Deadline for nominations: February 15, 2010
Outstanding web projects initiated by individuals or groups that demonstrate courage, energy and resourcefulness in using the Internet to promote freedom of expression.
Names of nominees:
Andy Sorfleet & Will Pritchard (partners)
Type of nomination: Individuals
Project is the result of the collaboration of two individuals. Their organization (known as the "Walnet Institute") is informal and has not been incorporated. Their organization's name and trademark (in use since 1995) have not been registered in British Columbia or elsewhere in Canada.
Walnet Institute (http://walnet.org)
Nominees' country or region of activity:
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Nominees' contact information:
Walnet Institute (c/o Andy Sorfleet)
Andy Sorfleet (self-nomination)
Nominating person's contact information:
Same as nominee's.
This activists' website project is an on-line tool created and developed to encourage political change, by opposing suppression and censorship of marginalized views regarding sexuality.
Goals of the Walnet Institute
The Walnet Institute aims to build a vast, informative and resourceful website that will:
Insidious Internet censorship
In July 2007, I was contacted by a sales representative from our U.S.-based Internet service provider (Digital Forest), who advised me that there was explicit sexual content on Walnet.org which the company did not allow. He was referring to "Trailboys" a web 'zine which featured photography of solo nude male models as well as erotic stories and explicit sexual health information for guys who enjoy sex outdoors. If I didn't comply and remove the site in question within 90 days, they would be forced terminate web-hosting services for walnet.org, and close my account.
I was informed that the company has always had a policy to refuse any business that involved hosting "Adult Content" websites. I asked why I had never been informed of this policy, since the Trailboys website had existed without notice for nearly eight years. Eventually it the sales representative admitted that the explicit content had only recently come to their attention. In the end, we were fortunate enough to find web-hosting services which better suited our needs, right here in Vancouver and, we were even offered better rates!
How the Walnet Institute Came to Be
A blurb about Walnet
My partner and I (with enthusiastic support from well-known anti-censorship activist and close friend, Chris Bearchell) used the name "Freedom Through Information Society" when we first registered the domain name, "walnet.org" on October 10, 1995. We decided later to call our collaborative Internet initiative, "The Walnet Institute." Walnet became the soul venue for all of our on-line artistic and activist endeavours including many contributions from other close friends. The Sex Workers Alliance of Vancouver launched the Commercial Sex Information Service (CSIS), and SWAV and CSIS became the first two websites to reside at Walnet.org. Now home to 16 individual websites, Walnet.org today hosts more than 3,710 webpages. To date Walnet.org has not received public money or other charitable funding.
Origin & background details
In January 1995, Chris Bearchell and I moved to Vancouver from Toronto where we had both been working for Maggie's, The Toronto Prostitutes' Community Service Project. Founded in 1986, Maggie's was the very first sex-worker-run education project in Canada. Incorporated in Ontario as a non-profit charitable organization, Maggie's provided information about health promotion, AIDS and STD prevention, Canadian law, and dangerous clients to sex workers. Maggie's was also the only prostitutes' organization ever registered for tax exemption status with Revenue Canada, allowing us to issue receipts for charitable donations used for federal income tax deductions.
In November 1990 Maggie's had identified three specific problems prostitutes faced which involved the police: difficulty reporting assaults; police entrapment tactics during arrests ("sweeps"); and police harassment. One of the objectives (suggested by Will Pritchard) Maggie's adopted to address these concerns was to develop and publish a legal primer for prostitutes that would explain in plain English Canada's criminal laws that make selling sexual services illegal and the various law enforcement practices employed by different police forces.
In July 1992, an initial draft of a legal primer was produced with help from a law student, Sylvia Davis. Davis was enrolled in special program of University of Toronto's Law School, created for students to earn credit towards their law degree by working on a legal project with a charitable organization. Eventually Maggie's legal primer project received a grant of $9,260 (for printing costs only) from the Women's Directorate (Government of Ontario). Several drafts were written over several years before a final version of the text and illustrations was proofread by over 40 volunteers and their feedback incorporated. The layout and prepress production that followed took Chris and I an estimated 1,000 hours of volunteer work. Then, finally, Trials of the Sex Trade: A survival guide to Canada's legal jungle was ready to publish.
December 1994 Chris and I booked the printer and delivered the series of six booklets to Maggie's board of directors. Some board members of Maggie's, however, felt uncomfortable with some of the content and images. In particular, their concerns were that one of the booklets Who's Jailbait? What the law really says about sex for young people was both too controversial and too explicit. It was stated that the issue of sex for young people was beyond Maggie's mandate ("to provide education and support to assist sex workers in their efforts to live and work with safety and dignity"). Publishing Who's Jailbait? could negatively impact the organization's reputation, and hurt it's ability to accomplish it's objectives.
This internal controversy stemmed from a new (1993) federal child pornography law which prohibited any sexually-explicit representation of a person who appears to be under the age of 18. This included all types of images and writing even drawings and works of art. Publishing this booklet would make Maggie's board of directors vulnerable to criminal charges. Already Maggie's was involved in defending young male sex workers who were being targetted by police under this new law. The board passed a motion to halt printing Trials of the Sex Trade, putting the project on hold indefinitely.
Chris and I went ahead with our plans to move West, taking Trials of the Sex Trade with us. Together, we were determined to publish the legal primer ourselves, independent of Maggie's. We decided to call ourselves the "Freedom Through Information Society" for this purpose. Once we were established in Vancouver, Chris and I proceeded to get a small run of the booklets printed Trials of the Sex Trade became one of the first educational materials published and distributed by the Sex Workers Alliance of Vancouver (SWAV). I took on the role of coordinator for SWAV, which I retained until 2005 when the group finally disbanded.
Summer of 1995, I got a temporary graphic design job at the Science Council of British Columbia. While working there I discovered Hypertext the new medium of tag=based codes for the World-Wide Web which was quickly gaining mainstream popularity. (Network Solutions ("Internic.net") was awarded a contract with the U.S. National Science Foundation to register domain names in 1993.) I began to experiment creating webpages. Right from the start, it was clear to me that Hypertext was the perfect artform for communicating my activism. On July 13, 1995, I uploaded my first website the "Sex Workers Alliance of Vancouver" for the whole World-Wide Web to see, and I was hooked.
Walnet Institute's Worldly Influence
With now more than 3,710 interesting things to read, Walnet.org has served over 27,691,183 pages on the World-Wide Web since October 1995.
Get an audience & grow popular!
During Walnet's first 15 months on-line (from December 1995 - March 1997), we served 246,094 page views. In 1997 Walnet served another 389,369 pages a significant increase in website traffic. Despite that there were only server access logs for eight months in 1998, Walnet still showed nearly double the total number of page views (738,661) than the previous year. In 1999 Walnet's annual total number of pages served doubled again with 1,518,405 page requests.
Walnet.org traffic statistics
Reach readers & gain influence
What's most interesting about analysing website traffic statistics is the ability to calculate total number of requests for a specific page. Monitoring the popularity of individual webpages to determine whether or not certain pages are in high demand could prove that our atttempts to influence public opinion on-line are actually successful.
A model example "Prostitution in Canada"
Take for example, Prostitution in Canada: Invisible Menace or Menace of Invisibility? by Sylvia Davis. This webpage provides an excellent sample for analyzing reader demand. This most thorough and well-written essay on decriminalizing prostitution was never published in print and is available only from Walnet.org (where it was first published, with permission, November 23, 1995).
In this article, Davis expertly outlines why making prostitution a crime has not and will never protect prostitutes from harm, or protect the public from the "effects" of prostitution. She examines the theories behind the main legislative approaches to prostitution criminalization, abolition and regulation. Specifically, her paper focuses on Canada how its approach to prostitution is defective, what alternative reforms are available, which of these would be most effective and how they might best be implemented. This is ideal course material for educating criminology students and an excellent reference for informing sociologists' research on Canada's justice system, as well as law enforcement policies.
Notably, Prostitution in Canada is perhaps the only file that has consistently rated as one of Walnet's top 20 requested webpages continuausly from December 1995 to January 2010. In 1996, the total number of requests for the "Prostitution in Canada" webpage was 3,178.
Over a period of approximately 13 years between 1996 and January 2010 the Prostitution in Canada webpage was downloaded from Walnet.org more than 382,626 times. Compare those statistics to the number of times an article published in an average university textbook gets read. Take into account also that academic texts often have smaller print runs, limited distribution and shorter shelf-life expectancy. These page-request statistics indicate that website publishing offers a huge capacity for measurable exposure to audience and probable results of positive influence.
Webpage access reports (archives)
Evidence of effect: Citations
In addition to citations in countless academic research papers, Prostitution in Canada has also been included as both reference and resource in law reform policy papers in Canada and internationally:
Kudos & Recommendations
The Blue Maxwell Award
"I'm pleased to let you know that you have been awarded The Blue Maxwell for your page. :) I'm sure you've never heard of it as I just invented it day before yesterday, but I did it to fill a real need. Most Web 'Awards' are for popularity, or design, or sheer brute traffic. I saw a need for an award for old-fashioned courage "
Bob King, April 29, 1996
Walnet goes to College
A Canadian college textbook on human sexuality had this to say about the Walnet's Commercial Sex Information Service:
"This is about as traditional and honourable a website as one is likely to click across.Its homepage is a bit raunchy, but compared with XXX-rated homepages, it looks like Mom and apple pie. CSIS does offer information about local and some not-so-local massage parlours and escort services But it also offers legal and medical information intended to help prostitutes and other sex workers (such as updates on efforts to have prostitution redefined as sex work)." Human Sexuality in a world of Diversity (Canadian Edition). By Spencer A. Rathus, Jeffrey S. Nevid, Lois Fichner-Rathus, Edward S. Herold. Pearson Education Canada Inc. Toronto, 2004 (p. 598)
Walnet finds 'Some Kindred Spirits'
"Some Kindred Spirits," Eating Fire: Family Life, on the Queer Side. By Michael Riordon. Between the Lines: Toronto, 2001 (Chapter 18, pp. 180-193)
Hall of Fame for Canada's Hookers
"Hall of fame for Canada's hookers." By Tom Godfrey, Toronto Sun, Tuesday, June 6, 2000
'Jane Doe' featured in U.K. Lesbian Style
An article about Fiona Stewart in the British magazine, DIVA calls the Jane Doe website "a labour of love" and concludes that:
"The Jane Doe website is another such memorial one that is explicit and astonishingly detailed Part archive and part scrapbook, formed of equal parts love and the desire for retribution, their memorial to her is a vehicle for ongoing vigilance, education and accountability and a fitting tribute to an amazing woman."
"Jane Doe: Unmasking a Heroine." By Chris Bearchell. DIVA: Lesbian Life & Style, December 1999, No. 43. (http://www.divamag.co.uk)
Walnet Advocates For Change
"City web designer behind panhandling spoof." By Alison Appelbe, Vancouver Courier, Sunday, September 20, 1998
Websites listing Walnet resources
Aside from the countless citations of numerous articles and reports hosted at Walnet, there are also many websites that list Walnet.org as an Internet resource. Here's what some of them had to say:
References: People who know Walnet well
Walnet Creation Chronology
Created: February 12, 2010
Last modified: February 25, 2010
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