Invited Symposium: Integrated Telematic Services and Communication Through Scientific IRC: Virtual User Communities of Biomedicine in UNInet
The introduction of the Internet and the World Wide Web in everyday use has become one of the mainstream tools of communication. It has enabled people from all over the world to receive information which otherwise would be almost non-existent or difficult to reach. The beauty of accessing the information through the World Wide Web is that it can be accessed seven days a week, twenty four hours a day.
The availability of bulletin board systems, online systems and the Internet information resources, their utilization and the basic use of search engines to expedite information retrieval has been studied by Teppperman, B. S. (1996). The Internet is an unprecedented information resource and is in a continual evolution state (Glowinak J. 1997).
Search engines are a magnificent way to retrieve and store specific information related to almost every health field. It is swift and easy to utilize and it reduces bibliographical research time thus increasing the efficiency of one’s work. On the other hand these search engines also retrieve superfluous and unnecessary information, usually non-related to the specific search topic. The results are sometimes outdated because web pages change or disappear. Additionally, one usually must manually add his or her web page to one or more engines in order to be included in their database.
Other types of information resources are being developed in different parts of the world. Such is the case with the Great Lakes region of North America where environmental quality, human health effects, demographic data, among others are being brought together by the Great Lakes Information Network (GLIN) to provide different resources on the Internet to be communicated to end users (Ratza 1996). Another network, the GHNet, established in 1994, promotes networking, training and distance learning of people in public health through the Internet (Satoh T, et. al, 1997).
Along with the growth of the Internet, higher speed access, and voice and real-time video communication for medical education and research (Glowinak J 1998), another form of communication has been developed in the last few years and is reaching unprecedented usage. It is the text-based Internet Relay Communication (IRC). Unlike the newsgroups, where questions are posted and answered within a reasonable amount of time, there is an international network called UniNet which is based on university servers (Coma, M. J., et. al. 1997) (http://www.uni-net.org/). This network has been designed with some special characteristics that separates it from the mainstream networks. Its uniqueness is its way to merge scientists from different disciplines and diverse areas of the world. The most interesting characteristics of UniNet are that each channel is well defined and specific in content and nature, that all the users are registered prior to accessing the network, virtual technical and scientific conferences are prepared well in advance and topics are announced through different listserves on a weekly basis. It is a virtual community where every individual follows set behavior rules.
One of the goals of UniNet is to bring people together from different disciplines and varied backgrounds to produce an ever-increasing amount of scientific topics. These range in content from general subjects to very specific subjects. It is a very important tool in terms of facilitating the comprehension, education and development of local and global issues. It serves as a focal point of information to the general public and also leads to initiate and prolong interactions between scientists with common backgrounds or interests.
Usually a topic is prepared a few weeks in advance and then presented by one or more individuals during thirty to forty-five minutes on one of the channels. It is then followed by a session of questions and answers. The speaker types in his or her topic on the computer and the individuals who are present on the channel at that time receive the information first hand. Additional conversations and replies can be held with the speaker and between the attendees while the conference is taking place. In addition to this, each person can send and receive documents, databases, files and pictures which may be related to the subject being broadcast, expanding the possibilities of information exchange. Additional information and visual aids are used on occasion to enhance the learning and understanding of the discussed topics. The most used type of visual aid is the slide presentation, set up on one or more servers. The conference attendees can then easily follow the text and, using a browser, access the slides.
There is a large and continually growing quantity of quality scientific channels on UniNet. Some of these channels focus on medical issues, while others relate to different scientific disciplines. One of the outstanding features that this system provides is that information is being transmitted in real time.
The nature of UniNet permits the access to the network at any time of day or night. Interested parties who cannot attend the conferences due to time constraints or time zone incompatibilities such as those living in opposite sides of the planet who would find the possibility of attending the channel at other than normal hours, can access the recorded logs on the Internet. These logs are permanently displayed on the World Wide Web in at least two different servers. The primary home page is located in Spain while the other, located in the U. S. A., acts as a mirror site. This is useful in several ways. The number of hits is divided between the two servers thus reducing bandwidth usage on one particular server. In instances where there is network saturation or downtime, it is easy to reach the alternate home page. Accessing the channel topic logs swiftly from the server within geographical proximity is normally done without any setbacks.
Scientists, doctors, students and the general public who are interested on the topics discussed are always welcome to contribute to the channel their own experiences and suggestions thus enriching the group knowledge in a friendly manner. On days when there are not any topics scheduled to discuss, everyone present is invited to express their opinion on one of the many current health or environmental-related topics making headlines.
Within the wide range of channels created un UniNet, the channel #ecolog specifically is dedicated to environmental and public health topics. Due to the broad aspect of some conferences, and even though the topics pertaining to the #ecolog channel are not by nature developed on other channels in UniNet, there are occasions when the need or interest is related to one of the other channels. In these cases we follow one of two options. The first option is to repeat the conference at a later time and/or date on another channel, for example on #biomedicina or #science. The second option is to ponder where the topic fits in best in the compendium of channels and once a decision is made, we schedule a time and date on one of the most suitable alternate channels. Each channel is operated by a different person and this enables us to focus on primary group interests, only shifting information to other groups when necessary. The author may choose any time of day or night for the conference to be held, but we always attempt to accommodate the timing in accordance to the participation of as many people from different time zones as possible.
General Interest Topics
Topics presented so far or being developed at this time on #ecolog, as in all channels on UniNet, are prepared by doctors, public health professionals and scientists in the health or environmental field. Some topics worth mentioning due to general interest are:
- Treatment of venomous snake bites. This topic discusses the identification of different species, neurotoxins produced by snakes, types of bites depending on the jaw structure, effects of the venom in individuals, sensibility tests and treatment of injured victims.
- El Niño phenomenon and how it affects socio-sanitary conditions. This subject elaborates on the effects of El Niño in terms of destruction of building structures, communication pathways and the spread of diseases throughout the population (cholera, epidemic conjunctivitis).
- Wastewater treatment. Focuses on different options when deciding which wastewater treatment is the ideal treatment to implement in each situation. It also discusses the use of activated sludges and recyclable sludges which may be applied to farm animals.
- EPA’s recent air pollution regulations, legal limits and economical consequences. Discusses the differences between previous regulations and current regulations and how it affects the businesses which cannot comply by the time limits designated by the law.
- Attention Deficit Disorders in children. Discusses how small children are being diagnosed and treated, and explains the general characteristics of ADD.
- Performance of an Environmental Site Assessment. This topic looks at how a site assessment can be performed, working with available resources in a short time period.
- Uses of Geographical Information Systems in the public health systems is another topic of interest where the latest computer software modeling and prediction in health care is discussed.
To unite a relatively large group of professionals at one time is being facilitated by the UniNet network. The text-based chat system is the most economical way to include many individuals into one or more work sessions. A study of accessibility and participation has yet to be done at this time, but the number of people using this network has significantly increased since its development and implementation. Recent conferences have demonstrated the great value of having a virtual location where to meet and exchange ideas and information.
The usage of text-based communication tools via the Internet is increasing on a daily basis. UniNet is a good example of the viability of a working system where information exchange between scientists takes place regularly.
The goals of the UniNet network are to bring people together from diverse disciplines and different countries with new ideas and varied backgrounds to produce scientific work in a multinational setting, to facilitate the comprehension, education and development of global issues, and to provide a fixed meeting point where scientists, doctors, specialists and the general public can interact constantly. UniNet also aims to initiate, lead and prolong long-term projects and interactions between scientists with common backgrounds or interests.
The activities developed within each of the UniNet channels are all scientific in nature. Channel #ecolog is one of many subject-specific channels present on the network, and the only one dealing with public health and environmental issues regularly. Logs of each activity where subjects of interest are presented are recorded and posted on the Internet for those who cannot attend the programmed sessions. Text-based global communication is the most economical real time type of communication available.
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|Porres, LA.; Fuentes Oró, J.; Medina Iglesias, P.; Coronado, E.; Pascual J.M.; (1998). Application of International Virtual Communication in Real Time through Internet: Public Health and Environment. Presented at INABIS '98 - 5th Internet World Congress on Biomedical Sciences at McMaster University, Canada, Dec 7-16th. Invited Symposium. Available at URL http://www.mcmaster.ca/inabis98/coma/porres0316/index.html|
|© 1998 Author(s) Hold Copyright|