Plan B for the Information Apocalypse

I think we all need to be building secure WLANs. (Wireless Local Area Networks) These networks can be connected to the whole internet but also have parts that are only for the local physical community. This is not to exclude people but to protect information that is HYPER local. (such as when the neighborhood pot luck is, when the next local election will be, what your neighbors are talking about, etc.)

Also proxy servers that have copies of LARGE sections of the Internet can be put on these WLANs. This will speed up access to information but can also prevent it from being blocked by evil corporations. I’ve been formulating a plan B for the Information Apocalypse ™ that will happen if corporations impede and/or completely block parts of the internet. (aka The End of Network Neutrality) We can route around the barriers put up in-front of us. (These barriers may be intentional or unintentional.)

My ideas revolve around peer to peer sharing via personal devices we carry with us as we travel around physically. Imagine your small unobtrusive electronic device has a wireless connection to other devices and knows its own latitude and longitude. Or a device can tell if another one is near it in a different way. (YES a scary big brother application could be built with this tech. If you can hide your physical body you can change the data that describes where you or your device are.) Another devices notices your device is nearby. It says hello and offers to share with you information it obtained from another device and/or another part of the world and Internet. Because there are so many people on the planet word of mouth is still one of the best forms of communication and advertising. This system I’m describing is just an amplification of this natural mode of info delivery. It could multiply info transport a billion fold.

At first I thought this system might be a lot slower than e-mail is now. Then I realized that this asynchronous transport could be even faster. Possibly much more precise and redundant too. Certainly more diverse. I believe this is possible because of the power of social networks. Ever notice how fast good gossip travels? Like that but digital.

The hardware and software to do this already exists. It isn’t a matter of making it but taking existing resources and discovering new methods. I think it can be made affordable for everyone, too. Then we need to show our friends how to do it. Sadly this idea may not catch on on a large scale until broadband internet access is taken away from us. Hyper global connectivity as we know it now is very addictive.

5 thoughts on “Plan B for the Information Apocalypse

  1. WillR

    Excellent review of Plan B. I worked on a design for a physical device several years ago that I called “Digital Graffiti”. The low-powered device (a simple device + flash mem. + bluetooth/IR/wifi chip + battery + solar chip) would store bits and pieces of “digital post-its”. It would come in a form factor that could be attached inside/outside to walls, poles, trees, cars, whatever… and would blather their data to whatever device was open to their protocol.

    The idea was to leave hyper-local data caches ubiquitously in the environment. At the time, the package was about $20/per – I think I could do it now for under $1.

  2. chrisb

    I love the idea of using proxy servers to cache portions of the internet in order to reduce the amount of bandwidth consumed by the backhaul of a community network. Unfortunately, I think there are pretty serious technical limitation that we'll have to overcome for it to be realistic for most uses. (Cached versions of entire sites don't work)

    There is a good mention of precisely this concept/implementation in Wireless Networking in the Developing World (a book I adore.) Check: — the reference is on page 69.

    ( … At any rate the problem of bandwidth cost does not seem like it is going to go away. I work at a Wireless ISP and bandwidth is a huge, unavoidable cost, and it keeps us from doing all of the philanthropic networking that we would like to do. I would be interested knowing about other techniques and theory that we (community wireless networkers) should be working on developing. )

    The concept of redundant, passive networking with wireless devices is fascinating. Makes me think of the networking paradigm shift that happended in the 1980s with DNS. We couldn't imagine resolving domain names with IPs addresses using a single, central copy of hosts.txt anymore! The network has become a network of networks of networks … I have a strong feeling that the way we identify , locate and download information is going to remain a most important social issue for network admins of the future …

  3. BrianR Post author

    I have a copy of Wireless Networking in the Developing World. I bought it from them via lulu. Could be were I got the idea. 🙂

    The cost of small linux devices with more than one antena to form mesh networks is going down, down, down… its possible with the right storage each device on your roof could have local copies of data that changes often that every other local device would have and could use. This would mean high redundancy and super fast data retreival. But alas have a copy of google cahced locally is going to cost big $.

    Would love to talk with you more about this.

  4. chrisb

    seems like it would be possible to, for instance, cache only jpegs and XHTML on the proxy and leave the cgi-bin accessible from the live site. So you would reduce the necessary backhaul size but still have fully-functioning sites.

    I feel pretty certain that there must be some smart implementation of this going on among people smarter than I … (or that the idea is superfulous for a reason I'm not considering ….)

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