Accessibility of Community Records
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Mon, 4 Sep 2017 05:59:02 -0700 (PDT)
I started this message in response to the Gather program. I pulled it out 
because it became so long the response to Gather was buried.

Some people like living in the present and are perfectly happy repeating 
history because they don’t know it’s a repeat. They just go along.

Others like to glean information and confirm information. We like records. And 
find them incredibly revealing and useful. So the choice of a good system for 
maintaining searchable information is important. Without completeness, it is 
reliable. And without searchability, it’s like a library with no catalog or 
cross indexing.

I’ll repeat a story I’ve told before because it is pivotal in my thinking about 
all the “free" services out there. Since the beginning in 1998, we used 
YahooGroups as our storage for minutes and everything else. A number of years 
ago, Yahoo decided to strip all attachments from stored emails. Overnight we 
lost years and years of history. Anything not pasted into a message was gone. 
Years and years —— including all the early drafts and final copies of mission 
statements, team planning documents, photos, why this was built this way and 
not that, etc. It was gone with no warning or ability to transfer the 
information elsewhere.

And what may be a new story, we set up a very, very successful wiki on Google 
Sites for the Facilities Team. People with no technical tolerance at all were 
suddenly able and willing to keep records of all the repairs and information 
related to systems. We now have access to a well ordered and searchable archive 
of information on everything facilities -- IP addresses, the location of the 
stored replacement feet for the dining room chairs, the model numbers for the 
HVAC units, the colors for the paint on the walls (you can’t imagine how many 
people ask for these), who did the electrical work on the old water heater, 
etc. All the facilities-related information in one place and searchable. 

But then one day, I noticed that we were at 99% of our memory limit. There is 
nothing in the documentation, or at least there wasn’t, about a storage limit. 
And Google has no provision for being able to pay for more memory. Now that we 
had this wonderful resource, we couldn’t even pay to keep it. Efforts to 
download our information and move it need more technical expertise than any of 
us have. And we have no place to move it anyway. GoogleSites was perfect. Now 
that it has proved itself, it's no longer available.

That’s why I don’t trust “free" things. I've recommended because it 
has a long term business plan — for a certain level of service it is free but 
if you need more it is there, for a very reasonable price. The support network 
of users and the presence of expert users is large and accessible. Yahoo’s no 
longer is. You are on your own.

That’s why good information architecture is important. We no longer have clerks 
or “little ladies at home” keeping records and remembering where every piece of 
information is. Things have changed, but the needs haven’t.

We are currently using Association Voice which is far from perfect but it is 
reliable and very unlikely to go away. It serves a purpose for many, many 
communities. And provides a living for many people as well. Money is not all 

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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