In The Net
Even this summer's Big Green Gathering Festival near Swindon was connected to Internet, the fastest growing information dispersal system in the world. Anyone with a computer can write on it, anyone with a computer can read it - anywhere in the world. There are no libel laws, in fact there are no laws at all. Ben Schneider - a professional Information Manager - kicks off a series of articles on the Net and its importance for campaigning groups.
Squall 8, Autumn 1994, pg. 38.
This article is intended to be the first in a series looking at what the Internet is, its relevance to campaigning organisations and information dispersal (networking) groups and what could lie ahead. Because of the Net's rapid expansion, it seems appropriate to have regular updates which cover not only new developments, but also how campaigning groups are using this technology and with what success.
The amount of jargon, hype and blah attached to computers that talk to each other down telephone lines, has overwhelmed the media in the last year. The prestige of being able to recommend that there is a killer 'ap' on the 'EPA Gopher'**, or to check out the latest interesting ideas on the 'alt.sex.bestiality' newsgroup, may instil respect among one's Net peer group but, back in the real world, Jo Punter is probably wondering where you are coming from.
But despite all the blah, InterNet is an exceptionally powerful communication tool. As more and more people discover its value and capabilities, those involved in campaigning on issues such as the CJB will probably get turned onto it too.
Initially developed from the communications systems of the Pentagon, its ability to send secret messages to other parts of the country/globe was of military interest. As more people became aware of its value as a general communication tool and of its vast potential for commercial use, its coverage spread to education and then to business. The beauty of the Net, is that it is basically unregulated. Regulation exists only by the unwritten code adopted by its users: no censorship, no editorial influence. The Net is the nearest you can get to technological anarchy.
The three major facilities on the Net are electronic mail (e-mail as opposed to 'snail mail' - post service!), the ability to login to another computer system somewhere else in the world (telnet) and the ability to send and receive files of any sort from or to any other machine connected to the Net (file transfer or ftp).
Related to e-mail are news groups. This provides the opportunity to read articles on a specific topic in an ongoing Net discussion group and allow other people to reply, adding their own comments and ideas. This area can be of great value to pressure groups. Why?
1. The connectivity of such a growing network of users, gives IMMEDIATE access to other people protesting on the same or similar issues.
2. The speed of data transfer (a matter of seconds for an e-mail message), allows frequent communication, for less than the price of a fax. (I will go into costs next issue.)
It is another method of interacting with related groups and allows rapid transfer of actions, meeting or developments in the legislative process.
3. Many campaigning groups send reams of faxes to a variety of groups. E-mail avoids much of this waste of paper and allows people the choice of printing out the message in order to distribute it to people who will really appreciate or use it.
4. The information made available can be at grassroots level. There is no editorial control. You can write whatever you want. So often in the media the power to relate a situation or event, is taken away from an initiator by the journo; it is a rare occurrence to read a story 'as it happened' in the press without the usual sensationalist/ truth-mutilation overdrive.
Instead of having to wade through a three-page feature on Claremont Road in the Independent on Sunday and finding only one relevant or meaningful paragraph, you can expect to find more concise, relevant and informative literature on the subject you are interested in. This is because conferences cover an enormous range of topics. There are over 9,000 topics on the Net ranging from Green Party press releases to a cookery conference describing the way to prepare pesto pasta! Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and WWF, all put their press releases on the Net.
At the moment, the number of information dispersal groups connected to the Net is still small but is growing fast. The last available statistic counted in July of this year showed that over 3 million computers now have access to the Net globally. Multiply this figure by the number of individuals with access to these computers and the extent of the usage becomes apparent. The UK is the fastest growing market of subscribers in the world, with around 20,000 new subscribers a month. According to Kevin Doye of the campaign group Road Alert, this growth is reflected in the increasing usage of the Net by campaigning groups.
'The number of campaign groups putting and receiving information from the Net is going up as people become aware of how important it is as a rapid information distribution system.'
Indeed Road Alert place information about road-protest campaigns onto the environmental network - Green Net, that operates within InterNet. It is also possible to print off entire issues of 'Roadbreaker' - the No M11 Campaign's newsletter, likewise placed on the Net and available to all without the costs of printing and the problems of distribution.
The intelligent application of this increasingly inter-communicative technology may prove to be a vital tool in the battle to take on the hallowed and unaccountable rooms of Whitehall.
As to the costs of getting onto the Net, its specific usefulness and where to look for clues, these are questions for the next issue. Please feel free to write to Squall with questions or expressing opinion, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
'Comments are free but facts are sacred' - C P Scott.
* 'ap' - a computer application such as a word processing package.
** 'gopher' - otherwise known as the 'furry little rodent that tunnels through cyberspace'.
'EPA' - Environmental Protection Agency
Working the Net - campaigners go global on the internet, by Ben Schneider - Squall 9, Jan/Feb 1995.