After discussions with Red Hook community members, the idea of a tangible map interface began to emerge. To start thinking about how items can “drop” in to the map, with the possibility of layers or other pseudo 3d elements, I cut out pieces that indirectly resembled a Jean Arp piece…

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temporary…too fast/not well done for now.

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The first version of the interface is a placeholder site, with a simple image that represents Red Hook (The “R” billboard), with news & announcements, followed by a free form shoutbox that asks different questions for feedback from the community that uses the network (“What do you think of the project?” which garnered a wide range of responses, not all positive. The current question is “Do you have any ideas for local websites or apps that would benefit Red Hook residents?”

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Download (PDF, 1.97MB)


Thesis Journal

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Thesis Proposal Presentation

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Laura Forlano:

“the use of skype is the most interesting example in the 6-7 years, where non profits groups that needed to save money, people that lived far away from their families, specific groups had really clear needs for low cost telecommunications service for those that have a computer and a connection to the Internet”

“if the sign on process and usability is intuitive enough, you can use it and have a need, then you’re likely to use. the problem with community networks and wireless mesh networks is that they don’t have this usable layer. ”

“how does issues of privacy or security work in a community network?”

“in terms of mapping onto user needs or what is the best use case”

“in disaster situations, there’s the mesh protocol, where you are less depedent on centralized infrastrucutre, which is what we thought after hurricane katrina, lots of people going down to work on mesh protocols, people from CISCO, NYCwireless board memebers”

“if you have people sharing other things, a group of families sharing a car, eco housing or co housing situations people are sharing daycare ”

“if you find communities that are already involved in a sharing economy, then that could be a likely place where community wireless networks would be an obvious asset”

“once social layer is developed, more easy, not that hard to find communities that see value in that.”

“in new york…not interested in sharing, not part of living life, maybe at work or with friends, tend to be individualistic, that could change based on residential design”

“singnaling to people where there are similarities, their differences” —> fridge

berlin residential , cancelled freifunk “network wasn’t offering additional content or services or something of value that would keep you there”

do people in community network interact in real world?
—-> “absolutely ” “because of the physical equipment involved in building networks, climbing on roofs, putting up antennas, building cantennas, every network has weekly or monthly meetings” -> happen in specific geographic areas where people come together

negative activity: people hogging bandwidth

—> some activity cause people to worry: nycwireless, pornography on network, network in park can’t do anything, once someone ordered 20 pizzas
—> security concerns

“the national landderail” – > “we already have a lot of the bandwidth we need, we already have the network we need” -> we aren’t using the public network as efficiently, universities hooked in but not community wireless -> kada commons network

Rui Aguiar, coordinator of: Advanced Telecommunications and Networks Group

“motivations we had for a user-centric approach, was to radically depart from this bias approach that the operators have ”

“tried to imagine a society where there are no big players, so could we devise the technology to empwoer the users so they can control their own communications environment.” -> the answer was “yes, we can devise technology for that”

what has been challenge:
“try to bring that user empowerment into the more traditional, let’s say more economically viable vision that the telecom operators, big manufacturers are trying to push”

“we do understand that there is ” -> “the society we have is such, that we cannot go to a fully user centric communication environment – there are no economical incentives for doing that, there is no way you can deploy this expecting user organization to do this, will only work in small communities”

“the time where the internet was just good guys, has disapperead”

“we cannot build again”

“there are lessons we can learn about what technology allows us, ”

“how can we keep on pushing the user to have more power, and still do this in such a way to be viable in the future”

“if you can use ‘free’

“technology is a huge amplifier” “how long does it take ”

Alison Powell

What do you think are the most critical social hurdles involved in setting up and running a community wireless network? Do these hurdles change over time as the network matures? Is entropy inevitable?

I think these hurdles vary by location. At the time I was researching, getting the networks to function technically was a big hurdle. Over time the biggest hurdle became sustainability and the nature of the partnerships that secured the funding and support for the network. In the other areas around Montreal, the organizations didn’t struggle as much with the technical side. And of course, entropy (in human terms) is inevitable. Volunteer run organizations or community based projects always struggle with attrition, as people move on and change their lives and jobs.

Should governments, businesses or the people directly fund community network infrastructure? How does individual and group autonomy play into these infrastructure policies?

In practice, the answer varies, and in the past, has depended on a number of things: the purpose of the network (connectivity, social enterprise, fun open-source project, community start-up, municipally funded utility), where the idea came from to invest in the network in the first place, where the resources are located for sustainability, etc.

“should” is a normative question. it depends on the goals of the network. If it’s a hacker network just for fun, maybe it shouldn’t be funded in the same way as a large public-interest network. And of course in between there are numerous hybrids that are possible.

Do you feel that local network software should be developed from within a community, to address the specific needs of said community? Or, is providing a basic framework with the ability for limitless local customization a better approach?
Again, it depends. “better” for what? Functionality?

What do you think are the most critical social hurdles involved in setting up and running a community wireless network? Do these hurdles change over time as the network matures? Is entropy inevitable?

Should governments, businesses or the people directly fund community network infrastructure? How does individual and group autonomy play into these infrastructure policies?

Do you feel that local network software should be developed from within a community, to address the specific needs of said community? Or, is providing a basic framework with the ability for limitless local customization a better approach?

Again, better for what? A basic framework is more functional, but many communities I’ve been in touch with enjoy the challenge of making something their own. As most networks built for access purposes are now based on a small number of frameworks, much of the innovative thrill of community networking has moved to investigating mobile and mesh networks. If the purpose is to provide connectivity in somewhere unconnected though, there are a number of basic frameworks (including proprietary tools) that people use and have used.

Have you ever noticed any unexpected uses for software tools on community networks, not in the original design?
My favorite anecdote is of a user I interviewed telling me how he used the community network’s ‘chat page’ that listed all network members online in a specific location as a proxy for the likely download speed in that location. he’d then avoid places where lots of other people were using the networks.

What kinds of communication or exchange have you seen occur most frequently on networks?
Not sure what you mean by this – what do people use WiFi networks for? Many of the same things they use 3G networks for, or other public access networks. In Montreal around 2005, lots of freelance work, some studying. Some online video, but Facebook wasn’t really popular at that time, nor Twitter. The bandwidth was limited by user, so rarely anything really high bandwidth like Skype. One of the things that the local community tried to do was get people to interact with each other online when they were in the same space, but that didn’t ever seem to take off (see above). The idea was that you would see avatars and could click through to profiles of the people using the same network as you. It was an idea far beyond its time, but I never found anyone who had used it to communicate, although many people recognized ‘familiar strangers’ in their favorite locations.

Aside from WiFi Dog and the various visual arts and music programs seeded over the Île Sans Fil network, have any other localized or cultural tools emerged from the networks you’ve studied?
The current partnership with the city government means that there are local pages giving civic and tourist information that now appear as part of the portal page when visitors visit a city-run hotspot. There are also Android and Iphone apps that help people find places with free WiFi. This is all Montreal specific . . .

WiFiDog is now being replaced by a new authorization server also programmed by the same group of people – it’s called AuthPuppy, apparently, and is being spread to some of the other communities in the region who use the same platforms and organizational structures.

You mentioned in your thesis that the technical areas of Île Sans Fil were given notoriety (ninja status) over the arts and culture areas, which eventually led to a decline in enthusiasm in those areas. Did the people working in the arts and culture areas move on to outside projects instead, or stay in the network community?
Well, of the people that were at the core of the network community at the time I started work, none are still involved, regardless of their main interest. The technical people have moved on to interesting jobs as well, five years on – some work for the city, one is a venture capitalist, one works for the local Linux organization. But during the fieldwork, there was an ebb and flow as well. People are still in touch, still working on projects that sometimes intersect or use the platform.

I’ve been inspired by the counter-publics you mentioned in your thesis, in relation to non-hetero-normative and minority based pockets of separate communication infrastructure, has the Île Sans Fil or any other network every addressed these areas directly?
French Quebecers are a cultural minority within Canada, and there is a way that Ile Sans Fil grew from a culture of opposition and self-sufficiency that is directly related to this cultural history. But having said that, there was no explicit effort to address the other potential counter-publics you mention, aside from a well intentioned and poorly positioned attempt to ‘help’ a historically black neighbourhood ‘get connected’ using donated Linux boxes. This failed to get any local community support as the local people could not see how it would be valuable, and because it wasn’t positioned well for what they were most concerned about. However, there are some great networks that some other collaborators visited in Detroit where communities are developing their own tools – and you might also want to look up Christian Sandvig’s recent work on race and access in Native American communities, which is in Lisa Nakamura’s latest book.

Have you noticed a shift in the types of decentralized Internet initiatives that have emerged since the communication shutdown in the Arab Spring? How do these new “ad hoc, dark net, revolutionary” efforts compare to the more structured, community-centric approaches?
Neither is more or less structured. Technology is not neutral – its capacities can be drawn on for bringing together people as easily as it can be used to create other unstable heterogenous collections of actors, who may have a variety of motives from benign to sinister. I think the darknet is probably really exciting for tech-savvy folks right now, which is one of the terrible consequences of enclosing or limiting the legitimate internet – all the interesting tech development will just happen in places where law-abiding people are less likely to go.

Do you think community wireless will ever become ubiquitous, wherein each community could could connect directly to other communities? Or should alternative networks exists alongside the main Internet?
I think the expansion of the commercial internet and the lowering of access prices has made this a less obvious propositon than it might have been. But at the same time, the limiting of commercial internet access through violations of net neutrality and opaque throttling, content-provision and quality of service might reinvigorate interest in alternative networks. In this case, I would imagine they would develop locally and link to each other, rather than be built as a large mangaged network. THere is a nice paper on this kind of evolution, by Harmeet Sawnhey, which visualizes wireless networks as lilypads with links.

Also look at Keith Hampton’s Netville study for another example of local communities using new media (and in particular, his assessment of when and why neighbours used the (then new) email to communicate, and when they didn’t.

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In terms of cyber security, this is still an open topic of debate that collides with the ideologies of these communities. Some, like the NYC Wireless project and various Freifunk networks are trying to promote completely open WiFi, which has some serious security issues for those connecting to them (without using HTTPS or VPN), while some tend to create very secure networks that require membership, face to face meetings, payments and/or heavy encryption.

———– Sample of Survey Responses: ——–

Are real world gatherings (meetings, dinners, concerts) ever organized by the community network? Is local law / policy / community activism ever discussed?
Answer: very few barbecues, and a half year administrative meeting
Answer: occasional meetings, mostly combined in a related organisation
Answer: yes we have organized couple university party named after our network and we presented some talk about wireless network in university.
Answer: We do organize some events, but mostly we debate and coordinate over the Internet. We discuss also broader implications of our network and its integration in the society as a whole, thus we also discuss other issues.
Answer: Meetings 2 times a month, sometimes an information booth at events we provide internet access for. Law issues are circumvented by using a VPN.
Answer: yes, local meetings, local education and publicity events. Network politics is discussed trough the developed structures once in a while.
Answer: They happen consequentially at other community gatherings. Conversation sometimes turns towards information/tech policy.
Answer: We do have weekly public meetings. Besides this we have frequent other events in either smaller groups or involving everyone who’d like to come.
Answer: yes, every kind of gathering. We tend to be out from “political” themes.

Has there ever been a “bad” member of the network? What did they do, and how did the community deal with the member?
Answer: yes, just excluded, ignore.
Answer: We disabled the MAC address so he couldn’t connect anymore
Answer: Not yet. We only have some members which are not really active, but they then fall out by themselves.
Answer: a few kids choking bandwidth with torrents – all have understood the implications and stopped
Answer: speaking of bad member. a bad member in our community (my perception) is one who made too much traffic, so the other had problems reading even mails. yes, we had such member. but the goal is to tell the people its not only because of the internet connection
Answer: No. Even when I had open-access nodes, people would .be responsible
Answer: There were several different issues with members in the past. Nevertheless the community is strong and usually sorts things out. Rarely people left the network after troubles.
Answer: yes, he did disturb the routing and the building of new nodes. We had a discussion and he disconnected his node.
Answer: Yes. It is normale when the community grow crazy people appear. He caused problems, misconfigured the network for his fun. He was kicked out.
Answer: There is always a bunch of people who are flaming on the mailinglists or abusing the network infrastructure, but there are enough good people to handle this and keep the community together

How do you interact with other members on your community network (file sharing, forums, chat, …)? Do you feel freedom to express or share all of your thoughts and ideas with others?
Answer: you can interact trough Diaspora( an open social network for mesh) and file sharing. we do not censor anything exept porn. so anyone can upload whatever he want.
Answer: The technical system that support community sharing or services are quit little. Some Gaming and some p2p file sharing but mostly Internet usage.
Answer: email and chat, based on workgroups (location, skills)
Answer: In the mailing list, chat on irc, sharing and mainteining some repos of information, documenting in our wiki with some technical an non-technical information.
Answer: We use mailing lists and public Skype chat. We also use Trac (wiki and tickets) to coordinate. Everybody can share any thoughts or ideas freely.
Answer: iTunes music sharing, file sharing

How do new members find your network? Do you have an outreach program?
Answer: press, presentations, public SSID’s
Answer: word of mouth, web site
Answer: word-of-mouth advertising Unfortunately we still do not have an outreach program.
Answer: advertisements on events and radio commercials ssid scan and google
Answer: you find our network like a free wireless connection so people use the wireless connection in the streets and someone get interested in the project. no outreach program, only little advertisings in our university
Answer: We have a website and by mouth-to-mouth. We have more requests for members than we can handle so currently we are trying to keep low.
Answer: New members come by knowing “Freifunk” in general and looked for the local counterpart. Some come by crossing the website. No marketing program.
Answer: local mouth communication, internet, articles in newspapers
Answer: the network is already spreaded far. so every one can see it if, he does a search for wlan networks. also well connected with net community/culture scene. could be better connected with technical university.
Answer: Press, word of mouth, hyper-local marketing.
Answer: Word of mouth and coming to people’s doors and asking
Answer: We do not have an outreach program. We have a public meeting once a week where frequently new members show up. Further the press covers our project favorably, this pulls in new members.
Answer: it pops up
Answer: From ear to ear. No marketing. Just good recomendation.
Answer: On the web. We don’t have, but we have been on mainstream tv and newspapers.
Answer: No outreach program. They find us by means of other friends or with google. Also our blog is very important.
Answer: freifunk.net is very present with it’s websites and a has quite a lot of media couverage

Do others ever reward you with virtual or real world gifts / money for helping contribute to the community network? Do you reward others for contributing to the network?
Answer: Yes, we collect a membership fee of 12.-€ per month to keep a proper mesh network with sufficient Internet bandwidth running.
Answer: yes, events donate money to expand our network
Answer: we do not receive donation or contributions :( but if you want to put an antenna on your roof you have to pay somthing(not the total prize).
Answer: No. No. Nobody is rewarded in any concrete or official form.
Answer: i pay them tribute. normaly no gifts, execpt to the community. (routers, antennas, computers, racks, …)
Answer: We help each other pay for internet bills and oftentimes cook food for one another, with or without the network in mind.
Answer: Yes there is some minor gifts, but every intention to help is very very welcome.
Answer: There is a lot of reward in form of respect, acceptance and trust. People rewarded me with gifts (cakes, beer, routers, etc.) but I do never take any money.

Do you have a say in how the network is run? Do other members ever tell you what to do?
Answer: Have a say, we have a weekly meeting for discuss our project in general. we use this meeting for develope ideas for the project “EigenNet” and anyone in the meeting have a say.

Is your community network connected directly to other community networks (not through the Internet)? Which ones?
Answer: Not yet, but we have made some preliminary links we have now to make permanent.
Answer: freifunk.net is a meta community of lots of local communities – even in the city there are local communities in the districts or streets. Many of them are connected with each other through WiFi.

Do you feel “engaged in” or “part of” your community on the network and in real life? Do you feel safe with your neighbors online and offline? Why or why not?
Answer: yes i feel part of it. yes i feel safe in the network/neighbours. i feel skilled enought to know risks and threats and how to avoid them.
Answer: Absolutely. I don’t have a network connection though (it’s an oddity here that many of the founders never had a proper technical connection to the network)
Answer: yes, I know most of them since many years.
Answer: I am part of the community and feel safe with my neighbours, also because I have installed some technical protection to filter some services I would not want on my internet gateway.

Do you trust others in the community network? Why or why not?
Answer: Yes, all of them are working for free for the community. why should they have interest in harming the community?
Answer: Yes, Trust is build individually and over time – mostly when people do what they say and say what they do.

Does everyone have equal responsibility to maintain the network, or is there a hierarchy?
Answer: Members are not interested at all, maximum 3 persons maybe 4 are involved in maintenance of the network.
Answer: Members assigned tasks based on skills, a kind of hierarchy is based on the amount of time each member is able to give to the project
Answer: Equal responsibility, There is equal responsbility with varying engagement – most people’s contribution changes over time
Answer: There is a Core Team of people who contribute more, the core team is regularly discussing current affairs. Nevertheless no one is excluded from voicing opinions and more often issues are discussed on a broader range.

//——– Questions from a specific user, focusing on their negative responses
Has the community network developed or strengthened relationships you have with other members? In what ways?
Answer: Weakened the relationships
Do you have a say in how the network is run? Do other members ever tell you what to do?
Answer: Told what to do
Do you feel \”engaged in\” or \”part of\” your community on the network and in real life? Do you feel safe with your neighbors online and offline? Why or why not?
Answer: Yes, but we have no real community – only max five people do meetings. The other people ‘only’ serve a Freifunk-AP.
Do you attend any real world community network meetings? If so, what do you contribute?
Answer: Yes, Regulary every second sunday. There we meet some new and interested people and talk to each other (by a beer :)).
How do you interact with other members on your community network (file sharing, forums, chat, …)? Do you feel freedom to express or share all of your thoughts and ideas with others?
Answer: only by our Mailinglist
How do you contribute to the network, what is your role?
Answer: Support (Mailinglist, Hardware setups, Wiki, Blog)
Are real world gatherings (meetings, dinners, concerts) ever organized by the community network? Is local law / policy / community activism ever discussed?
Answer: Some times but not many
//——–

//——– Questions from a specific user, focusing on their negative responses

How do you feel about your community network?
Answer: Disappointed
Has the community network developed or strengthened relationships you have with other members? In what ways?
Answer: Yes, It´s difficult, some members are fine people but contribute very less.
Do you have a say in how the network is run? Do other members ever tell you what to do?
Answer: Told what to do, Because I´m sociologist and not a programmer in any way, my word has little effect.
Do you feel \”engaged in\” or \”part of\” your community on the network and in real life? Do you feel safe with your neighbors online and offline? Why or why not?
Answer: I feel safe because of the VPN to a server in a foreign country. I still believe, that most users won´t do anything illegal over an open wifi, but there might be some black sheeps.
Do you attend any real world community network meetings? If so, what do you contribute?
Answer: Yes, I try to find out interest topics to talk about, sometimes leading the meeting.
How do you interact with other members on your community network (file sharing, forums, chat, …)? Do you feel freedom to express or share all of your thoughts and ideas with others?
Answer: We use a mailing list for announcements and public discussion and a jabber channel for the everyday blabla. I don´t feel absolutely free, because of my non-IT background I feel that my opinion isn´t important most of the times.

//——–

Questions from a specific user, focusing on their negative responses
//————//
How do you feel about your community network?
Answer: satisfied but sometimes frustrating
How do new members find your network? Do you have an outreach program?
Answer: most very happy; some don’t understand the concept of sharing
Do you have a say in how the network is run? Do other members ever tell you what to do?
Answer: i listen to what members want and decide implementation accordingly
Do you feel \”engaged in\” or \”part of\” your community on the network and in real life? Do you feel safe with your neighbors online and offline? Why or why not?
Answer: feel fine – sometimes the target of others’ paranoia, but they get over it
Do others ever reward you with virtual or real world gifts / money for helping contribute to the community network? Do you reward others for contributing to the network?
Answer: network account is solely for swug, but often receive gifts – eggs, beer, books from members
Do you have a reputation or status in your community, online or offline?
Answer: yes, as the person who gives them internet
Do you trust others in the community network? Why or why not?
Answer: i make sure trust is not part of the bargain

//————//

Some interview snippets:

——– From Laura Forlano: ———

On the decline of Freifunk networks in Berlin residential areas: “network wasn’t offering additional content or services or something of value that would keep you there”

Do people in community networks interact in real world? “absolutely…because of the physical equipment involved in building networks, climbing on roofs, putting up antennas, building cantennas, every network has weekly or monthly meetings”

Negative activity: people hogging bandwidth is prevalent

Some activity causes people to worry about open wifi networks:
On NYCwireless, someone was distributing pornography on an open network, FBI called – network in park, so nothing can be done.
Someone ordered 20 pizzas once.

——– From Elektra, of Village Telco/OLSR ——–

Although it is encouraged to place meshed wireless routers near a window for optimal connection, many choose to hide it behind the refrigerator, which causes major connection issues. Other issues of landlords having problems with tenants placing anything (antennas, routers, etc) on rooftops.

//——————-//

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Had a great discussion last night with Laura E. DeNardis from American University / Yale Information Society Project, Michael Potter from Geeks Without Frontiers and Josh King from New America Foundation/OTI. Moderated by Aram Sinnreich of Rutgers SC&I.

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The Berkman Center at Harvard asked me for a synopsis on technical and social problems of emergency planning (via ad hoc mesh) and community wireless that could be addressed through a policy initiative – I’m reposting the blurb here:

Public Safety and Emergency Planning (with Ad Hoc Mesh networking):

Technically, it is problematic to install mesh-enabling software on users’ phones, devices and laptops to create mobile ad hoc networks – difficulties include ease in gaining “root” access to devices, violating warranties, incompatibilities between mesh protocols and ease of installation/use for non-tech users. Battery life and CPU cycle consumption are also major factors when routing other users’ traffic through the mesh, while bandwidth optimization (to minimize the number of hops) through ad hoc backbones is still theoretical.

From a socio-technical perspective, mesh networks increase in reliability as the number of users increases. Until a critical mass of meshed devices is within range, the network is unreliable or non-existent. Easily deployable or pre-installed relay nodes between well populated areas could help quality of service. Another difficulty is ensuring that users have access to or have already installed mesh technology on their devices, before a loss of centralized communication services (through natural disasters, political uprisings, etc.). Otherwise, the technology will not be able to satisfy unforeseeable, immediate needs.

There are a few ways to incentivize the enabling of mesh on devices before a communication shutdown. It could be as simple as creating a culture of latent sharing, in the way that donor stickers work on driver’s licenses. This creates a social capital of readiness and awareness, if the user is able to subtly show off their installed mesh software, or “donor card.”

Mesh software could also be active in hyper-local exchange and communication between networked users. Skill-based task assignment and user roles in communal, technical and social areas mimics self-assembly/swarm theory in the ad hoc assembly of decentralized infrastructure. Creating a culture of readiness, willingness and ritualization (meetings/events) could help to spread awareness to additional user groups. An intrinsic, skill-based currency (such as Mozilla’s Open Badge project), combined with an extrinsic participatory currency may help to drive this forward.

Another approach is to appeal to phone manufacturers directly to enable a standardized emergency system, which is what the developer behind Auto-Bahn, an Android (and soon iPhone) P2P messaging system is trying to do by expanding the use of Bluetooth and WiFi during emergencies (not clear if it includes mesh networking). http://hackerdemia.com/

Community Wireless Networking and Policy:

In “From Face-Block to Facebook or the Other Way Around?” Apostol, et al. call on urban planning to “encourage the creation of [Wireless Network Communities],” due to the “capability [of WNCs] to increase social capital” and “inclusiveness.” They could be “active[ly] operat[ed] through policy implementation and city sponsorship.” (pg. 10)

There’s a history of success and failure in the introduction of wireless networking into communities. Municipal and grassroots based wireless networks have thrived in particular settings, originating from and their ability to address local economic, geographic and cultural conditions. A multi-faceted approach to policy, based on these granular conditions, could be considered when working on the community level.

In “Divining a Digital Future,” Dourish and Bell note that formal mechanisms regulating infrastructures have impact on everything from appropriate forms and formats of content, pricing, decisions about component parts and standards, data traffic speeds, and backhaul rates.” They propose that “[t]acit forms of regulation might include family choices about service providers and device placement within the home, religious proscriptions about device types and usages, and the placement of infrastructural nodes [in a spacial/social boundary context].”

Two hundred years ago, British colonial forces made a treaty with the Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, to secure their “lands, villages…and treasures”. These treasures included “material and non-material…sacred places,” which allowed the Maori nation to claim a legal share of the newly erected 3G wireless radio waves traversing their lands. Dourish and Bell question how deployed infrastructure and the spaces they inhabit are understood by users/groups (and when scaling up). They ask: “Who should participate in this discussion? Whose opinions and experiences are relevant? How might such individuals and institutions be included in both conversations about deployment and regulation?” (pg. 106-107)

The first standardization of mesh networking on a protocol level has been seen through IEEE 802.11s (ratified July 2011), with the first device to use an earlier draft standard being the One Laptop Per Child project. Other hardware is now beginning to support this protocol natively (Ubiquiti Networks NanoStations and Bullets through their AirOS firmware). There is critique of its usefulness amongst the OLSR, BATMAN, and other mesh protocol communities, but it is a first step toward a standard that device manufacturers can start calibrating, optimizing and building software for.

Policy considerations in my current work:

With the Red Hook Initiative, we’re engaging network growth on the community level, through awareness meetings and workshops – infrastructural difficulties will surely arise when working with the NYC parks department to bring connectivity to the local park, and when attempting to install network nodes on the rooftops of NYC-owned housing projects (which make up a majority of the community).

I’m also working with the New America Foundation’s mesh firmware (openWRT + OLSR/ROBIN) called Commotion Wireless, which is an attempt to create a easy-to-deploy, standardized mesh topology. When implementing this technology in Red Hook, it will be interesting to see how easily it is adopted, rejected or modified to fit with their needs – is it then best practice to allow modification? Will separate networks be able to connect directly to each other if they aren’t using the same interface? Another issue to note is the problem of outdated firmware on individual devices in homes – are specialists deployed to homes to re-flash the firmware, or is their a semi-annual ritual to bring devices to a central location to be updated?

Additionally, the ability to start seeding Internet through this mesh (with multiple gateways) will be an issue, as the community will need to either strike a deal with the local ISP (Time Warner) for a business quality connection and make sure not to violate their terms of service, or attempt to purchase a fiber connection directly from Tier 1 or 2 providers (if at all possible).

One last point, which has been a problem for all wireless network communities. Bandwidth regulation and throttling is an issue that effects all users, as the concept of sharing connectivity is somewhat amorphous. It’s an unwritten phenomenon that as soon as a network is created, it is immediately bogged down by the mass download of pornographic video (seen in communities around the world, according to Village Telco developers) and other large packet volume. The Île Sans Fil network created a standardized software called WiFi Dog that streamlined the traffic shaping and authentication for community wireless, which is now used by some networks globally. I am currently using WiFi Dog as a captive portal (splash page) in Red Hook, but will eventually allow community self-regulation of bandwidth –but is this the best option? There is also the problem of “malicious nodes” on these kinds of networks, which could compromise security, committing cyber crimes, or causing general disruption – is a standard policy needed to deal with these users? What is the best practice?

Aside from Red Hook, my other focus is on developing an engaging user experience in a software interface that brings value to mesh networking outside of internet connectivity (to ensure mesh exists on devices before communication shutdowns). I’m relying on technology that already exists on most devices: zeroconference (used by Bonjour & Avahi) – this allows automatic, decentralized discovery of other devices on the same local network, which is very important for ad hoc setups. When a device enters a network, they could automatically find similar people or groups and start communicating directly. There is room for policy here, in addressing privacy issues with broadcasting identity across a network, and in ensuring standard zeroconf protocol exist across all devices (while OSX and Linux have it pre-installed, Windows and some smart phones do not).

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After re-watching the last episode of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, I was inspired by the non-locative space that Agent Cooper enters when visiting the Black/White lodge. It exists outside of the visible spectrum – one can only enter through a ring of sycamore trees, when Jupiter and Saturn are in alignment. Is this similar to entering alternative spaces through WiFi gateways? Could a wireless network be interpreted as an alternative room/space/world? Can one create their own custom room/space/world? Will they allow others (friends, similar groups, community) to enter their custom spaces?



In Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” the astronaut Bowman enters a portal beyond Jupiter and the infinite, arriving in a non-locative Louis XVI-style room, that maps the 4th dimension (time) on a 3d plane.



What happens when multiple people on a network create their own rooms? Does it become a shared, non-locative space? Does it grow to a city, eventually? This brings me back to Italo Calvino’s poem/prose “Invisible Cities,” wherein Marco Polo and Kublai Khan discuss “cities and memory, cities and desire, cities and designs, cities and the dead, cities and the sky, trading cities, hidden cities,” which all turn out to be the same, constantly shifting city.

Illustrations: Janet Kershaw


In Haruki Murakami’s “Wind Up Bird Chronicle,” Toru, spends more and more time in a non-locative hotel room in Tokyo, which he enters through an intangible portal at the bottom of a well. Later on, he wanders through the hotel, encountering distorted hallways and unstable rooms, revealing plot lines in non-linear progression.

With all this, I’m reminded of the counter publics that Alison Powell refers to in her thesis, as separate, autonomous spaces for groups and people that lie outside of the majority. In “Divining a Digital Future,” Dourish and Bell write that local belief systems of the Warlpiri and Kaiditch peoples of central Australia hold that a separate Dream state exists in addition to the physical landscape. This dreamscape “carr[ies] the resonances of human activities and events…patterns of habitation and settlement, migrations, meetings, battles, and births and deaths…leave their impact on the land…experience of the landscape is thus a cultural one…the topography of the land is…encountered as physical, mythical, and historical.”(80-81) Could non-locative personal and group spaces merge with a physical, mythical and historical catalogue of past events, in a community or other shared experience?

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