ellohay! West Michigan

A Conversation with Catherine Ettinger

Usually when I get to tell someone new about this project, initially there is skepticism. Then I explain the structure and the elements built in for sustainability, there is optimism.

My conversation with Catherine, president of Foxbright (here in Grand Rapids) was a little different. She wasn’t pessimistic per se, but she wasn’t exactly beaming. I contacted her after listening to her podcasts “Inside Grand Rapids”, and read her About page that expressed great interest in learning about new and existing projects making a difference in the city.

Her studio develops websites for schools, nonprofits, social organizations and regular profit businesses too. Hospice, Goodwill, Phoenix Society among other are some of her company’s clients.

So, we met and talked downtown on Friday during lunch.

Some condensed, paraphrased, versions of her statements, questions, comments:
• Internet access is essential to this programs’ success, the wiMax program will be important
• Relying on a third party to provide internet access (which is integral to the program) is not a great thing
• Education is going to be difficult, people don’t like learning past a certain age, it’s going to be a challenge to get people to be receptive
• You can solve data loss issues with thumb drives, people use those all the time
• You won’t be able to give 24 hour support, staffing that is going to be nearly impossible
• Laptops, not desktop computers. Portable, small, strong tech devices
• Getting technology will be no problem at all
• The pilot program sounds good, kids in the same neighborhood is an optimal situation
• Eventually you’re going to need storefronts or workshops all over the city, coverage similar to the public library and their branches
• People will need to be able to walk to your locations as transportation is a major issue
• You could probably use those rooms at the public for some of the classes
• Security is going to be a big issue for people, build in a strong base in the program, because in this day and age…
In short, it was great to talk with her, she had some fantastic feedback, and comments about logistics, practices.

It was also good to hear about her perspective as a parent, she has two young boys at home who she personally wants to educate about the internet and technology herself. It sounded like she wouldn’t need the program for her kids.

She acknowledged that while she and her children have the resources and skills to harness the power of those tools, that not everyone in our community has the same advantages.

If I understood her correctly, over-all she thinks this program is a good idea and it could really work.

She expressed that she’d like to stay in the conversation as well.

Catherine, you bring a unique perspective to the table, you’re a mom, a small business owner, and a strong, intelligent voice in the community.

Thank you for the conversation, and we hope to hear from you soon (and yes, once we get this pilot program off the ground, I’d like very much to be a guest on your podcast, thank you for the invitation).

For everyone reading here, please poke holes, and keep those comments coming. Thanks and cheers.

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2 Responses

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  1. smcmaster said, on March 18, 2008 at 2:35 pm

    • Relying on a third party to provide internet access (which is integral to the program) is not a great thing
    • You won’t be able to give 24 hour support, staffing that is going to be nearly impossible
    • Eventually you’re going to need storefronts or workshops all over the city, coverage similar to the public library and their branches

    These three items jumped out at me. I don’t want to over-read the comments, since I wasn’t in the conversation. However… they’re interrealted, and do go to the heart of the forgr project. One of the pillars of the project, as I’ve understood it, is the community-building aspect of it. I have previously indicated that I don’t think that a real community can exist without a geographic component. It hasn’t been important, so I haven’t insisted on it as a point of agreement to continue the conversation, but it’s something that informs my opinions.

    The forgr community will need someplace to be–at minimum the hardware will have to be stored and assembled and disk images installed somewhere. Ideally, there will be a place with a forgr sign out front where people can meet, talk, and hash out their technology access problems face-to-face with people who can help.

    This place should certainly supply on-site internet access. However, I’m not sure it’s a problem that the project as a whole relies on third parties to provide internet access. In addition to the wimax of the City, there are all sorts of places where people can gain access, if they have the hardware and the training to use it. Nevertheless the question of how forgr does supply the internet itself is a good one. So far in my thinking about it, the signal is just there.

    24 hour support probably is impossible, even if there is a place to go. If the building is open 24 hours, some sort of over night security people will be needed, and they can’t be giving tech support, too. They won’t be able to give both tasks the proper attention, even if they have both skill sets.

    I’m not sure storefronts all over the city are required. Rather than replicating the service supplied by the libraries, I would like to see the forgr project be located in a part of the city where a high concentration of the people needing the service are living. Make it on a bus route, too.

    On the other hand, workshops all over the city are a great idea. But maybe the model to look at isn’t the library; I’d suggest the model is a blood drive. A client organization supplies a Great Room for 6 or 8 hours (including tables and chairs), forgr comes in with all the other gear for the event (including, if needed, a more robust, portable internet connection). The client organization and Forgr collaborate in some way on the marketing of the training day, and at the end the individuals who have attended have earned some portion of their required community service.

  2. forgr said, on March 18, 2008 at 10:22 pm

    Addressing access issues,
    I agree, having on site wireless access is absolutely important.

    About around the clock support,
    yes, 24 hour human-support is impossible. 24 hour FAQs, resource links, tutorials and community support, completely possible. The portal is the place for this, right?

    Concerning the store fronts and workshops,
    I doubt that just one location in the city would be sufficient for long term usage. Having multiple locations, even if they are just booth sized presences in another facility might be acceptable. I’m thinking pavilions/kiosks like in large malls… or yes, blood drive stations in other facilities.

    Having multiple facility managers, volunteer leads, schedules, rental agreements, support staff, and having to maintain multiple facilities… will be hard.

    But think about people trying to get to just one facility all the way across town, taking two buses, with kids in the snow or rain… getting from point A to point B is really difficult to people that have no bus fare, no car, no means to travel distances. Trapped. Being able to walk to a local facility is optimal, definitely preferred.

    I know it’s a high standard, but knowing what I do about individual’s lifestyles, it’s quite important to be ubiquitous in order to serve our community appropriately.

    Visiting facilities, excellent method for getting out the word. We should be able to mobile, have kits, have traveling resources. Good thoughts.


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