Winter 2004-2005

The New Digital Divide Network
by Andy Carvin and Cedar Pruitt
Digital Divide Network

A new online community connecting practitioners and educators has been launched in celebration of the Digital Divide Network's five-year anniversary. The online presence of the Digital Divide Network (DDN) formerly provided critical resources such as articles, news headlines and a listserv to policymakers, activists, and citizens interested in improving access to technology and information for underserved communities. In its new incarnation at, DDN is an interactive community for a growing member base who can now create their own blogs, contribute and personalize their own content, communicate with one another on discussion boards and through web-based messaging, and build their own interest-specific communities, all at no charge.

A Brief History of the Digital Divide Network

During the spring of 1999, the AOL Foundation approached the Benton Foundation about partnering on a new philanthropy portal called Developed in conjunction with the National Urban League, the American Red Cross, VolunteerMatch and a host of other nonprofit organizations, was designed to serve as the leading portal for American citizens and nonprofits to get information about philanthropy and volunteerism. When it was launched in October 1999, featured four projects: an e-commerce tool that would allow people to donate to any nonprofit in the US; a volunteer placement search tool; a directory of resources regarding nonprofit technology capacity building; and a clearinghouse of news and information on the digital divide. The capacity building section and the digital divide clearinghouse were both managed by the Benton Foundation.

Barely two months after the launch of, President Bill Clinton hosted the first national digital divide summit, a gathering of policymakers, private sector leaders, funders and nonprofit activists, in December 1999. Prior to the summit, President Clinton gathered a small group of representatives from the private sector and civil society, including a representative from the Benton Foundation, for a breakfast meeting. During this meeting they discussed the challenges and opportunities for working together to bridge the digital divide. Among the challenges was the lack of a "go-to place" on the Internet where digital divide activists and policymakers could share ideas with one another.

It soon became clear that the digital divide clearinghouse that had been launched as a part of could provide the infrastructure for such a meeting place. So on December 9, 1999 during a Rose Garden ceremony, President Clinton announced the creation of a new initiative: the Digital Divide Network, which would be managed by the Benton Foundation.

"The Benton Foundation is bringing together companies from across the computing, telecommunications, software and Internet industries, as well as the Urban League and several other large private foundations, to create the Digital Divide Network, an enormous clearinghouse of information for information on public and private efforts to bring technology to underserved communities. For the first time, we'll have one-stop shop for tracking our progress in every community, and for learning exactly what's worked and what hasn't."

Later that week, the Digital Divide Network (DDN) went online. The clearinghouse that had been hosted by spun off to its own website,, while the Benton Foundation created an email forum, the DIGITALDIVIDE group, moderated by DDN editor Andy Carvin.

Over the course of the next five years, DDN became the Internet's primary resource for news and information about the digital divide. The site amassed a collection of over 800 news stories, 250 feature stories and 150 online resources on the digital divide. For several years, it also hosted ConnectNet, an online initiative with the Kaiser Family Foundation, the AOL Foundation, CTCNet, the US Department of Education and other national organizations. ConnectNet was an online database of nearly 20,000 public Internet access points in the US . Users could either call a toll-free number or access a Mapquest database to find free Internet access points in their community. In May 2002, DDN joined with OneWorld South Asia to launch the Digital Opportunity Channel, a sister website focused on the role of information and communications technologies in global development.

By late 2003, it became clear to the staff at the Benton Foundation that the DDN website could benefit from a range of online community building tools. The email discussion list was quite successful, with more than 3,000 members from 70+ countries, but the website was generally limited to article publishing by DDN staff. So DDN began a series of consultations with like-minded organizations, including CTCNet , America Connects Consortium, YouthLearn, the Children's Partnership and others, to identify online tools that would help evolve DDN from a clearinghouse to a community workspace that would allow digital divide activists to collaborate with each other.

In early 2004, as part of a new partnership with Education Development Center (EDC) in Newton , Massachusetts , DDN and its staff left the Benton Foundation to establish a new institute called the EDC Center for Media & Community, or CMC. Following the move to EDC, DDN staff began the process of creating a new and improved Digital Divide Network. With grants from the Benton Foundation, the Time Warner Foundation and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, DDN partnered with online youth activism group TakingITGlobal to design a new DDN, one that would incorporate a range of collaborative tools for its many users from around the world.

The New Toolset at DDN

In December of 2004, the EDC Center for Media & Community unveiled the new website in conjunction with the fifth anniversary of DDN and President Clinton's digital divide summit. More than just a new website, the new DDN is a unique portal that embraces online collaboration and community building as central goals.

An important component of the new site is that all members can participate in the creation of relevant content. While DDN is continuing its five-year history of publishing news and essays on the digital divide, members are able to publish articles online, post news headlines and events, and start and participate in discussions. Anyone with Internet access can now set up a free DDN account and take advantage of a range of interactive tools, including:

DDN Communities

The website is organized as a collection of communities, which can be created by any DDN member on any topic of interest. Current topical themes include literacy and learning, content, economic development and "Cool Tools." Each community serves as a collaborative workspace with its own online bulletin boards, news, events listings and articles. Each community also has a virtual file cabinet that allows users to upload and share documents like PowerPoint files, images, PDF documents and even short video clips.

Free blogs

Web logs, or blogs, are one of the hottest trends on the Internet, with millions of people around the world creating their own online journals on subjects ranging from politics to personal development. While some blogging tools require a paid subscription or a high level of Internet skills to get started, any DDN members can immediately begin posting their own blog, without any prior knowledge of the technology. This feature is a great way to facilitate the exploration of blogging as a tool for civic engagement, education and nonprofit communications.

RSS feeds

Really Simple Syndication (RSS) is a tool for allowing Internet users to "subscribe" to their favorite blogs, as well as for bloggers to "syndicate" their blogs on other people's websites. An RSS feed contains computer code similar to HTML, the code that creates Web pages. The DDN website produces RSS feeds for each blog on the website as well as for its stream of news stories and articles. This will allow people who use RSS for syndicating online content or following their favorite websites to keep track of what's going on at DDN without ever having to visit the site directly.


The most compelling events in technology, education and community-building are listed on the homepage and within each online community. Not only are DDN members able to obtain the relevant information for events both in the United States and abroad, but they can also learn what other DDN members plan to attend a given event, making it easy to get together in person. In addition, any member of DDN can list important events on the website.


The new DDN offers lively, user-friendly discussion boards on which to exchange ideas and information about a range of topics related to bridging the digital divide. While the most recent discussion threads are featured on the home page, members can browse through the discussion archives and easily participate in any topic of interest. Any member of DDN can start a discussion thread on any topic.

Member Profiles

Each member has a page on the website dedicated to a unique individual profile that can provide personal information to the larger DDN community. Members can post pictures, list countries visited and languages spoken, contact information, favorite links and communities, and more. It's a great way to put a face and a name to peers from across the country and around the globe.

As always, it's free of charge to become a member of DDN. With member involvement, the site can grow from the premier clearinghouse for news and information on the Digital Divide to the premier online community for educators, thinkers, policymakers and citizens to connect with one another, even while thousands of miles apart. DDN can now more effectively facilitate the exchange of ideas, experiences and strategies for implementing change within underserved communities.

Andy Carvin is Program Director and Cedar Pruitt is Online Content Manager of EDC's Center for Media & Community. Carvin is also a member of the AFCN Advisory Council.

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