Friends and Partners began life nearly 3 years ago - started as a goodwill gesture between two friends who shared a simple dream of introducing new friendships between people in our countries - and determined to use the emerging Internet as a means of doing so. It began and remains a labor of love for its creators and, we suspect, for many of the readers here who have contributed so much and made its growth possible.
Note: The following letter explains our motivation for offering this planning server to the Internet community and especially to our Friends and Partners.
Committing the better part of the summer and autumn of 1996 to planning new direction, we offer this document to you and hope that you will explore these pages, react to the ideas and plans presented here and offer your suggestions on how Friends and Partners can best realize its aim of furthering education and promoting understanding and cooperation between people in our countries.
With a growing base of subscribers and users of its services and a growing number of contributing individuals and organizations, Friends and Partners has become a busy place. Outgrowing its all-volunteer-night-and-weekend status only a few months ago, it has taken on a more established life with the creation of two new centers -- one in Pushchino, Russia - the other in Knoxville, Tennessee in America. But the simple motivation behind the effort remains the same - to explore and actively use global information and communications technologies as a means of fostering better understanding and cooperation between individuals and organizations in countries long isolated from and largely unacquainted with each other.
The Internet has proven to be a remarkable tool for our purposes - in ways we did not fully anticipate a few years ago. Its importance transcends the computers, protocols, and communications devices with which it operates and the databases, images, audio and video it delivers to our desktops. Arguably, it represents as revolutionary an advance in human communications as the printing press did several centuries ago as it extends the ability to publish to many. It conceivably makes obsolete the ancient one-way model of information publishing which has traditionally given power to those few with access.
Of special relevance to our efforts is the increasingly global reach of the Internet and the ease with which it accommodates our basic human drive to "connect" with those of similar interests and concerns. The subject of how the Internet can be used to support local, topical, and global communities is the principal subject of this planning server.
One of the most revolutionary features of the Internet is the openness and speed with which communications and information is exchanged across the world and through all sorts of previously difficult barriers - providing very fertile ground for new ideas and new development. We hope it may also be such for our own planning efforts. Traditional planning operates within rather narrow confines of existing knowledge, available information, and with personal and institutional biases which limit its effectiveness. We hope that opening our planning process to the community we seek to serve might help us do a better job of identifying and meeting real issues, concerns, and needs. Since Friends and Partners represents a "community effort" in the very best sense of that term, we can effectively plan our future only in partnership with this community.
In the pages which follow, you will learn of our plans to further the F&P community with development of local civic networks in Russia - and with plans to link these networks in such a way as to facilitate larger regional and national networking - between educators, non-governmental organizations, local and regional government officials, and individual citizens. And by linking local networks - and their constituent organizations and citizens - with similar organizations in other parts of the world, we will continue working towards our goal of fostering cooperation across national boundaries as well.
We will continue building upon the momentum of the F&P effort, draw upon the resources of the F&P community (including our own excellent staffs), utilize our own experience in local and global community networking, and add some unique technical capabilities to support the development of a strong and robust information/communications "intranet" to help realize our goal of fostering better understanding, friendship and partnership between people.
We hope you will read and respond to the material presented here and let us know your thoughts on how we can best proceed with our future work together.