Women on the Web Conference


Constructing Caring (-e)Communities


In the light of the development of Digital City projects, this paper proposes to examine the part women are playing in the development of communities on the WWW, and methods by which greater participation can be fostered and encouraged.

Taking examples from:

  • women's personal homepages from Geocities 'neighbourhoods', examining the similarities and differences in what women choose to publish
  • the Guidelines/FAQs of the mailist eCommunities run by women
  • the contribution women are making in the development of Digital City projects

some practical issues around constructing the Utopian Caring eCommunity will be addressed.

The main case studies will be the development of the guidelines for STWTTF-L (a list run by women with a common interest in gender issues in science fiction), and the Cambridge Online City project (provision of public access points in libraries, community centres and elsewhere, and in encouraging community groups to use new technology and develop their own web pages).

The so-called 'nurturing' role taken by women within their local community, whether family or neighbourhood, will be shown to be invaluable when applied on the global scale needed to manage harmoniously a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic eCommunity. From the experience of exercises such as the Interactive TV trials, mere technical performance is not enough: a sense of community must be built in order for the project to survive beyond the blaze of glory of the launch. The adrenaline pumping will need to give way to a long term sustainable exchange of information based on human rather than technological innovation.

Development of the methods used by women in existing communities in a more explicit manner is necessary to ensure the successful development of public access eCommunities in multi-cultural environments, such as the digital cities projects. Guidelines which ensure a continued caring and supportive environment , access policies which are positively inclusive, are, it will be shown, of equal or greater importance than wires and equipment. Hardwiring a positive spirit into an eCommunity at its inception, and the importance of women's role in this will be examined using the Cambridge iTV trial and the Cambridge Online City Project as case studies.

Women have demonstrated that in eCommunities of interest, harmony can be best maintained by Guidelines which foster, and enforce where necessary, a supportive environment. Methods by which guidelines such as those used by STWTTF-L can be adapted to eCommunities of place, as well as of interest, will be encouraged in the discussion.

This paper will argue that a key problem in iTV trials, although WWW access has been the highest usage of all the options, has been technological and commercial success being seen as the driving force with little or no heed paid to development of community: public access eCommunities' success will depend on as much attention being given at the beginning to human protocols as engineering ones. This requires the encouragement of women's involvement at a far earlier stage than is usual in technological development, including the possibility of women in computing/technological environments being encouraged to take on active mentoring roles in both eCommunities of interest and place. An examination of more imaginative ways in which women from all sections of the community of place can be encouraged to participate in the eCommunity, to avoid any form of social exclusion or discrimination, or the domination of public access points by the stereotypical computer user - the mid-teen male -will be part of the discussion.


© Franni Vincent 1997

Mediation Technology


Franni Vincent


Mediation Technology is interested in the effect of digital media - specifically the Internet and interactive television - on human interaction in education, business, social and public life, and is actively engaged in projects in all of these areas.

My background prior to becoming a partner in Mediation Technology has been in banking, printing industry, and the voluntary sector, as well as the computer industry. I have had over twenty years experience in adapting human systems and computer applications to operate harmoniously together... from punch tape to Internet, from factory floor to volunteer fund-raisers, from Barclays Bank International to Royal National Institute for the Blind, with a diversion through Acorn Computer along the way. I acted as editorial researcher on Groupware in the 21st Century (Adamantine Press), which looked at the future development of Computer Supported Co-operative Working, and carried out research for the former Manpower Services Commission on computer resources for adult basic literacy and numeracy.

I graduated as a mature student from Cambridge University in 1996, having taken time out to complete a degree in Social and Political Sciences. During this time I was involved in research on the Interactive TV trial conducted by Online Media in Cambridge. More recently, I co-authored a paper on 'The Future of Interactive Television' for the iTV conference at the University of Edinburgh, and co-presented 'Technology, Networks and Community' a seminar for Cambridge City Council at Anglia Politechnic University. I am also a member of the Access committee for the Cambridge Online City project, which is investigating the special needs for the project of physically and sensory disabled people, the learning and technologically disadvantaged and ethnic minority groups.

I am particularly interested in the use of technology by women, and participate in Internet groups which are exploring this and other issues.


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