Cruising the information highway

If you have a computer with a modem, you have access in your office to a world of information.

Ralph Blodgett is assistant director, General Conference Communication Department, and sysop for the Adventists Online on CompuServe.

Wouldn't it be great to con tact a professor at the seminary about a sermon you are preparing and receive an answer a few hours later? Or download an out-of-print manuscript from the Ellen G. White Estate office? Or search for every article published in Ministry about salvation by faith over the past three years and then retrieve them all on your own computer? Or be able to join in on a live town hall meeting with the president of the General Conference?

If you have a computer and a modem, you can do all that and much, much more. The Seventh-day Adventist Church now has an on-ramp to the information superhighway that you've been hearing and reading so much about. On April 6, 1994, the General Conference and North American Division signed a contract with the CompuServe on-line service to set up a Seventh-day Adventist forum on CompuServe that can be accessed by virtually any church worker or lay member around the world.1 The forum is scheduled to open officially on July 5, 1994 90 days after the con tract signing.

In anticipation, Adventists every where have been asking questions about the new SDA forum and how they can start driving on the information superhighway. What follows are the answers to some of the most frequently posed questions about the new SDA forum.

What exactly is an "on-line service"?

An on-line service is to computer users what a CB radio is to 18-wheel truckers. On-line services such as Prodigy, America Online, and CompuServe (the three most popular services) make it possible for computer users to post (or send) messages to other computer users anywhere in the country or (in the case of CompuServe) around the world. On-line services are excellent resources for get ting all kinds of questions answered in a relatively short time.

On-line services also have gigantic libraries of information that users can tap without leaving their living room chairs. Some on-line services also have sections (called forums) where users can visit and get answers to questions or download files and articles related to the kind of work they do, hobby they have, or information they need.

The amount of information available on-line is almost overwhelming. "Going on-line is like walking into a giant library, post office, shopping mall, and nightclub all at once. Everywhere you turn, there's something fun or useful," said PC Magazine staff editor Andrew Kantor in the March 15, 1994, issue.

What do I need to access an on-line service?

If you already have a computer manufactured in the past five or six years, all you need is a modem and a phone line. A modem, which lets your computer talk to another computer over a regular phone line, costs as little as $50. It can be either an external modem, which plugs into the back of your computer, or an internal modem, which is mounted inside the computer case.

The speed of a modem---how fast it can transmit data---is measured in bits per second (or bps). A 2400-bps modem is today considered a slow modem. Better modems transfer mes sages and files over the phone lines at higher speeds. If you will spend much time on the information highway, you will be happier in most cases with a faster 9600-bps or 14.4-bps modem. More expensive modems also include fax hardware and software, which lets you send and receive faxes right from your PC.

Why did the denomination choose CompuServe?

Four reasons influenced the joint NAD/GC committee to select CompuServe over other services such as Prodigy, America Online, and GEnie. First, CompuServe has a huge selection of overseas phone connections in 130 different countries. (The list of overseas numbers for CompuServe that I have is 33 pages long, single-spaced.) Second, 90 to 95 percent of homes and businesses in the United States can access CompuServe with a local phone number rather than by long distance. Third, CompuServe lets companies and organizations set up private forums that can be run by their own personnel. (Other churches that have private forums on CompuServe are the Baptists, Lutherans, and Catholics.) Fourth, the cost for accessing a private forum on CompuServe is a fraction of the cost of using any of the other on-line services.

Interestingly, a few weeks after the joint NAD/GC committee selected CompuServe as the denomination's access route to the information super highway, PC Magazine also gave CompuServe its Editor's Choice award as the best on-line service in the world today (see the cover story in the March 15, 1994, issue). In giving the award the editors said, "CompuServe strikes us as the right on-line service for most people. It has an amazing array of information, . . . excellent electronic mail, and the most comprehensive and active discussion forums in the business. . . . For the broadest array of information at a reasonable price, CompuServe is your best bet."

How much will it cost on the SDA forum?

Most on-line services charge a monthly fee for certain basic services and then an additional charge based on the number of hours you spend on line. CompuServe's basic monthly fee (which includes 70 different free-of-extra-charge services and 180 pages of E-mail) is $8.95. (The term E-mail stands for electronic mail letters sent over the phone lines rather than by the post office.) In addition to the $8.95 basic fee for CompuServe, the SDA forum costs only $7 a month for unlimited use. In other words, SDA forum members do not have to worry about an hourly charge for using the forum.

What is included in the basic services?

CompuServe's basic services pack age includes late-breaking news from the Associated Press and Reuters on line, in-depth sports coverage, and U.S. National Weather Service re ports (even full-color Accu-Weather maps for any part of the world), air line reservations, car rentals, hotel accommodations, stock quotes, mutual fund analyses, business news, a mortgage calculator, a restaurant guide, a full 21-volume on-line encyclopedia (updated quarterly), a 300,000-word dictionary, articles from Consumer Reports, the electronic edition of Peterson's College Guide, Consumer Reports Complete Drug Reference Guide, answers to health questions on HealthNet, an electronic shopping mall featuring more than 100 nationally famous merchants and specialty shops, classified ads, and even on-line games.

CompuServe Mail processes regular E-mail, E-mail with a return receipt, fax, telex, paper mail in an envelope to a postal address, and connections to other popular networks and services (such as Internet and MCI) through a single interface. You can even send the same letter to 50 different people with the click of a button. The $8.95 monthly charge provides 180 single-page E-mail letters (or 60 three-page letters) for free.

What other features does CompuServe offer?

In addition to basic services, CompuServe has more than 600 special-interest forums on topics ranging from health, investment, and music to pets, religion, sailing, and writing. Included are more than 250 computer hardware and software forums, with some 400 computer industry vendors ready to provide on-line help with their products. It also has 4,000 soft ware libraries and 2,000 databases (including Phone*File, a national phone directory not found anywhere else) that users can access. In addition, CompuServe has full-text articles from more than 200 magazines and 60 newspapers.

Magazines available on-line include publications like Better Homes and Gardens, Car and Driver, Changing Times, Computer Shopper, Country Living, Forbes, Home Office Computing, Outdoor Life, Parents, PC Magazine, PC Week, Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, Psychology Today, Road and Track, Science, Scientific American, Smithsonian, Sports Afield, Time, and U.S. News and World Report. Some of the 60 different newspapers available on-line include the Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, San Francisco Chronicle, Seattle Times, and the Washington Post.

What does the SDA forum contain?

Like the other 600 forums on CompuServe, the SDA forum has 17 sections. Each of those 17 sections has a message area, a library area, and a conference room. (See "The SDAs On-line Forum" sidebar.)

The library for Section 11 (SDA Magazines), for example, will contain full-text feature articles from Adventist Review, El Centinela, Liberty, Message, Signs of the Times, and Vibrant Life. The articles will date back to January 1, 1994, and will be updated monthly. Ministry magazine articles, on the other hand, will be found in the Section 10 library (Pastoral Practics) and will go back three years at first eventually 10 for research purposes. Not everything published in the above magazines (except Ministry) will be on-line, but certainly all their feature articles.

In the Bookstore (Section 14) you can place orders for books and magazines directly through to your local ABC, or even to the Review and Herald and Pacific Press. You also can read announcements and details about new books from both of the publishing houses.

The library for Section 1 (Adventist News) will contain Adventist News Network releases, From the President (a weekly news report from the GC president), the GC Communique (weekly news from inside the General Conference), Annual Council statements as soon as they are voted, and other late-breaking church news items.

Section 2's library (Bible/Science/ Theology) will contain creationism articles and scientific papers from the Geoscience Research Institute, 60 different papers from the Biblical Research Institute, plus resources from Andrews University Theological Seminary.

Section 3's library (Church Resources) will contain a large variety of materials from the North American Division headquarters for children, youth, adults, elders, Pathfinders, prison ministry, reclaiming, singles ministry, Sabbath school, and Net 95.

Section 6's library (Finance) will contain annual financial statements, GC and NAD calendar of offerings, GC and NAD annual budgets, NAD tithe by conferences, 13th Sabbath offerings, annual offering funds, GC session offerings, etc.

The library for Section 7 (General Info/Facts) will contain the latest SDA Yearbook, the 1994 Calendar of Events and Offerings, 800 numbers for the denomination, fax numbers for the denomination, the departmental portion of the new GC directory, ready-to-use photos of church leaders, etc.

How will the forum work?

In addition to sending E-mail messages to another user (messages that only you and the recipient can read), CompuServe forums let users post messages for anyone to see and, of course, reply to. In the message areas of each forum, members may post a message, make a statement, or raise a question about any topic they choose. For example, someone might ask in Section 5 (Ellen G. White), "Is it true that Ellen White published a special pamphlet on the Nashville Sanitarium shortly before she died?" Tim Poirier of the Ellen G. White Estate, who is the section leader in charge of Section 5, would reply, "Yes, that pamphlet is number 18 of Series B of the Special Testimonies and was published in 1912. It can be downloaded from Section 5 of the forum library, if you like." His message would also include the name of the file to be down loaded. Other items planned for the EGW section library include issue-and-answer papers, EGW articles, out-of-print books and pamphlets, and other CD-ROM books and materials.

In a typical forum, lots of users just love to sit on the sidelines and browse the forum sections finding answers to questions they haven't even yet thought to ask. The electronic nickname for people who read but rarely post questions is lurker. In some forums, more than 70 percent of the users are lurkers. It's like listening on a phone extension while others converse on various topics.

How can I join the SDA forum?

It's easy to join in North America just call (800) 260-7171, overseas callers use (616) 471-6083. To join CompuServe, you'll need a credit card (VISA or MasterCard) and you must know which PC platform you plan to use to access the forum Windows, DOS, or Macintosh. The Adventist Information Ministry at Andrews University will then bill your account $15 and mail you a packet with CompuServe Information Manager soft ware and instructions. When the soft ware arrives, turn on your computer and follow the instructions for signing up to CompuServe. The New Member Sign-up card enclosed in your packet will include a serial number, a temporary ID number, and a temporary pass word. A few days later you will receive a permanent ID and password in the mail.

When you join the forum, CompuServe gives you a $15 credit toward on-line usage beyond the basic services. They also provide free of cost your first month of basic services ($8.95) and SDA forum usage ($7). So you spend $15 but end up getting back more than $30 worth of on-line credit.

Conferences, unions, and church institutions planning to order 10 or more software packets at a time get a significant discount. Contact the GC Communication Department office at (301) 680-6300.

Is the forum membership limited to Adventists?

Of course not. Any pastor or church leader from any denomination can join the forum and access all the forum features. While the forum is intended primarily as a service to the Adventist Church, church leaders in other de nominations are always welcome.

How can I access the SDA forum?

On CompuServe, forums are accessed by typing GO and the forum name, and pressing Enter. For the SDA forum, you type GO SDA and press Enter.

If you have the CompuServe In formation Manager software in a Windows or Macintosh version, you click the green traffic light icon, type SDA, then click OK. The first time you visit the forum you will see a message from the forum sysop (the forum director) telling about the forum and listing the section leaders in charge of the various sections.

Can I really talk with the GC president on-line?

Last January, Albert Gore became the first U.S. vice president to answer questions live on-line. He used a CompuServe conference room, and some 900 CompuServe users from all over the world took part in making electronic history. As they waited for Gore, many users posted questions they would like to have answered by the vice president. Selected questions appeared on everyone's computer screen. As the vice president typed each line of an answer and pressed Enter, that line appeared on all 900 monitors simultaneously. During the hour-long town hall meeting, the vice president answered about 20 questions.

As of this writing, plans are under way for Robert S. Folkenberg, the General Conference president, to be the first Adventist president to conduct a live town hall meeting on the CompuServe information superhighway.

Get hooked up Most people who take a test drive on the information superhighway agree that once you have tried it, you will become hooked. You will enjoy talking and sharing sermons with fellow pastors and church workers all over the world. You will appreciate chatting with the editor of your favorite SDA magazine, a professor at one of our colleges or universities, or a departmental leader at your own local conference office. You will find weekly current event updates for the Sabbath school lessons on-line that will help you teach a class on Sabbath morning. 2

It is truly a world that can stretch your horizons, sharpen your pastoral skills, and help you to be a more productive pastor and church leader. If you want a ride on tomorrow's information superhighway today, warm up your modem, dial your local CompuServe access number, and hop aboard. You can do it right now.

1. Interested ministers from other denominations are also welcome to join the forum.

2. During mid-April when this article was written, the features and services cited were in the planning and developmental stage. By the time the forum opens in July, new features may be added and planned features delayed because of the shortage of time and/or resources.

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Ralph Blodgett is assistant director, General Conference Communication Department, and sysop for the Adventists Online on CompuServe.

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