Community Wireless Networking (CWN) was featured in a recent post on this blog. The practical motivation to set up CWN is heightened in areas where broadband infrastructure is lacking. CWN is a type of mesh networking often relying on manipulation of DSL routers using techniques such as OpenWRT. Mesh networking applications set up in industrial societies provide a partially separate “shadow” Internet with additional features for a smaller set of users. They comprise one partial solution to the conflicts inherent in wanting to improve one’s privacy on the Internet while maintaining one’s social relations. In this way mesh networking and the related form, Peer-to-Peer (P2P) networking (differentiated here ), could help to decentralize social networking away from the commercial market incumbents who have obtained dominant positions with users numbering in the millions. Mesh networking, however, is not trivial to set up.
This is where the FreedomBox (Fbx) Project of NYU professor Eben Moglen takes its rationale. Existing Debian software packages are to be combined by a community of geeks, put into a cheap plug server and made easy to use for large numbers of users.
Another teacher at NYU, Douglas Rushkoff, will incorporate a track on the FreedomBox Project in his upcoming conference. (Participants are listed right on this same blog.) That conference is to have participants from all around the world. Many of them cannot be physically present on conference day in New York. Some of them will simply hold a spontaneous remote event, and announce that to the NY organizers by email. Others will use the services of a separate company to connect that enjoys Rushkoff’s trust, Meetup.com . (Remote contactcon meetup groups are listed on this wiki)
Procedures for establishing a remote meetup group
The central event with Douglas Rushkoff in NY promises to be inspiring, so that remote groups should be able to follow up with their own on-going activities to help “retake the net”. If a few simple procedures are followed, it is easy for any small group to participate remotely in the central event using Meetup. Meetup’s rules require that someone at each of the remote locations takes on the role of organizer, and be embedded in a remote meetup group. This group can be set up in an ad hoc fashion, generates a mailing list compiled and held by Meetup and is best constituted separately from existing organizations, as shown in the attached diagram.
Existing organizations, of course, can sponsor the new organizations. Remote meetup groups are featured as parts of the Meetup.com Website, and can have their own Websites, if they want, as retake.net has done. The organizer, once embedded in a remote meetup group, pays a small fee to meetup.com for linking the group to the main event.
New peer production book
Both the Fbx initiative and the conference described above comprise parts of a larger movement to maintain the digital commons. The digital commons is one chapter, written by Felix Stalder, among the 30 compiled in a new book co-edited by Keith Hart et al. (already described on this same blog). Two threats, for example, are identified by Stalder: “Free software is threatened by a commercial move towards ‘software as a service’” (SaaS, ibid, page 322). “The digital commons is threatened … by the emergence of the social networking platforms of Web 2.0” (ibid, page 323). These threats are being dealt with by the Fbx. The Fbx is being designed 1) to bring control of one’s data back to the user from any SaaS running in the cloud, i.e. onto the user’s equipment, and 2) to provide decentralized social networking i.e. either right from the user’s equipment where open-source alternative services such as status.net are running , or via software links to data on that equipment from the major services.
Keith Hart offers the book through commercial channels for $13 and his chapter online for free in PDF at http://www.tinyurl.com/3k72zat
Thomas Ruddy can be reached at thomasATthomasruddy.org