NATIVE COMPUTER COMMUNICATIONS NETWORK PROJECT
RECOMMENDATIONS REGARDING NCCN
It is best to not let any hardware go out to users until it has been tested for performance in-house. Getting your hardware from a reliable, reputable dealer is very important since there are a lot of defective components being sold. Having a good rapport with the dealers will come in handy for prompt repair and replacement of parts.
Make sure that you have enough memory on the hard disk(s), especially considering the system will have a lot of development software on it, in addition to newsgroup articles. Ninety megabytes is a good amount to ensure adequate storage of information. Try to get machines that have the capability to add on hard disks when needed.
A tape drive for frequent and periodic backups is well worth the investment. (A lot of postings to the NCCN newsgroups were lost because frequent and periodic backups weren't done due to the time and trouble needed to do manual backups onto floppy disks).
Full sites should use AT computers to allow for a truly distributed network. The NCCN project used XTs, which didn't allow for site dialout under Xenix. This meant that 'yunccn' was the only 'server' on the net, hence NCCN was a centralized system of sorts. ATs also have two main advantages over XTs: they are faster, shortening the time spent on the system by the user; and they are multi-tasking, allowing many users to be online at the same time or allowing for the system to be used for office applications while users are online simultaneously.
Software licensing agreements may be problematic. The supplier of UULINK, for example, required that approval for licensing of each copy of the software be obtained in writing prior to the release of that software. This was doubly a problem since that company was in California and was the only supplier of that program.
Public domain software may be shareware. This means paying a nominal fee to the creator. It should be stressed that users must legally pay for this software. Such programs include ProComm (communications for dialup users) and MicroEmacs (full-screen text editor).
There may be problems with bending the site licensing and copyright rules, e.g., making multiple copies of Xenix for different systems and sets of users. It is always best to follow the legal rules. This also pertains to the copying of software manuals, in whole or in part. All commercial, copyrighted programs must, of course, be purchased legally. There are advantages to buying from the vendor, as opposed to buying second hand from a friend: free or inexpensive updates, customer support, product newsletters, etc.
The "guest" mode is a very good idea. It allows potential users to see what they might be getting. A potential problem may be that this privilege will be abused by 'guests' continuing to tie up the modem.
Dialup 'packages' are a good idea for getting new users online quickly. These will include: manual, communications software on disk, and a short one-page command summary for dialup access.
Don't let any software go out until it has been extensively tested in-house. Certain 'bugs' may lead to $500 phone bills (as happened twice during the project).
NEEDS ASSESSMENT RECOMMENDATION
It might be a very good idea to do a communications needs study of groups targeted to become part of the pilot study. Groups with lots of resources, high connectivity, and a mandate to promote communications are a higher priority than isolated groups with little in the way of resources.
A checklist to determine needs and resources of potential new users and sites should be developed. This could include: budget allocated for communications; present equipment; physical situation (phone lines, space, office renovations planned, etc.; upcoming organizational changes; groups presently in communication with; present forms of communication; and so on.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ESTABLISHING SITES
The best way to establish a network is to set up one site first and get a lot of dialup users on it. When one organization feels it has the resources and the desire to establish a full-site machine in its office, then provide the training for them to set it up on their own.
Be aware that large organizations may have difficulty implementing computer conferencing technology. They may feel that electronic mail offered by large commercial corporations is sufficient for their purposes and think that conferencing wastes their employees time. Small organizations often do not have the resources (people, time, and money) for a conferencing network and may also lack the need to communicate with many others. Medium-sized organizations seem to have the best potential for becoming full sites.
Educational institutions (high schools, colleges and universities) are an important area to seek network expansion into. The young people who become familiar with the technology will be the future community leaders who facilitate the spread of the network.
It would be helpful in choosing groups to invite into the pilot project, if they are already 'tightly coupled', i.e., already are in frequent communication with each other. This will ensure greater participation online.
Take budget years into account when promoting the network to new groups. They have to know the present and future costs of the equipment and maintenance a few months before the end of the fiscal year. Budgets are usually submitted a month before the end, but submissions for approval and subsequent revisions can take a couple of months.
Written contracts are good to have between the target pilot groups and the project administration. They should clearly state the expectations for both parties. It must be kept in mind, however, that since the association is essentially voluntary, cooperation and adherence to the contract stipulations will depend on mutual advantage. Coercion is not applicable in this instance.
Choose system administrators carefully. Their interactions with potential clients at their site are important for the perception of the network. Try to get people who are enthusiastic and understand the potential of computer networking.
Start with only one full site and concentrate on getting a 'critical mass' of dialup users online. Attempting to set up and maintain machines at many sites wastes resources.
A base of dialup users should be built up at each new site.
SKILLS TRANSFER RECOMMENDATIONS
Help organizations to 'grow' the network by training them to set up their members with modems and home/office terminals, or to set up full sites if they have the resources to do that.
Make sure a viable plan to transfer the technical skills developed in the course of the project is in place to ensure continuation of the network after the end of the project. This means getting the people who will be acquiring the learned skills involved as soon as possible in the project. They must agree as to what is expected of them and accept responsibility for the network's continuation.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR USER INTERACTION AND INVOLVEMENT
Work on a 'buddy' system between project staff and clients to ensure more communication, cooperation, and coordination regarding mutual concerns.
Keep the users of the network informed about the network's development on a daily basis, if possible.
Frequent face-to-face usergroup meetings are a necessity. These can be for the entire network, for system administrators, or for users affiliated with a particular site.
A lot of time should be spent with the users, showing them exactly how the technology can help them, i.e., case studies.
Time should be spent developing specific applications with organizations that are part of the network.
Show organizations how the technology can help them achieve their goals more effectively. Show individuals how the network can be used for enjoyment and education.
Ensure that there are computer terminals on the network that allow for public access, to allow those without their own computers to participate.
Work with client groups and individuals to create funding proposals (joint or single) for projects that make use of this new technology.
PROJECT STAFF RECOMMENDATIONS
Make certain that the project staff use the network for the purpose of facilitating the project. Do on-going analyses of how this new technology can assist in the implementation of a project. This means more postings of activities and developments by programmers, manual writers, cataloguers, database editors, etc. Include problem reports and solutions.
Hire enough technical people full-time to ensure that bottlenecks don't happen because one or two people are overloaded with multiple tasks. Programmers to program, installers to install, maintainers to maintain.
Technical project staff should keep a log of bug fixes and technical malfunctions.
Sites should be monitored on a daily basis so the project staff know when a site is having technical problems. The system administrator at a site should be reporting any problems but you can't rely on them to always do so.
NETWORK EVALUATION RECOMMENDATIONS
Electronic mail is the feature that is most often used by newcomers to the network. This must be taken into account when judging how successful the network is.
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