De Digitale Stad: Community Networking, Netherlands Style

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In late April, 1995, had the great fun and privilege of meeting with many enthusiastic telecom activists in Netherlands. We met at De Balie, a center for Culture and Politics. Right around the corner from Amsterdam's Leidesplein, the building has a restaurant/cafe, meeting rooms, theaters, and auditoriums. My guide, De Digitale Stad founder Marleen Stikker, told me "We combine culture and politics in lectures, debates, manifestations, theatre, and performances. De Digitale Stad began as a practical inquiry on the possibility of public debates in the digital space. Since the first of January 1995 De Digitale Stad has been an independent foundation." It sure is neat to have a bustling real-life public space as a partner with a virtual community. We met and talked for hours. The sense I got was that the Internet culture, community networking movement, telecommunication activism in Netherlands is in both an early and an advanced stage: although the virtual communities and Internet using population is just beginning to explode the way it did in the US two years ago. The population as a whole is embracing the Net and the Web enthusiastically because a smaller vanguard has been active for years, despite prohibitive telecommunication costs.

Thanks to Marleen Stikker for helping me identify the folks in these snaps. From left to right in the first .gif, upper left of this page: From left to right in the second .gif, upper right at the top of this page: From left to right in the third .gif, bottom row of the group at the top of this page.

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Marleen Stikker (the face in the .gif above) was the person who was kind enough to organize the meeting at La Balie. Before the evening discussion, I spent a couple hours with her and her colleagues, who were creating a new interface for De Digitale Stad (DDS), based on the Web. DDS is the largest public freenet in the Netherlands. Stikker and others were well aware of the efforts in community networking that are going on elsewhere in the world They have grown DDS with community in mind. The building that houses DDS is a hotbed of digital culture: Mediamatic magazine has its headquarters there, and so does XS4ALL. XS4ALL has 4000 users; it's currently the cheaprest provider at approximately 30 guilders/month for unlimited PPP accesss. They had 160 modems the day I was there, and plan to add 500 by the end of the year. A sight that has grown familiar: rooms full of young people with telephone headsets on, looking at computer screens.

DDS has 15,000 accounts. People have occupied the city with their home pages, which are getting 5,000 hits a day. They have their own Usenet newsgroup hierarchy. The new interface they demonstrated for me is truly cool; I wanna get my hands on one. The Digital City is divided into town squares, literally areas of interest. People looking at information in different areas (the people accessing the same pages at the same time) can choose to represent their presence with their e-mail address, and a small .gif. If you want to chat with another DDSer, click on his or her .gif.

I'll be checking in with DDS in the future, to see how things develop. Good luck!

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