Winter-Spring 2002

AFCN Organizational Update
by Andrew Cohill

AFCN World Headquarters
New office building housing the AFCN Central Office in Blacksburg, VA.

In the last six months, AFCN has made some major changes and has initiated some new programs.

One of the most significant changes for the organization has been hosting and services. Since its start, the AFCN has relied on support from members like Charlotte's Web and RTPNet for the AFCN Web site and email. In the early fall, AFCN made the move to its own Web site, which has allowed us to provide increased member benefits. All AFCN members are now eligible for an email account (of the form All members also have access to a phpGroupWare account. phpGroupWare is an Open Source software project that provides a broad set of services via a web interface, including web email, shared calendar, shared to-do list, chat, forums, project manager, and many other features.

Open source projects are likely to become increasingly important sources of software for community networks. Two phenomena are driving this: first, years of open source efforts are now resulting in very mature products that rival commercial products in terms of feature richness and overall robustness. For example, the "trinity" of Apache/PHP/mySQL provides a superb Web hosting and development environment that provides the best set of development tools that I've used in the past thirty years.

One of the criticisms of the Open Source effort has been the lack of a "conversation," in the sense of the Clue Train Manifesto, between open source developers and open source software users. In the traditional marketplace, money provides the basis for a "conversation" about matching customer needs with product features. In the absence of a conversation, open source developers tend to write software that interests them, not necessarily the users. Late in 2001, the AFCN partnered with the Blacksburg Electronic Village to help create a conversation between open source developers and community networks. The BEV and the AFCN are creating an Open Source Software Award with a modest cash prize, in the hope that some open source developers will begin writing software specifically to meet the needs of community networks. If the initial effort is successful, AFCN hopes this will become an annual award that will help sustain the "conversation."

AFCN has also experienced rapid growth this year, with a 40% increase in membership. Last year, virtually all existing members renewed, and new members from around the United States and Canada also joined the association. Part of the increase can be attributed to AFCN's participation and sponsorship of two major community technology conferences. In June, AFCN partnered with CTCNet for a very successful conference in San Diego that had over 700 participants, many of whom attended the five AFCN sessions at the conference. In December, the AFCN sponsored several sessions at the 4th Annual Community Network Conference in Austin. This conference, organized by Gene Crick of the TeleCommunity Resource Center (and incoming AFCN President) had more than 250 participants from more than 40 active community network projects, and many of those projects signed up to become AFCN members.

Finally, the AFCN publishing effort mentioned in the last issue of the Review is now underway, with numerous AFCN members writing articles for the upcoming AFCN "Community Network Guide." The CN "Guide," to be distributed to all AFCN members in late spring, will contain a rich mix of articles that cover a single topic in depth, case studies of operating community networks, and shorter technical articles.

Looking forward, AFCN will again sponsor several sessions at the summer CTCNet conference in Austin. This year should be a particularly interesting meeting because Texas has more active community network projects than any other state in the country; community network projects should be well represented at the meeting.

For more information on AFCN activities, contact Andrew Cohill by email.

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