Origins of SAIN - Why? How? When?

SAIN was established in 1988 as a public service of the St. Andrew Armenian Church, Silicon Valley, USA. It was setup as the first Armenian Electronic Bulletin Board and subsequently became the first Armenian cyber-domain, registered as www.sain.org. SAIN is the St. Andrew Information Network

SAIN dedicated providing a virtual Armenian community where information is shared and used by users without regard to geographic boundaries. SAIN is dedicated to the first disciple of Jesus Christ, St. Andrew the Apostle.

History of SAIN
(written in 1995)
SAIN: The sharing of information with a virtual community
by Fr. Vazken Movsesian

In a time long ago, before cyberspace and before 56K modems, before the popularity of the internet and before Pentiums and Mac System 8, before WWW, Mosaic and Net Cruisers and Explorer, when system software resided on a single floppy, there was born the idea of an Armenian information network.

On the night of December 7, 1988 we were following the evening news when we heard about the tragedy in Armenia. The information coming to us in California was sketchy: a major earthquake in Armenia; thousands of causalities; the country in ruins; Gorbachev ending short his visit to the U.S. to return and assess the situation.

That night, I logged into my GEnie and AppleLink accounts (the big services of the day) and scanned the news services. The details were beginning to fill the gaps. With the information at our finger tips, we worked into the night preparing press releases, background information so by morning, our parish, the St. Andrew Armenian Church in Cupertino became the center for Armenian earthquake relief in the South Bay area.

In the weeks that followed, we witnessed the disfunctionality of the general Armenian community in organizing a united relief effort to the homeland. It was only obvious that given computer technology and the speed of information transfer we had a tool that could help us achieve a united front. If information and news was readily available through electronic forums, why not share this information with Armenians and Armenian organizations to increase our effectiveness as a community? The idea was simple: Armenian organizations with a goal of helping the greater community would share information in an electronic forum. It was fast, convenient and available. We could be cognizant of each others efforts, avoid duplication of those efforts and share ideas for assistance. And so, in January 1989 SAIN, the St. Andrew Information Network was launched.

SAIN began with an Apple IIe computer, a 1200 baud modem ("fast" according to the standards of the day), and a bbs program written in Apple BASIC sitting on a 5MB hard drive (yes, that's five!). The bbs would operate during non-business hours, making use of the church's phone line. The system included local e-mail, messaging and file areas. By August of that year, there were enough users sharing information that the church agreed to dedicate a phone line and SAIN operated for 24 hour/day and has continued since being on-line 365 days of the year.
Since those early years, SAIN has grown as has the entire world of telecommunications. Today it runs on a PC, with 500 MB of file area, sporting internet connectivity and a host of other features which make it uniquely an Armenian bulletin board system. More than an exercise in technology, the SAIN experience has presented challenges which need addressing by our community. I wish to share with the readers a few thoughts on the use of technology particularly for the Armenian community.

The concept of SAIN has not changed over the past seven years. It continues to operate free of charge, as a community service of the St. Andrew Armenian Church, for the free and unrestricted flow of information of all things Armenian. It is a reservoir of Armenian information. SAIN carries Groong and Hayastan mailing lists, usenet groups but unlike these services, SAIN has the advantage of archiving. It maintains static files which can be retrieved via the internet through the archive server (remote ftp). Whereas an article on a mailing list may be valuable to the person reading it, it is lost in the abyss of cyberspace if it is not captured. SAIN allows for the preservation of documents. Articles and publications of Armenian interest are stored on SAIN and can be retrieved by the student, the researcher, or anyone who has access to a phone line. In essence, SAIN can be seen as a remote hard drive filled with Armenian information.

The vision for SAIN is a singular one: creating and maintaining a virtual Armenian community where information is shared and used by users without regard to geographic boundaries. One of the early users of SAIN was a man from Louisiana, who, isolated from Armenians, found SAIN as his only means of interfacing and communicating with fellow Armenians. Users have logged on from as far away as Armenia, Norway, Germany, Italy and Turkey. Today, SAIN is used heavily as a tool by the St. Andrew parish in organizing its activities. The newsletter is gathered from sources on line, arrangements for weddings and baptisms are made via SAIN. Parish organizations such as the ACYO, Homenetmen and Parish Council communicate through this medium. Two years ago, the Armenian School students at the church initiated a "e-pals" program whereby they would communicate with other Armenian students throughout the world.

The SAIN experience has not been without its hang-ups (no pun intended). Soon after SAIN began operating, we learned the concept of "sharing" was foreign to Armenians. In fact, we struggled to find the Armenian word for "share," for use in our Armenian language promotions and found it non existent. (The Armenian words are descriptive of "share" but far from the equal give-and-take as implied in the word.) When we began posting articles and information on SAIN two questions surfaces: why? and who's? Why were we willing to share information? Who's information is it, i.e., who's name was going to be attached to the information? The second question is a vital one, particularly in light of evolving information technologies and worthy of serious discussion for a maturing on-line community.

The issue of information ownership surfaced early on during our work at SAIN and could explain an unwillingness to share. To maintain a professional standard, we go to great extents to document information and respect authorship. Admittedly, one of the problems SAIN had was inherent in its name and association with a church. In the early days when the name SAIN surfaced, immediately flags went up as to the motives and credibility of such an enterprise. Information is power and the name which appears on the information holds the power. In a brief analysis, we can surmise that the reluctance to share comes from our collective consciousness as a community. It seems that by giving away information we lose a hold on power and we fall short of assisting the goals and aspirations of the community at large. With the popularity of on-line services and electronic publications, the threat of sharing is not as great today.

Nevertheless, it is still a concern for the Armenian community. The Armenian community, electronic and otherwise, is rising to a point where common goals can (and should) outweigh parochial aspirations. This maturation process is a slow one, but vital for the effective operations of any communal work.

Furthermore, the added value of electronic communications is that it opens the world to the Armenian community and visa versa. Some of the most enduring contributions made to SAIN come from the non-Armenian community. For instance, one congressional aid in Washington D.C., hearing of SAIN, called in a with volumes of articles about the Armenian Genocide resolution. That information is stored and archived for others to use. There is a wealth of information which is calling to be used and shared. In sharing we broaden our horizons as an Armenian community. Through modern technology we have an opportunity to reach beyond the Armenian world and become part of the larger community, offering history and a unique insight into the world from an Armenian perspective. But first comes our willingness to move beyond our ethnocentricity.

Information has to be pure and unadulterated to maintain an intrinsic value for the end user. Today, there are volumes written about Armenians in electronic format. What appears on Groong is of obvious value, but beyond it there is the college student who prepares a term paper, the programmer who creates a font or an Armenian game, there is the poet who reflects feelings, there is the scribe who translates a song, all of which should be archived and shared by the greater Armenian community. SAIN is that opportunity. SAIN invites all these electronic creations to be part of the SAIN library of files. At the same time, SAIN invites users to log on and access these files. Today we have the technology to bring people together, to share ideas and opinions, not only for the sake of exchange, but also to produce.

During the seven years of SAIN operations we have hit many stumbling blocks and reasons to abandon the project. The details are not within the scope of this article. Suffice it to say, that each obstacle has presented us with a new challenge. As the Armenian on-line community expands, there will be new challenges which will call for innovative solutions. We don't make any grand claims about SAIN. All in all, SAIN is an electronic bulletin board system, with a focused agenda of all matters pertaining to Armenians. SAIN has never been more than a tool for achieving a goal-- providing information. At the same time, SAIN is a vision. It strives to bring Armenians together through an electronic forum. Thanks to a supportive church community, and by virtue of being in America's Silicon Valley, it has pioneered avenues of information sharing. Plans are underway to broaden the scope of SAIN, but resources and funding are its a biggest handicap.

Today, SAIN no longer operates as a bulletin board. It resides on a server and can be accessed via the web. The invitation is always open. The best way to experience SAIN is to simply log in or to use the archive-server to up/download a file. The possibilities are as endless as our creativity. We hope that people will avail themselves of this service.

VITAL STATS SAIN: St. Andrew Information Network Registered Domain: sain.org
Founder: Fr. Vazken Movsesian; Sysop: Roupen Nahabedian

(article written in 1995 for a journal of Armenian information technologies)

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