THE VIRTUAL COMMUNITIES AND THE INTEGRATED VIRTUAL THEMATIC SERVICES
TOPIC: NEUROPSYCHOLOGY AND THE NET
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:
Today connectivity and the Internet are peer concepts. After the decades of the closed and experimental ARPANET, the Internet has now become both the experimentation field and the innovation engine of many recent computer science and telecommunication revolutions.
From a technical and technological point of view, the Internet has matured considerably and has grown from a revolution phase to a (more stable and more productive) evolution phase. However, from a human, intellectual and social point of view, the Internet is still a growing and unstable child who is just beginning to have full consciousness of his/her identity and possibilities. The information and communication society inhabiting the wires, services and hosts jungle, with its own jargon, code of honour, and rules, is currently just beginning to define the basis of its role, behaviour and way of life.
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:
Table 1 summarize the approximate proportion of user in each categories. In the early days of the Internet (it would be better to say ARPANET) K-Society predominates. The following figures could be an approximate representation of the percentages of users in each of these categories, before and nowadays
|In the early days of the Internet (ARPANET)||96%||0%||4%||0%|
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.
- Professional activity (e.g. based on an international chart describing jobs' categories)
- Education background (e.g. based on an international map of education levels)
- Topics or knowledge areas of interest (e.g. based on the UNESCO's code of areas list)
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:This classification needs to be further refined.
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.
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:
- Real-time versus differed-time communication
- One-to-one versus one-to-many versus many-to-many versus broadcast communication
- Simplex versus duplex communication
- Text versus audio versus video versus iconic versus pictogram based versus 3D channels communication
- Centralised versus distributed communication
- Public versus private communication
- Administered versus free communication
- Connected versus unconnected communication
- Encrypted versus unencrypted communication
- Database-centred versus file-centred versus message-centred information
- Pull versus push information
- Single versus multiple information
- Text versus audio versus video versus iconic versus pictogram based versus 3D channels versus standard format versus proprietary format information
- Centralised versus distributed information
- Hierarchical versus heterarchical information
- Query-enabled versus query-disabled information
- Public versus private information
- Encrypted versus unencrypted information
- Compressed versus uncompressed information
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:
The typical profile
or classification criteria they have adopted implicitly is the one we have
decided to adopt in our work, i.e. the "topics or knowledge areas of interest".
existing VCU are formed by students, teachers, researchers, professionals,
and other people interested in a concrete topic or knowledge area. They
share their knowledge and experiences and assiduously use the information
and communication services available in the Internet which best suit their
Needs of the K-Society
Excess of information and people
Initially the users
of the Internet were research centres, universities and leading enterprises
and organisations. The users were the staff of these entities. The contents
transported through the Net were in consonance with the identity of the
users and fulfilled their needs. The progressive opening and extension
(positive from many prospects) of the Internet has led to the multiplication
and diversification of users and information. This leads to the creation
of a labyrinth with its walls plenty of data, but in which the percentage
of useful data existing for (and encountered by) the members of the K-Society
diminishes dramatically. Access to information and people is more and more
difficult and time consuming [7,8].
Lack of security
Another problem is
security: the first steps of the Net purely experimental still have considerable
consequences even nowadays. Moreover the will to maintain the openness
of the Internet, its uncontrolled growth, the lack of a central organism
with sufficient power, uncoordinated and sometimes incompatible initiatives,
etc., contribute to create a sensation of deficient security (often justified)
for the user. Recently a slow but firm tendency to enhance the security
of services and users has been observed. But it is too slow in comparison
with the expectations of the users because of the cited circumstances.
Proposals for technical and organisational improvements exist but their
global implantation is only expected at medium and large range. The direct
consequence is that nowadays the members of the K-Society often feels he/she
is lacking of security when he/she accesses the Internet.
Lack of organisation
Another aspect which limits the conception of an Internet perfectly fulfilling the needs of the K-Society is the lack of organisation, control and co-ordination in the architecture and evolution of the Net. This is due to its inherent nature (the Internet has no defined topology and it is changing permanently) and to the constant tendency to promote, globalise and extend it.
exist which, within their limitations, are in charge of the control of
the different computer networks, the creation of new domains, the construction
of network statistics, the administration of the different technological
innovations, the promotion of behaviour and ethic rules, etc. But most
of these organisations are not really relevant as they are only consulted
but don't have decision nor actuation privileges.
The "bad reputation" of the Net for many scientific and academic forums is mainly due to the existence of some undesirable (from the K-Society's members' perspective) users members of others societies (mainly from the B-Society), which interfere with the normal human relationships between the users of the K-Society.
Everybody is aware of the proliferation in the Internet of servers with contents that are not compatible with the image of seriousness and decency searched by the members of the K-Society. Representative examples are the pornography and terrorism sites. Associated with these servers are the users who are searching or broadcasting the contents.
|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: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.
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.
The first IVTS is formed by the following VTSs: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].
Internet Relay Chat or IRC (Communication service) World Wide Web or WWW (Information service) List-service (Communication service)
The second IVTS is expected to be formed by the following VTSs: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.
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 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.
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