Strategic Plans and Reports
Public Access Network Briefing Paper: Bulletin Board System Discontinuation
In December of 1994, the City of Seattle began operating an electronic bulletin board system (BBS) for the purpose of providing Seattle citizens with electronic access to City information, also known as the Seattle Public Access Network (PAN) BBS. The BBS can be accessed via many Seattle and King County library dumb terminals, computers with Internet connections, or computers with modems but without Internet connections. The BBS currently only has a small fraction (one fifth) of the information that the City's Web site has primarily because most departments have chosen to solely focus on the more popular web method of information delivery.
Throughout the operation of the BBS, PAN staff has monitored how effective it has been at serving its primary purpose. As a result, we have determined that this system no longer effectively serves its intended purpose and therefore no longer justifies the cost of its operation.
System statistics currently show that usage of this system has decreased 80 percent from 4,690 registered accounts in the spring of 1995 down to 968 currently registered accounts. Users sessions have decreased 63 percent from approximately 20,000 sessions per month to currently 7,500 sessions per month.
In addition, user surveys have shown that only approximately 22 percent of this system's users are Seattle citizens. Furthermore, approximately 80 percent of all system usage now falls outside the scope of this system's primary purpose. Approximately 30 percent of total system usage is attributed to real-time communication (teleconference or "chatting") regarding topics not pertaining to the City of Seattle. An additional 50 percent of all usage is attributed to using this system to gain access to the Seattle Public Library or Seattle Community Network. Both these systems have their own large modem pools in place that allow them to be accessed directly by dialing (206) 386-4140 or via Internet telnet at address: spl.lib.wa.us or scn.org respectively.
Since the inception of the BBS, the newer Internet-based medium called the World Wide Web has become more and more pervasive. The City of Seattle has operated a World Wide Web site since February of 1995. While BBS usage has continued to decline, Web site usage has increased at a staggering rate from 85,000 file requests or "hits" in October of 1995 to over 1,000,000 requests beginning in January of 1997.
The City has continued to operate these two systems simultaneously since February of 1995 because the BBS continued to serve those without Internet connections. However, rapid change has led to wider access to the Internet. For those without Internet connections, the Seattle Public Library and Seattle Community network currently offer free access to the Internet and the City of Seattle Web site. As a result, it is recommended that the Bulletin Board System be discontinued.
The following BBS-only functions will be discontinued along with the system itself:
- Teleconference ("chat rooms") should be discontinued since they have not served the originally intended purposes of exchanging information between the City and its citizens, or among citizens about public governmental issues. This function can however be implemented on the Web site at such a time where a City department has use for this feature.
- Discussion Forums should also be discontinued for similar reasons. General Seattle discussion Usenet discussions groups are available through the Seattle Public Library and Seattle Community Network. Again, this function can be implemented at such a time where a City department has use for this feature.
- User-to-User Electronic Mail will be discontinued since free Internet e-mail accounts are available through the Seattle Community Network and other commercial services.
The impact of the discontinuation will be minimized by providing ample notification (4-6 weeks) including clear reasoning behind the decision and clear instructions on how to obtain similar access to City information by other means.
PAN leases its modem pool internally from Network Services, at a cost of approximately $1,500 per month. Assuming that the BBS is closed at the end of July, this would result in a savings of about $7,500 for 1997. (The budget for 1998 assumed the closure of the BBS, and already reduced those costs). The savings will be used to cover costs of ISDN lines, wireless modems, and/or other equipment for web access in community and neighborhood service centers.
Staff time on the BBS has already been significantly reduced and redirected towards the Web site.