Message from Tel Aviv re: Tips for Builders of Virtual Communities

To: Editor <[email protected]>

From: "Yesha Y. Sivan" <[email protected]>

Sequence: Volume 31, Number 6
Release Date: Wed, 3 Oct 1996 14:59:23 -0400 (PDT)

Although I have no firm data about Internet usage in Israel, it seems that there is a lot of activity here, especially in the past couple of years. (BTW, Israel seems to be fond of communication in general - it has among the highest rate of cellular phone penetration.) I've noticed recently that in all the leading newspapers there is now an Internet corner; in job postings, you see more references to e-mail and web (see,

Israel also has many prominent Internet players - Netmanage, Vocaltec, VDOLive, Kinetica, Ubique, Comtouch, Accent, Checkpoint and several others.

A bit of background about what we do: The Tel Aviv University's Science and Technology Education Center (SATEC) is a collection of projects and labs, headed by Prof. David Chen <>. The main project, MABAT, is 10 years old now. Its goal is to produce science and technology curricula for grades 1-6. The MABAT project has produced more than 20 books and is the best-selling curriculum in Israel. Other doings include the knowledge technology lab, software design lab, the school of the future project, and my own start-up learning network laboratory (LeNeL).

When I came back from the U.S. to Israel about two years ago, I began looking for high-impact projects - projects that would allow me to test our development skills on one hand, and to create a service that would position the LeNeL as a leading agent in this area.

The best product on the Net that I knew of at that time was Edupage. It has just the right amount of information, about 5-7 lines per item. It covers all the important news. And it comes in a format that allows me to cut and disseminate messages. LEKETNET, the Hebrew version of Edupage, was born.

We decided to select 10 items each week from Edupage, translate them, and then distribute them to Hebrew speakers all over the world. We are sending LEKETNET in three formats: an RTF file, a Word 6.0 file and an HTML version posted on a Web site.

In general terms, the goal of LeNeL is to look at new communication technologies and see how they can be used for learning. Our biggest project is the Lamda community <>. Lamda is a case of what we now call "professional communities" or perhaps "intranet communities." In developing Lamda we've learned five valuable tips about setting up and maintaining a virtual community.

1 - Be prepared to deal with the bi-polar mood of Internet usage. The Internet is moving rapidly from the desks of experts and heavy users onto the desks of novice and occasional users. We have found that as builders of a professional community we must prepare our members for the bi-polar moods that new Internet users usually encounter.

2 - It's important to use a geographical metaphor. Once we came up with the basic city metaphor, there was no other serious candidate for describing the community. We felt that the graphical depiction creates some order in the abstract virtual community. We developed a few iconic means to represent various aspects of the community. The city metaphor gives as a wealth of such symbols (i.e., houses, roads, the bus, special zones, the junk yard, etc.).

3 - Visualize what members will do in the community. In our vision (which will be updated as the community develops), we see the community as a meeting ground for members who self-define themselves based on their own interests.

4 - Think globally and act locally. According to our tentative calculations, a sustainable virtual community needs about 5,000 active users. Although we currently have funding for building the infrastructure, we believe that "funding by use" will make this system sustainable in the long run. Based on our funding allocations and ability to grow we developed a member growth curve.

5 - Aim for a self-evolving community. Lamda Community should not be seen as an "experiment" - it is a self-evolving system. The community will be created in an iterative, interactive process among three factors: the users, the material on the Lamda Community site, and the technological systems supporting that community. This process is similar to that of establishing a new city. There is interaction among the residents of the city, the physical structure (streets, zones, etc.) and the various systems in charge of constructing the city (road contractors, etc.). Unlike cities, which have a more or less regular structure, there is no standard or known structure for virtual communities. Over the next few years we plan to map out a blueprint for our Lamda "city."

We are in the process of collecting more tips for builders of professional communities. If you have some suggestions, please send them to [email protected]; use the TIPS: prefix in the subject matter.

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