Community

Dave Reinke
InfoLink Project Manager
APWA Washington Office

No matter where you live, you are a member of a community. At the most basic level, the streets and spaces surrounding your house or office are your local community, but sometimes it extends beyond that to include the larger city or town, and often even the state or region. These geographic communities provide many opportunities for interaction and participation, but beyond these, your communities might also consist of a collection of people of the same religious beliefs in a house of worship, or even fans of the same sports team, or people in the same profession or line of work. Naturally, APWA is a community just as is your local neighborhood, and one "subdivision" of our Association is APWA-InfoLink (www.apwa-infolink.com).

InfoLink is its own community, too. Having more than 500 registered users, it might not be as large as some, but the real value, just like any community, lies in the shared interests of its members. While like any community it is a collection of individuals, the shared goals, objectives, and knowledge of its members can collectively be greater than its individual parts.

Each user who registers for InfoLink has the opportunity to post both a geographic link to their location as well as a web link (or multiple links). The resulting collection of links is the real power of InfoLink, as users can learn from each other, share the benefit of their experience, and interact as true members of a community. Whether it is based on geographic proximity or common interests, the value of a community is accrued by its members. People are by nature a social animal, and community provides the opportunity to interact, share experiences, and work together for mutual advancement, allowing all its members to benefit from their involvement.

So while the benefits are common to all communities, there are some advantages of the "virtual" Internet community. While sharing many of the same attributes as a "brick and mortar" community, the online one can take advantage of "24/7" access, always available anytime day or night. It is true that a computer and Internet connection are required, but that access can take place from work, home, hotel room, or even the public library. It couldn't be easier to register as a user, it's free to register and use, and is constantly being updated with new links to pages (and only those pages) that you care about.

Just as the links within the community are what tie it together, the web links available through InfoLink are what bring users together. On InfoLink, you can use the search function to immediately find information on a single topic from up to hundreds of different sites...but all dealing with the specific public works information you searched for. Or browsing the directory of users, either alphabetically or by category (City/Municipal Agency, for example, or Professional/Scientific/Technical Services) which will present a list of users that can provide a starting point for finding a vendor, learning how a city of the same size handles a similar problem, or finding a great new idea from a large county in a neighboring state.

And like all communities, InfoLink is constantly growing and changing to better mirror the interests of its population. Just like other communities, it changes based on new environmental situations, or new technologies, or improved access. It is a lot easier (if only slightly less disruptive) to post the "under construction" sign on an Internet site than it is on the street, and the virtual community of InfoLink is hard at work making the site more useful, more educational, and more valuable. Like many of our Association members we are working behind the scenes to avoid affecting everyday users, but many of the exciting new areas being developed will be introduced to the site during the next few months.

So make it a point to join the InfoLink Community. It is free, easy, and valuable. Like all your other community affiliations, you will find that your fellow members share interests, attitudes, and knowledge (maybe even passion) for the same thing. And like your surrounding communities, your involvement is central to making it work. The theme for National Public Works Week this year is "Committed to Our Communities," a theme that accurately reflects the importance of public works to the fabric of the many communities served by APWA members. Thank you for that involvement, and I hope you will include InfoLink as one of the many communities you actively support.

To reach Dave Reinke, call (202) 408-9541 or send e-mail to dreinke@apwa.net.