,​ in some forms. It is as if land were (almost)
 +free, and without planning controls. But where you are will matter more
 +and more - because people will find cyberplaces through search engines,
 +gateways, portals and other devices controlled mainly by private
 +interests. Position will be allocated primarily to serve those
 +interests. Individuals and groups will continue to create good
 +cyberplaces,​ signposting and gateways - but without some action in the
 +overall public interest they may exist only on the margin.\
 +\
 +4 Access is not enough.\
 + ​Providing poorer people with access to the Internet, and training in
 +the use of computers, is essential for social justice and overall
 +economic wellbeing - but it will not in itself combat social exclusion
 +and improve people’s lives. For that to happen the cyberplaces people
 +can find and use - whether they are poor or not - must be designed to
 +meet more than their needs as consumers. They should be designed with
 +the participation of users. In addition, training and support must go
 +beyond technical issues to include information literacy and the skills
 +needed to participate in online communities.\
 +\
 +5 Digital television and Internet
 +developments will transform cyberspace within a few years.\
 + The speed of the Internet will increase tenfold for many ordinary users
 +within a year. Within a few years more all television sets will be
 +digital, providing additional access. Cyberplaces will increasingly be
 +multi-media - a mix of text, audio and video. All media will converge.
 +The control of that media will lie in fewer and fewer hands.\
 +\
 +6 Information is not power\
 + The Internet and other media will increasingly provide access to vast
 +amounts of information. But that information is useless if it is not
 +structured - or structured only in ways which suit certain interests.
 +The ability to create content on the Web is merely vanity publishing if
 +no-one can find it.\
 +\
 +7 Size matters.\
 + One of the great attractions of the Internet for early enthusiasts and
 +activists was that individuals and small groups could - apparently -
 +create cyberplaces to rival those of large public and private interests.
 +This may still hold good - but only the large will channel and attract
 +large audiences. Only the large will have a loud voice in cyberspace.\
 +\
 +8. Understanding technology should be
 +an essential component of global citizenship. (from the techno-realism
 +principles)\
 + In a world driven by the flow of information,​ the interfaces - and the
 +underlying code - that make information visible are becoming enormously
 +powerful social forces. Understanding their strengths and limitations,​
 +and even participating in the creation of better tools, should be an
 +important part of being an involved citizen. These tools affect our
 +lives as much as laws do, and we should subject them to a similar
 +democratic scrutiny.\
 +\
 +9 Public cyberspace should be central,
 +not fringe, and of high quality.\
 + In the UK at least, we accept that parks need to be in the centres of
 +towns and cities, and that public transport should be available to all
 +at reasonable cost. Increasingly we expect that our public and community
 +facilities which serve us as citizens should match that of the shops we
 +use as consumers. Public cyberplaces should be at the centre of our
 +online lives, and they should be good.\
 +\
 +10 Cybercitizens should be involved in
 +the development of cyberspace.\
 + ​Without the innovation and investment of the private sector we will not
 +have a world class digital ecomomy - and without that we will not have
 +the wealth and public resources needed for a socially inclusive
 +Information Society. But we cannot just leave it to corporations and
 +Government to get it right. In the ‘real’ world the case for community
 +involvement in major developments - and neighbourhood change - is
 +entirely accepted. We expect our MPs and councillors to represent our
 +interests, developers to submit planning applications,​ and a range of
 +meetings and other methods to give us a say in things which affect our
 +lives. We have a National Trust for special places, and a Civic Trust to
 +champion good design. We should not stiffle the innovation that has
 +characterised the Internet by simply seeking to transfer 19th century
 +institutions to cyberspace in the 21st century. We should, however,
 +urgently debate the nature and requirements of public cyberspace.\
 +\
 + I’m not sure if the manifesto had much impact at the time … and the
 +burst of the [dot com
 +bubble](http://​en.wikipedia.org/​wiki/​Dot-com_bubble) soon gave everyone
 +a sharp reality check.\
 +\
 + Do you have memories of the early days of digital inclusion?\
 +\
 +
  
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