Through a mesh network first launched in November 2011 through a local nonprofit, residents after the storm were able to alert people to their needs over social media and check up on relatives. Access is limited and the network could, at the time, support only about 100-150 connections simultaneously. But in the wake of a disaster that created a new camaraderie in Manhattan around cellphone charging stations and free wifi, New Yorkers can appreciate that when the neighborhood goes dark, even a scrap of a link to the outside world is better than nothing.
One of the primary ideas behind IBM’s Smarter Planet concept is a web of sensors all over the planet, leading to a data explosion. But what if that web of sensors was more directly under the public’s control? Strategic forecast consultant Chris Arkbenberg hits on an interesting idea in a recent blog post. He muses on the idea of using mobile phones for grid computing, a la SETI@home, to create massive distributed supercomputers for processing all of this data. “Consider the processing power latent across a city of 20 million mobile subscribers, such as Tokyo,” he writes.
Arkenberg takes the idea further by suggesting that sensors could be built into mobile phones that could monitor air quality or act as a sort of distributed surveillance system. The possibilities are endless. “Consider what could be done with an API for addressing clusters of mobile sensors,” he writes.
Contact is an unconference organized by Douglas Rushkoff on the subject of building new, government-less Internets. The event will be held in New York City on October 20 2011.
Here’s part of Rushkoff’s explanation of the event:
At the epicenter of CONTACT will be the Bazaar – a free-form marketplace of ideas, demos, haggling, and ad-hoc connections. If you have visited the Akihabara, Tokyo’s ultra-vibrant open-air electronics market, or the under-the-highway open-air jade market of Kowloon, or even the Burning Man festival, you understand the power of combining commerce, physical location, and serendipity. A decidedly unstructured counterpart to the convened meetings, solo provocations, and the MeetUpEverywheres, the Bazaar will bring p2p to life, encouraging introductions, brokering, deal-making, food-tasting, and propositions of every kind. It is where the social, business, political, and spiritual agendas merge into one big human agenda.
Contact will hope to revive the spirit of optimism and infinite possibility of the early cyber-era, folding the edges of this culture back to the middle. Social media has come to be understood as little more than a marketing opportunity. We see it as quite possibly the catalyst for the next stage of human evolution and, at the very least, a way to restore p2p value exchange and decentralized innovation to the realms of culture, commerce and government.
Content was never king. Contact is. Please join us, and find the others.
You’ll only hear my voice, though, we didn’t do live video in. I’m talking about the subjects raised in my government-less Internet series. I start about 11:57 minutes in, and I’m followed by Johnny Diggz of Tropo and Geeks Without Bounds who talks about some of the more practical, boots on the ground type stuff people are doing to keep communications networks working during emergencies.
I wrote about three different projects that are working to create a government-less Internet over at ReadWriteWeb:
In Cory Doctorow’s young adult novel Little Brother, the protagonist starts an wireless ad-hoc network, called X-Net, in response to a government crack-down on civil liberties. The characters use gaming systems with mesh networking equipment built-in to share files, exchange message and make plans.
The Internet blackout in Egypt, which we’ve been covering, touches on an issue we’ve raised occasionally here: the control of governments (and corporations) over the Internet (and by extension, the cloud). One possible solution, discussed by geeks for years, is the creation of wireless ad-hoc networks like the one in Little Brother to eliminate the need for centralized hardware and network connectivity. It’s the sort of technology that’s valuable not just for insuring both freedom of speech (not to mention freedom of commerce – Egypt’s Internet blackout can’t be good for business), but could be valuable in emergencies such as natural disasters as well.
Here are a few projects working to create such networks.
Of course the Internet was never truly free, bottom-up, decentralized, or chaotic. Yes, it may have been designed with many nodes and redundancies for it to withstand a nuclear attack, but it has always been absolutely controlled by central authorities. From its Domain Name Servers to its IP addresses, the Internet depends on highly centralized mechanisms to send our packets from one place to another.
The ease with which a Senator can make a phone call to have a website such as Wikileaks yanked from the net mirrors the ease with which an entire top-level domain, like say .ir, can be excised. And no, even if some smart people jot down the numeric ip addresses of the websites they want to see before the names are yanked, offending addresses can still be blocked by any number of cooperating government and corporate trunks, relays, and ISPs. That’s why ministers in China finally concluded (in cables released by Wikileaks, no less) that the Internet was “no threat.” […]
Back in 1984, long before the Internet even existed, many of us who wanted to network with our computers used something called FidoNet. It was a super simple way of having a network – albeit an asynchronous one.
One kid (I assume they were all kids like me, but I’m sure there were real adults doing this, too) would let his computer be used as a “server.” This just meant his parents let him have his own phone line for the modem. The rest of us would call in from our computers (one at a time, of course) upload the stuff we wanted to share and download any email that had arrived for us. Once or twice a night, the server would call some other servers in the network and see if any email had arrived for anyone with an account on his machine. Super simple.
I just interviewed J Chris Anderson, the CFO of CouchOne, for ReadWriteWeb. CouchOne is the corporate sponsor of an open source database and programming language called CouchDB. Anderson recently started hosting a demo/proof of concept app called Twebz – a decentralized Twitter Client – built with CouchDB and node.js. Anderson explains how CouchDB could be used to decentralize not only Twitter, but most other web applications as well. It’s pretty geeky but could have big ramifications: This tech could help build a more resilient Internet in the face of disasters, cyberwarfare and censorship.
The aim is to allow you to interact with Twitter when Twitter is up and you are online. But if Twitter is down for maintenance or you are in the middle of nowhere, you can still tweet. And when you can reach Twitter again, it will go through.
If lots of folks are using it, then they can see each other’s tweets come in even when Twitter is down.
Mostly the goal was to show the way on how to integrate CouchDB with web services and APIs.
So if you did release this, and people started using it, and then one day Twitter decided “We’re done. We’re going to go raise pigs in the Ozarks,” Twebz would actually still be up and running fine basically forever and everyone could keep reading each other’s Tweets.
Yep. And as a side effect you have a complete personal Twitter archive of the folks you follow.
There’s even a feature to pull in the complete history of a user, so you can get the back fill of your closest friends if you want. […]
Could CouchDB and Node be used in conjunction to create some sort of decentralized darknet? Something along the lines of Freenet?
Node is a good fit for CouchDB because Couch encourages asynchronous background processes, but people also use Ruby / Python / Java for the same purposes. But yes, eventually the plan is that CouchDB will make web applications a lot more robust because they will no longer depend on a centralized point of failure. E.g., even if Twitter goes out of business, people can continue to share messages.
The turnover of Web 2.0 startups is so fast that I think users get discouraged from signing up for services. Why bother with a new photo share if there’s a chance it won’t be around in a year? But when those are CouchApps, users can continue to use them even if no one is maintaining them, which makes it more rational to invest time in using them. Imagine if Pownce or Dodgeball were still being run by fans.