Red Hook WiFi & Tidepools
Designed alongside the Red Hook WiFi network, Tidepools is a collaborative mobile mapping and communication platform, being used in neighborhoods and at conferences around the world. It’s a visual interface for the Internet of Things & People, allowing users to gather and share hyperlocal information, sensors, APIs, and culture through expressive, community maps and data feeds, enabling greater connectivity and communication among neighbors and local organizations.
New Mobile Interface:
- Red Hook WiFi network, built alongside Tidepools, provided Internet & local apps during Hurricane Sandy. Continues to serve Brooklyn residents and thrive through local training programs.
This open source, community-oriented project started out as my Master’s Thesis in Design and Technology at Parsons, on research into locally relevant apps to encourage sustainable community WiFi networks. I have continued to work on it as an interaction designer and field analyst at the Open Technology Institute, New America Foundation.
Tidepools bridges the digital and physical space of a neighborhood, storing its data on local servers and broadcasted over WiFi so it can run even without reliance on an Internet connection. It integrates location-specific civic data in situ, including real time transit notifications and community safety issues. Community members can share events, user-created map layers and landmarks, and other local temporal information, creating a historical geospatial community database.
Tidepools used in:
Red Hook, Brooklyn
Istanbul, Izmir, and Ankara – During Turkish Gezi Park Protests
Local Red Hook app pulling in bus time data.
Allied Media Conference, Detroit – 2012 & 2013
Initial Interface Process
Meeting with Community Change Workers & Youth Radio Group at the Red Hook Initiative
TidePools map interface
Data Ecosystem (APIs, Sensors, etc.)
Setting up WiFi antennas in Red Hook
Tidepools API & Data Ecosystem Interaction Wireframes
Design & tech process from thesis
Thesis Overview Video
Thesis Symposium Presentation
Wireless mesh networks provide low-cost, shared Internet access to communities that can’t afford standard access to the Internet. Socially engaged users on these interconnected devices are also more resilient against threats that cripple centralized communication infrastructures, like censorship and natural disaster. However, for long term social sustainability, these community networks need ritualized, face to face interaction between residents and defined roles/social capital to occur.
Current civic and community platforms are not very engaging – they don’t tailor to the subtleties of cultural expression and community needs on a micro-level. They are usually designed top-down, with static housing boundaries, user needs and regimented user data that don’t take into consideration the cross-pollination of cultural and migratory patterns across borders. By demonstrating the value of locally meshed resources and by preempting outages, Tidepools extend network value beyond simple access to the Internet.
Tidepools as a Social Platform
Working with the Red Hook Initiative (RHI) and the Open Technology Institute (OTI) at New America Foundation, Tidepools is tailoring a custom engagement platform, based on local needs and interests, for the Red Hook Housing Projects – a remote and unconnected area of Brooklyn, with little WiFi and Internet access primarily through Android mobile devices. At the same time, it is bringing low cost Internet access through the same wireless mesh that Tidepools is hosted on.
Tidepools is a re-skinnable collaborative mobile mapping platform for gathering and sharing hyper- local information and culture through expressive, community maps and data feeds, enabling greater connectivity and communication among neighbors and local organizations. Users can drop in various geo- coordinated, metaphorical and literal landmarks to new or pre-existing, custom map layers. The project aims to spark interest in the cultural and needs-based values of shared networks, from the ground up.
The Tidepools interface has organically evolved over months of community meetings, brainstorming sessions and feedback with residents from a “shoutbox” anonymous chat feed hosted on the wireless network. Creating and sharing custom maps emerged from the concern for and desire to plot Alerts of frequency & location of police “stop and frisks” in the neighborhood. Potholes and broken building signs led to integration of the civic reporting tool, Open311 “SeeClickFix.”
Community members can share events, user-created map layers and landmarks, and other local temporal information, creating a historical geospatial community database. The MTA’s General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) BusTime feed is in development for bus arrival notices, along with a news and weather splash page, a local streaming radio station, and additional navigation tools.
Long Term Applications
For long term networks, API aggregation onto a global map and a community app marketplace stimulate a pan-regional, ecosystem of sharing. In order to counteract the instability of wireless grassroots networks past the community level, metropolitan and policy involvement is needed. Development and research on Tidepools has continued past thesis, in collaboration with RHI and OTI.
Everything under here is very old
Focusing on the social layer in wireless mesh communities:
Augmenting and interconnecting localized communities in the real world through mesh networking, social gaming/networking mechanics and a p2p exchange economy to create a community of reciprocity, trust and interdependence while extending the community’s need for a mesh beyond the decentralized value. For example: while a community garden may provide extrinsic benefits such as inexpensive food, to a neighborhood, there are additional social benefits that keep the participants in a seasonal, perpetual cycle of participation.
Hacknight presentation @ Forskningsavdelningen, Malmö, Sweden (Aug 2011)
As wireless communication becomes more ubiquitous and mobile, the rigid, centralized nature of telecommunication and Internet service infrastructures needs to be reassessed. Companies are charging exorbitant amounts for voice, data and SMS, while throttling service and applying bandwidth caps. Accessibility to communication through centralized sources can be restricted or severed completely by censorship, major catastrophes, or political uprisings.
Some governments around the world take a totalitarian approach to restricting the publication or access to certain online information. The “Great Firewall of China” is the most notorious and sophisticated online government censorship and surveillance project, but dozens of other countries, such as Burma, Vietnam and Cuba also take aggressive steps in restricting access. This active enforcement leads to arresting and detaining violating citizens.
Through political uprisings in Egypt, Libya and other countries, an alarming trend of partially or completely shutting down mobile and Internet communication infrastructure by the respective governments has been seen. This leads to a difficulty in organizing massive protests and opposing rebel organizations that help push for regime changes in heavily corrupt countries.
During major disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes, the centralized nature of communication infrastructures fail due to the collapse of radio antennas, networking buildings and power sources. The days
after a crisis are the most critical, in order to locate survivors and assess damages. These require very strong communication layers, but they are at their weakest at that time.
Internet and telecommunication accessibility in rural areas is important for economic and social development. The most prevalent reason for the lack of infrastructure now is the unwillingness by ISPs to expand their networks due to the minimal return on investment. An Internet provider would never make back the costs of wiring, hardware and labor involved in expanding into such far reaching areas.
Wide spread wireless mesh networks open up decentralized communication between the ubiquitous, WiFi enabled laptops, desktops, mobile devices and routers today. In a proactive network, every node (connected device) is linked to each other, while forwarding packets (communicating) without discretion. This leads to a mesh’s ability to self-heal linked nodes, making it hard to disrupt communication. It is also cost effective to end users, as Internet and other resources can be equally distributed across the mesh, without costs or maintenance incurred for external routing infrastructures. Ad-Hoc mesh networks provide connectivity amongst users anywhere, even in traditionally connection-less zones like subways or remote village.
When considering a short or long-term mesh community, cooperation between users is required – otherwise a mesh network will not function – this is represented through intrinsic and extrinsic economic incentives. Each community member should be contributing as much as they consume, as represented through a virtual currency, with a separate “rare” currency that represents actual user skill level. Social Gaming Mechanics are applied to MeshKit to move past primitive survival skills, such as aggression and competitiveness, advancing instead towards teaching more complex social survival traits. MeshKit solves pricing and capping by introducing a long-term framework that slowly grows into metropolitan wide networks. Internet gateways on the mesh network provide access to resources outside the community.
Bridges between communities are joined through DIY directional antennas at first, such as a Can-tenna (made from a tin can) or Wok-tenna (made from parabolic cooking-ware), but eventually replaced by more stable hardware. Censorship and Political Uprisings are tackled through the decentralized and ad-hoc nature of mesh networks.
MeshKit users can start special broadcast-only networks that let other connected users receive specific information being sent out or encrypted dead drop networks that lets users anonymously deposit files onto the network. A special emergency mesh network mode in MeshKit broadcasts a non-discriminating connection with any neighbor nodes. This is comparable to survivors calling for help under rubble, except others can pass these “help” messages along the mesh network chain until it reaches a rescue team. Common-person implementation is a problem – not many people, during an actual crisis, would know how or care to install a mesh network. This is solved If MeshKit is already installed and running on their phone, laptop or router. Rural areas are bridged to the Internet with MeshKit using mesh repeaters and directional antennas, while taking into account a mesh network’s ability to send communication over multiple hops.
Alpha interface: OLSRd mesh protocol running with openFrameworks (C++)
Prototype assets are re-mixed from Zynga’s Treasure Isle game.