Chapter Four:
Starting a Community Network:
How to Get and Use the Tools

A useful way of thinking about community networks is that they are literally anything the human imagination, the tools on the Internet, and computers make possible. Here’s the starter set of most common applications, presented in the likely order of implementation as a community network grows.

General Community Networking Applications

Public access, and training, at Community Technology Centers

For citizens with home computers, local dial-up Internet service is generally the first step. Most communities, even very small communities, typically have one or more Internet Service Providers (ISPs) who offer local dialup for around $20/month. If your community doesn’t have any ISPs, then your first step is to explore how to make Internet available on a local phonecall, which allows for unlimited hours of access without any additional charges.

For citizens without a home computer, public access to a computer and Internet will be needed, ideally using local school computers after hours, or other library and public office computers. Volunteers to show citizens how to get started, and to be available for questions and/or ongoing training will be needed. Often, youth are ideal candidates for these positions.

Posting Web Pages to disseminate resources collected via Internet

One of the most logical things to do is to collect resources likely to be of benefit locally and post them on a community web page. The power of being able to bring the best-of-the-best resources worldwide home to fuel the home-fires of local innovation is unprecedented! It is so powerful, it is often missed, as the first, best thing to do with a community network!

Web Page Hosting for community businesses and organizations

Once a few locals learn how easy it is to create web pages, they typically begin to create web pages for local organizations and businesses. Many youth make $50/hour creating web pages for businesses run by adults who are still afraid of computers.

Once a community web site becomes known, it becomes the logical place to look for local businesses and resources. Tourists increasingly use the WWW to prepare for visits. Bed and Breakfast web pages often quadruple bookings. Non-profit community organizations may not have money to pay for web pages, which creates an opportunity for local youth to volunteer to show off their skills, eventually resulting in employment.

Posting Ecommerce models, training, and resources

What do locals most need to know? What’s working elsewhere that we can replicate locally in the short term? How can I expand my business through web marketing? Where can I learn about additional business possibilities, particularly about starting a home-based web business? Helping citizens ‘learn-to-earn’ is a good application!

Posting collected educational and community training resources

How we’re each going to learn to be successful accessing information via Internet whenever we need it and other Internet skills can be addressed simply by gleening the best self-directed learning resources from the Internet and posting them locally. Ideally, customized to be presented within the local context, with local examples, and supported by local, friendly mentors, accessible both online, and in face-to-face meeting places.

Conducting Volunteerism and Mentoring Programs

Getting people involved with helping each other, and themselves, will involved tapping into, and developing, local talent. Most people secretly love to teach others, and feel useful. Such sharing gives meaning to our existence, and creates community. Create a community talent database and give ongoing recognition to those contributing to the community, both online and offline!

Facilitating Online Discussions

The Internet’s collaborative tools can be used to allow ongoing information sharing 24 hours a day, seven days a week with convenience and the social safety of home access. Minutes from town meetings, and the county commissioners meetings, can be posted for comment, allowing those with family obligations and tight work schedules a new opportunity to participate in local government.

Also, since anyone can begin a discussion on any topic, whole new levels of shared community learning and interaction become possible. The potential richness that can come from ongoing online communications is the real sleeper application in community networking. People won’t believe you if you try to tell them about Internet collaboration benefits and how fun it can be. They will have to experience it themselves. But, as ‘expectations increase with experience,’ citizens will come to realize they are limited only by their imaginations as to what they can do as a community, together.

How to Get and Use the Best Web Tools

It is important to separate how to use the collaborative tools available, as far as which keys to hit and their mechanical operation, and the developmental process of learning to actually apply use of these tools toward specific outcomes, such as creating effective discussions. This may appear overwhelming at first, and its recommended you begin with email for one-on-one communications, and then learn about listservs for group communications. As referenced in previous chapters, and in the Ten Collaborative Tools essay, the tools are evolving faster than our understanding of the methods and purposes to which they can be applied.

This means there is incredible opportunity for original innovation and creative use of these tools!!!


First there was free email (,) then free animated musical greeting cards (,) then free web page hosting (,) then free online course authoring (,) then free online business creation (,) and now we’re hearing about free PC’s that come with Internet included for $24.95/month (

What Next?!!

Collaborative Community Tools;
Mentoring Models and Resources

Free Web Collaborative and Curriculum-authoring Tools

Web Authoring and Web Conferencing Resources
Select "Web Conferencing" and click on David Woolley's Web conferencing site! Includes a guide to selecting web conferencing software. 
A searchable directory of discussion forums on the web. Resources on community collaboration.

Lone Eagle's Listing of Mentoring Projects 

Mentoring Course: Learning Environments 
An exceptional listing of readings and resources on collaborative learning environments, including mentoring indigenous students, by Paul Resta, a notable figure in this emerging field, from the University of Austin.