Marc Hawa Attourah
Ingeniero Informático. Master en Ribótica y Diseño Asistido por Ordenador. DMA Consultores. Madrid. Spain

Maria Jesus Coma
Dra. en Medicina. Unidad de Investigacion. Hospital General Yagüe. Burgos. Spain



The Internet and its inhabiting Information and Communication Society have to be considered as a smaller society evolving (some would say trapped) within our society. Therefore they have to be analysed not only from a technical and technological point of view but also in their human, cultural, social and intellectual dimensions.

Then the VCU (Virtual Communities of Users) concept is defined. Based on this concept, the focus is centred on the communities of scientists, professionals and academics in the Internet, with an analysis of their current situation, needs and problems.

This papers starts with a general overview of the current situation of the Internet. The VTS (Virtual Thematic Service) and IVTS (Integrated Virtual Thematic Services) concepts are introduced in this context as an approach for the solution of VCU's needs and problems. Finally a real pilot experience based on this IVTS paradigm and called UniNet is described.


La Sociedad de la Información y la Comunicación generadas por Internet ha sido considerada como una nueva y verdadera sociedad que se desarrolla en el interior de nuestra Sociedad, podría decirse tambien, atrapada en nuestra Sociedad. El fenómeno es susceptible de ser analizado no solo desde una óptica técnica o tecnológica, sino tambien desde un punto de vista humano, cultural, social e intelectual.

Se define el concepto de Comunidades Virtuales de Usuarios, y se enfoca la atención sobre las comunidades de profesionales, científicos y académicos, en Internet, analizando su situación, problemática y necesidades que presentan en la actualidad.

A partir de una vision general de la situación actual de Internet, se introducen los conceptos de Servicios Temáticos Virtuales (VTS), Servicios Temáticos Virtuales Integrados (ITVS) como una via de solución a las necesidades y problemas de las Comunidades Virtuales de Usuarios (VCU's). Finalmente, en este contexto, se describe una experiencia piloto real basada en estos conceptos: UniNet.

The Internet is the most valuable field for knowledge acquisition about virtual and cyber society mainly because of its historical evolution (and a series of recent innovations, especially the World Wide Web), and also because of:

Faces of Internet

Under its Babylon's appearance, this society presents actually only few (and usually rather incompatible) faces or profiles, which will be called from now on societies. Mainly four societies can be identified in the Internet:


  K-Society E-Society F-Society B-Society
In the early days of the Internet (ARPANET) 96%  0%  4%  0% 
Nowadays 25%  25%  50%  5% 

This work has focused on the K-Society analysing its current situation, needs and problems.

The VCU (Virtual Community of Users) concept

When compared with the three other societies, the K-Society presents a uniform aspect. However, if considered independently, it reveals lots of differences which make impossible a global homogeneous analysis. Therefore it must not be considered as a whole and must be split into different groups of members based on a clear and rational classification criteria.
The VCU (Virtual Community of Users) concept was introduced to classify the groups of users existing in the K-Society. The VCU concept could also be applied to the three other societies but obviously the classification criteria would vary significantly.

VCU (Virtual Community of Users): A Virtual Community of Users is a set of users of the Internet who share a set of common aspects which distinguishes this VCU from the others (classification criteria) and make it possible to target the members of the VCU as a whole and unique entity in order to fulfil its needs (customer services).

The classification criteria differs from one society to another. For instance, in the E-Society customer's profiles could be a relevant classification criteria, but it is useless for the K-Society, the F-Society and the B-Society. Focusing on the K-Society several classification criteria appear to be interesting:

In our work the first two criteria were discarded as they are too restrictive and limit the richness of the interchange of experiences, culture and knowledge. The last one was adopted. The approach focused on an initially informal definition of topics of interest which is expected to tend naturally and progressively toward more established and formal classification, e.g. the cited UNESCO codes.

The next issue to address are the customer services. The VTS (Virtual Thematic Service) and IVTS (Integrated Virtual Thematic Services) concepts focus on these customer services

The VTS (Virtual Thematic Service) and IVTS (Integrated Virtual Thematic Services) concepts

The customer services are covered by the VTS and IVTS concepts which are defined as follows:

VTS (Virtual Thematic Service): A Virtual Thematic Service is an Internet service which is designed for a concrete VCU.

IVTS (Integrated Virtual Thematic Services): The Integrated Virtual Thematic Services corresponds to the integration of all the VTS necessary to fulfil the needs of a VCU.

Once identified a VTU the aim is to define and activate its IVTS.

The analysis of the Internet reveals two types of virtual services:

  • Communication Services: They are used to enable the communication between two or more persons.
  • Information Services: They are used to enable the access of a person or group of persons to a source of information.
  • This classification needs to be further refined.

    CSCW (Computer-Supported Co-operative Work) and Groupware represent an interesting reference to detail the types of communication services. Although actually these services are not only aimed to communicate, but also to co-ordinate and collaborate, we will refer to them as communication services. Database and (inter)networking working areas offer some interesting references for information services.

    Proposed classification criteria for communication services are:

    The information services can be classified based on the following criteria:

    Needs of the VCU

    A grid analysing the value/type of the existing services of the Internet (E-mail, World Wide Web, File Transfer Protocol, Internet Relay Chat, Telnet, Point-to-point Chat, Newsgroups, Channels, List-Service, etc.) for each communication and information criterion was developed. This grid is called the service classification grid. It is the starting point for the definition and configuration of the customers' services. A set of relevant classification criteria must be defined and will be used to select the convenient services for a VCU, i.e. the ones which best cover the needs of a concrete VCU.
    The following statements were defined for the selection of a list of customers' services:
    Current situation of the K-Society: General Overview
    A practical pilot experience: 
    The UniNet Project
    The UniNet Project (University Network of Integrated Telematics Services) is the first real pilot experience which proposes an IVTS for the VCUs of the K-Society.

    It began to operate by the end of 1996 and was launched co-ordinately by the Investigation's Unit of the General Hospital Yagüe of Burgos (Spain) under the auspices of the Burgos por la Investigación de la Salud Foundation, in collaboration with other academic and research centres and mainly the Universidad Politécnica de Valencia (Spain) and the Max-Planck-Institut für Verhaltensphysiologie at Seewiesen (Germany). It was officially presented in the Technical Days of RedIRIS'1997 (Zaragoza, Spain) [4,5,6,10].

    The UniNet project defines a hierarchical approach to the definition of the VCUs and classifies them into:

  • Thematic Districts, i.e. a virtual and general VCU which is used to group more specific VCUs (the so called Thematic Streets). It can be considered as a VCU container.
  • Thematic Streets, i.e. a specific VCU. These are the real communities which group the K-Society's members.
  • Two different IVTSs are defined corresponding to the two planned phases of the project. The first one is less ambitious and corresponds to the first phase of the project (current phase) while the second is more complete and ambitious and is due to be launched in the second phase of the project (future phase) after the consolidation of the initiative.

    The first IVTS is formed by the following VTSs:

  • Internet Relay Chat or IRC (Communication service)
  • World Wide Web or WWW (Information service)
  • List-service (Communication service)
  • The different services of the IVTS must be integrated following integration schemas so that the end-point of one service corresponds to the beginning of another. Both information (1) and communication (2) services are considered, each one of them presenting different particularities which have been taken into account in the definition of the IVTS phase [11,12,13,14].

    The second IVTS is expected to be formed by the following VTSs:

  • Internet Relay Chat or IRC (Communication service)
  • World Wide Web or WWW (Information service)
  • List-service (Communication service)
  • File Transfer Protocol or FTP (Information service)
  • Audio-conferencing (Communication service)
  • Video-conferencing (Communication service)
  • Channels (Information service)
  • The second IVTS is much more complete and also difficult to co-ordinate, integrate and maintain. This list of services corresponds to the initial definition of services for the second phase IVTS. The experiences and results of the first phase of the UniNet Project may alter it in order to get a better tuning of the system.

    The UniNet Project aims to be universal, linguistically and geographically, and open to all the members of the K-Society but it covers mainly scientific, academic and cultural topics. Currently the higher emphasis is posed on medical and health science VCUs. The project is based on the voluntary and altruistic co-operative work of scientists and professionals from 50 countries throughout the five continents [15-22].

    The objective is to supply information and communication channels in the Internet for each member of the K-Society whatever his/her field or discipline is. One of the critical issues of the project is to provide the best resources for the user with the smaller requirements related with a computer science experience, so that the user can have little and even no knowledge of computers.