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SECTION J: Technology - The Internet
The Internet as a Tool For Your Organisation
Many people are afraid of the Internet, thinking it is too complicated for them to understand. You are not alone: it is an open secret that the Internet is now too complicated for anybody to understand. Fortunately, it is not necessary to understand the Internet to use it. What you see on the screen (or hear) - the “user illusion” - is designed to be as intuitive and user-friendly as possible (which is not to say it will not drive you crazy on a daily basis). The best way to learn how to use it is by using it.
The Internet can be the quickest and least expensive way to find information - as long as you know how to use a search engine. It can also be extremely frustrating and time consuming. A search engine is like an indexing system in a library (or an endlessly willing but totally brainless librarian) that helps you find what you are looking for - if you ask properly. You use a search engine by typing key words, phrases, or questions into a search box.
This is a technology that is developing very quickly. At the time of writing, Google has outstripped the others in its ability to provide useful results, but it is being challenged.
Remember to be careful of what you find using search engines – they are mindless robots that cannot distinguish the good from the bad, or truth from propaganda.
For organisations wishing to get started with the Internet:
CommunityNet Aotearoa (www.community.net.nz)
The CommunityNet Aotearoa website is a source of information and advice to support communities. Information is available on all aspects of setting up and running community organisations and projects, including using the Internet.
Dozens of books on getting online are available. Two New Zealand books worth looking for are:
Information about choosing an Internet Service Provider (ISP) and prices is online at the NZ Consumers’ Institute website: www.consumer.org.nz
The Internet Safety Kit is an online resource to help parents, schools, and community groups use the Internet safely: www.netsafe.org.nz
Low cost recycled PCs (Personal Computers) are available to community groups from companies accredited by the Computer Access New Zealand Trust: www.canz.org.nz
Webwise is an easy to use Internet guide featuring tutorials, beginner guides, questions, commentaries and much more: www.bbc.co.uk/webwise
Learn the Net – how-to guides, animated tutorials, comprehensive glossary and news: www.learnthenet.com
Advice and Support for Non-Profit groups
Techsoup – a US based website featuring information about everything IT tailored to non-profit organisations: www.techsoup.org
Using E-mail for Community Action
“Virtual Activist 2.0: Using E-mail for Outreach, Organising, and Advocacy” is a detailed guide from Netaction, a US organisation dedicated to promoting use of the Internet for effective grassroots citizen action campaigns: www.netaction.org/training
Developing a Website
Steps to successful use of the Internet are familiar from any community project: vision, plan, implement, monitor, evaluate, and revise. There are lots of general guides to developing a web presence (eg Web Design for Dummies, Sam’s Teach Yourself to Create Web Pages in 24 Hours), and some listed below that are specifically targeted at community organisations.
Not every library will have these books. To find them you may have to try interloans:
There is lots of advice available online about developing websites. Have a look at the websites listed above: Webwise, Techsoup and Making the Net Work. Charity Village’s section Online Training and Online Fundraising sections have some useful articles:
The TrainAgain website offers free interactive tutorials to help you develop better web strategy, content, credibility and search results: www.trainagain.com
One of the most comprehensive guides for not-for-profit organisations available online is “Building an Effective Website: a Guide for Non-Profit Organisations”: www.oxygenate.com/web101
- thanks to Viv Sherwood and Jenny Chilcott, Dunedin CDG
Try to think like the people who will be using your website. What will they know already? What will they need to know and want to know? (Assume too little rather than too much.)
Have regard to people with disabilities using your website. For example, blind and sight-impaired people can not use a mouse, so provide keyboard-based alternatives to clicking on images. Their browsers read out links separately from from text, so offer more information with links than “Click Here”. Use captions (and the “ALT” command) to tell them what is in pictures. For Deaf and hearing-impaired people, provide text alternatives to speech files. One standard that provides automatic accessabilty testing is Bobby, at http://bobby.watchfire.com/
Have regard to people accessing your website with slow connections (as in rural areas). If you must include large files, such as big pictures, make them open on new pages, and provide thumbnail images so users can decide whether they want to open them.
Keep yourself informed about the risks of using the internet, such as viruses (software maliciously designed to corrupt or destroy files), and nuisances such as spam (junk e-mail). Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) is on your side and will help protect you against these. Avoid contributing to the nuisance by replying to messages with huge "To:" and "Cc:" lists or passing on hoax virus warnings or chain letters, no matter how urgent or appealing they seem.
E-mail makes it easy to communicate in haste, but e-mail is just as subject as “snailmail” to the laws of libel, defamation, slander, harassment, etc. Because e-mail is not face-to-face, subtleties and irony are easy to miss. Make it a routine to pause before you send an e-mail, especially if you are feeling any strong emotion, and re-read it from the point of view of someone likely to misunderstand it. When replying to messages, be careful you do not include recipients you did not intend. There are many true stories of intimate messages reaching wide audiences, and gossip reaching the people it was about.
Last updated: 13/05/2005