Grandma’s going on-line in Hoffman

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by Ann Treacy | March 16, 2009 • Tired of policy, I have been looking for successful broadband stories in Minnesota- big or small. If you have any, please send ‘em my way. For example, I spoke yesterday to a Grandma who is using a blog and Skype to keep up with grandson in the army.

Blandin on Broadband offers information on broadband use, access, and trends especially in rural Minnesota. Sponsored by the Blandin Foundation and their Broadband Initiative.

I am a blog helper for the Horizons Project, an initiative to reduce poverty in several Minnesota towns. Joanne Holl is a Horizons blogger from Hoffman, Minnesota. She was looking for help in adding pictures to her blog and we got talking. I learned that Joanne has her own blog – Grandma Jo’s blog. Her grandson started it for her. All of her family seems to have a blog – mostly to stay in touch with her grandson, who is in the army. Last weekend 5 family members, including her grandson, were talking via Skype.

It’s hard to quantify the ROI on that kind of application – but what a difference for Joanne’s quality of life. (Multiple that by the number of people who have friends and family stationed overseas – and that is some value.)

Joanne’s story led me to learn two new things. First, Joanne told me that Runestone (her local provider) is digging up the ground in her area for fiber. Runestone is 4 years into a 10 year plan to deploy FTTH in the 9 communities they serve. They started with the rural areas because their goal is to provide high speed to all of their areas. The rural areas have the oldest lines and need the upgrade more than towns – so they come first.

Runestoen is a co-op. They started 50 years ago when the large national providers weren’t interested in coming to their area to provide phone service. They figure that by spring their percentage of homes with fiber will surpass Sweden and by summer with surpass Taiwan – according to the rates recently reported by the FTTH Council.

I also learned about the Military’s social networking tool. About two years ago, the military turned off access to YouTube and Facebook. It turns out that the military had been working on upgraded (and I’m sure much more secure) tools for their purposes.

iLink is a social networking tool for the army. Remember how the army built the Internet? Well it looks like they’re doing some amazing things with social networking too. It’s a little off topic so I’m just going to paste two paragraphs from an article I found in ReadWriteWeb – but if you have any interest in the science of information – read the article – it’s very cool!

iLink specifically was the part of the overall CALO project that focused on social search and message routing within social networks. It was also used to develop a system for FAQ generation within a network – they call this technology “FAQtory”. With this technology implemented on a social network, FAQs are continuously generated and revised by the community using a Wikipedia-like model, as opposed to being static creations made by the site’s authors. But it’s not basic as a simple user-generated FAQ system – instead, iLink’s FAQtory technology allows for incremental bits of information – even those that don’t qualify as answers to the question. As the members contribute these bits of information, the learning system in iLink monitors how users are attempt to resolve queries and is then capable of drafting off of the social network’s learning. Essentially, the technology actually enables the social network to discover and amplify its own capabilities

Today, iLink is being used in the military communities to help recognize “who knows what” within a community, connect members to each other, and point members to valuable content, discussions, and others who share their same interests. Those connections between members and resources are made with iLink’s machine-based learning to model the users and the content in order to facilitate the information sharing.