Victoria Free-Net Association
President's Annual Report

January 29, 1999

When we started this organization over six years ago, there was quite a small group working to maintain and improve the system. This hasn't changed, individuals have come and gone but there is still just a small core group. In fact, I think some people feel that we are a small clique and that we like it that way. This is your society, our door, electronic and otherwise is open. If you have ideas, suggestions, criticisms etc. please share them with us, but please don't just complain in the "pet peeves" sig or whatever, make sure we know about it. Don't be surprised, however, if we ask you for help to make things happen.

In November of 1992 people looked at you blankly if you mentioned the Internet. Then, we were the only game in town when it came to public access. Things have changed. Providing dial up access was a very important role for us. That is changing and, while it may never go away completely, we think it will get less important. Public terminals will continue to be important for the foreseeable future. If we are to have a role to play in this new future we think it will be as a community information resource. This has always been one of our roles but we think it will become the main one.

There is a new piece of jargon that has a bearing here. The word "portal" is being used. In this sense a "portal" is the jumping off place for the world of the Web, the first page you pull up on your browser. The big boys (Yahoo, Netscape, etc.) are jockeying for position so that they will be everyone's portal. If you dial in to us, our main menu becomes your "portal" after all, it is a Web page. If you come to us over the Net from a commercial ISP you will see our home page first. Make that your "portal" it is easy to make that the first page your browser sees.

The only way that will happen generally is to make Victoria Telecommunity Network (VTN) such a great entry into Victoria Web space and gateway to the world that it will start being used that way. We can't do this without your help. We need volunteers to encourage non-profit societies to house their pages on our server. We need help and suggestions as to how to structure the system so that it will be as easy as possible to use. We need help with publicity to get the word out about our system. We need volunteers to assist new users at the public terminals. We need help with fund raising. In short, we need more volunteers!

Just slightly more than a year ago we made our momentous move from the FreePort menu system to Chebucto Suite or CSuite as it is usually known. Thus we went from an old, American, pre-Web, unsupported product that we had to pay for every five years to a newer, Canadian, supported, Web based free product.

Some years ago we added a Web server to the system, but it was an after thought and was not integrated with our menus. Also, most of our special interest groups or "sigs" had information posted as text files, not as Web pages. Now, with the new system, everyone gets a Web page that is automatically created when the account is set up. All of our menus are now Web pages. Almost all of our "sigs" have now been converted to "IPs" or information providers under the new system and have their material converted to Web pages. The old Web tree has been integrated with the new one. Thus the integration is now complete and all of our information is available from the World Wide Web, no matter how you arrive, by dial up, public terminal or from a remote system.

The conversion was not painless, of course, our technical support people had to do a lot of work. We were the first community network to run CSuite under the Solaris operating system. There are still a few loose ends to be fixed.

In an effort to improve our financial position, we have started actively reminding people that we want as many of our users as possible to be members of the association. Membership is $25 a year. CSuite has an automated renewal notice system built into it. We are almost to the point where we can start using this with our system. We expect that it will be available sometime in February. In the meantime we have been issuing renewal notices by hand. Our thanks to volunteer Stewart Boddy who has undertaken this large task. Membership is not mandatory but renewing your account yearly is. You must either renew your membership annually or send in a signed confirmation that you wish to keep using your account. Proof of identity is required from everyone. You do not need to resubmit it every time.

We have recently revised our main menu in an attempt to make things easier to find. We will be revising many of the sub menus over the next months. Please let us have your suggestions.

A consortium made up of VTN, the Greater Victoria Public Library, the Capital Regional District and CSP Internet was the recipient of a grant to develop a Web based database of Victoria non-profit societies and agencies. The preliminary version of this Database is now available from

It is a replacement for the Library's "Societies File", which we have had available as a text file for a number of years, plus some records supplied by CRD. We invite other agencies to contribute data to this project. One of VTN's contributions is the ability for all agencies listed in the database to have a Web site provided for them on the VTN server. Please help us spread the word about this service, either casually by mentioning it to your contacts or by volunteering to help us contact the groups. If you have any experience creating Web pages you could help the organizations get their pages created and installed. The database listings will have links to the organization's Web pages, whether they are on VTN or not There are a number of VTN public terminals in various locations in Greater Victoria. These terminals are controlled by the agency that houses them. We are working with these groups to convert them all to full graphic access terminals. Some are that way now, others will be converted later. We expect to hear within the next week or so if we have been successful in an application for funding to replace some of the Vancouver Island Regional Library VTN text terminals with graphic terminals.

VTN is a member of the British Columbia Community Networks Association (BCCNA). This is a non profit society set up in 1993 as a support group and advocacy agency for all BC community networks and community access sites. They recently implemented "WebMail" on their server. This means that all of you can now access your VTN mail from anywhere in the world, including public terminals. You will find links to it in our post office menu.

In May I became President of Telecommunities Canada, the Canadian national community network organization. In that capacity I was invited to speak at the Second European Community Network Conference in Barcelona, Spain in July. It was an honour to help represent Canadian community networking in Europe.