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Archive for Thursday, February 8, 1996

WEB LETS LAWRENCE FORM ELECTRONIC COMMUNITY

February 8, 1996

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Lawrence is beginning to etch a sense of local unity on the vast World Wide Web.

When John Charnes' daughter wanted to know whether she would get the day off from school Friday, Charnes had the urge to fire up his home computer. But the Lawrence man realized he was ahead of the game. The information he needed wouldn't be there. Yet.

Charnes, an associate professor at Kansas University's School of Business, is one of a growing number of people who know how to navigate the World Wide Web. The Web is an ever-expanding network of computers, each a cocoon of information.

"If I hear about something I'd like to know more about, more and more frequently I look first to the Web," he said.

With access to 16 million sites cataloged on the Web -- ranging in topics from "AA Discount Auto Brokerage" to "ZZ Top" -- Charnes is not alone.

The more that Lawrence people like him give the Web a try, the more Lawrence information, such as school closings, will be demanded.

Although Lawrence is home of KU, a pioneer in the development of the Web, the city and its residents are only now beginning to form an electronic community.

The Journal-World publishes on the Web, the city of Lawrence has an official page, pupils and teachers have begun posting school pages, and individuals are making their mark, too.

In cyberspace, tying a community together is no small task. Because of its global reach, the Internet unites people of similar viewpoints, regardless of where they live. Thousands of people have formed their own computerized communities, known as "user groups."

However, longtime users are beginning to learn that connections to real communities remain important.

"People tend to have a sense of pride in their surroundings, their town," said Hunter Elliott, a Lawrence man who developed his own Web page, called "The Daily .WAV," a collection of sound bites. The Web can transmit sound as well as text, photographs and video.

"When we post our anecdotes, pictures, stories ... and even newspapers out on the Web, we're saying, 'Hey! This is Lawrence, Kansas,'" Elliott said. "'Look at our university. Look at the diversity we have. Look! Look! Look!'"

In interviews through electronic mail -- e-mail for short -- Lawrence Web surfers like Elliott and Charnes agreed that the Web can foster community ties if people overcome their fear of new technology.

"It would have been convenient for me and my daughter, who called the Access line repeatedly before getting through to obtain the joyous news, to know where to look on the Web for school closings," Charnes said.

He uses the Web to post course announcements and research for his computer simulation and statistical analysis classes.

School closings might not be far from the Web. Bonnie Dunham, communications director for Lawrence schools, said the Lawrence school board would make a decision sometime this year about districtwide Internet access.

Dunham looks forward to the benefits of instant electronic mail from the district service center to individual schools and the ability to send school closing updates from her home to a computerized bulletin board.

"I think it's absolutely crucial that we have that," she said.

Activists for keeping the Internet an open forum for discourse worry that even when the community gets wired, residents who can't afford a computer will be left behind.

"I hope the government at all levels will embrace it and allow us to have a true democracy closer to the ideal of the ancient Greek Athenians," said Steve Bush, a graduate researcher in electrical engineering and computer science at KU.

He said he would give Lawrence a grade of C+ for how well the community is connected. He would like to see Lawrence Public Library's resources on the Web, for example.

The library hopes to meet both challenges -- helping everyone participate and getting the library hooked up -- director Bruce Flanders said.

For several months, the library has provided a computer for the public to use to browse the Web. Statistics compiled Wednesday show that 233 people used the computer in January, up from 189 in December. The library imposes a 20-minute time limit when people are waiting to use the computer.

Flanders said the library is adding a terminal in the children's department, and hopes to add more terminals by midyear.

The library also plans to computerize its card catalog by March 1, eventually enabling people at home or in school to dial in.

Like any new technology, adapting will take time. The community is running to catch up, and those who have already gotten there think it won't be long before they have lots of company.

Said Danny Brewer, a Lawrence computer programmer who has his own web page, "The Internet seems to have finally exploded into the mind of the mainstream."

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