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.

Social Platform
Working with the Open Technology Initiative at New America Foundation and the Red Hook Initiative, 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 about bringing granularity of expression to individuals and communities, through creation, sharing and collaboration on custom, hyper-local maps on mobile and desktop devices that bridge the digital and physical space. This “Ushahidi” meets “The Sims” gaming-style, hyper-local mapping web app is hosted on community plug servers, with an internal DNS name system specific to the community (e.g. Delivered through mesh networked WiFi routers and antennas, Tidepools augment communication and civic awareness at a local level, by providing tools for modular, user-generated map population. The project aims to spark interest in the cultural and needs-based values of shared networks, from the ground up.

Users can drop in various geo-coordinated, metaphorical and literal landmarks to new or pre-existing maps, to signify: Upcoming Meetings & Events, Alerts, Civic Reporting, Coupons & Deals, History & Notes, Secrets & Mysteries, Physical Buildings & Groups, and Wildcards. Users build reputation and gain awards over time, based on how valuable others find their contributions. Others can follow and comment on these landmarks in a Twitter-like feed of local announcements and news. Visual feedback of landmarks comes through fluctuations in their size and color, based on number of followers, activity level and public opinion. For example, foliage might grow around the Red Hook Initiative community center if a large number of meetings have taken place there, recently.

Design Narrative
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 where police “stop and frisks” were occurring in the neighborhood. Potholes and broken building signs led to integration of the civic reporting tool, Open311 “SeeClickFix.” The need to spread awareness of locations and times of Upcoming Meetings & Events at the Red Hook Initiative and other organizations in the area soon followed.

Long Term Applications
Long term community and civic engagement, is reinforced through chronicling the passage of time over that of space. As the social network of a fixed location fluctuates more with the progression of time, it integrates years long migratory patterns of people and culture, the mapping and visualization of rituals, seasons, and holidays. On the short term, this is seen through the day and night cycles of the map, synced up to the actual time zone.

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 recommended, from advisement with the Harvard Berkman Center and New America Foundation.

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Leaflet JS and TileMill are amazing tools to build custom map interfaces. Leaflet JS uses HTML5 canvas, while TileMill can accept OpenStreetMap data for a huge range of customization.

My Feed / My Maps (logged in user home)

Explore the Map / Maps


Community FAQ / Directory Map



After showing the current interfaces and the previous visual iteration, the Community Change Workers in Red Hook responded very well to the “The Sims” - like visuals of the neighborhood. The prospects of a visually diverse and expressive community view, where anyone can create their own interpretation of the neighborhood (and add relevant information) was received positively.

We then had a mini session of brainstorming ideas for the community FAQ / info directory, breaking items into categories and needs, as well as what languages will be needed for translation (Spanish, Arabic, and Tagalog):

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Tidepools social software is an “Ushahidi” meets “The Sims” gaming-style, hyper-local mapping web app hosted on community servers. Delivered through mesh networked WiFi routers and antennas, Tidepools augment communication and civic awareness locally.

The project aims to spark interest in the cultural and needs-based values of shared networks, as socially engaged users on interconnected devices are more resilient against threats that cripple centralized communication infrastructures, like censorship and natural disaster. By demonstrating the value of meshed resources and by preempting these types of outages, Tidepools extend network value beyond simple access to the Internet.

Grassroots networks become unstable past the community level, so metropolitan and policy involvement is integrated on a larger scale. For long term implementation, APIs and a community app marketplace stimulate a pan-regional, sharing ecosystem.

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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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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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There’s a well situated irony in purchasing a hardcover book on the third wave of computing technologies, but that’s the only version currently available (no Kindle version, ah!). The MIT Press released it earlier this year, and based on a recommendation from Panayotis Antoniadis, a theorist in the social aspects of wireless community networks, I immediately purchased it.

I’m halfway through, and it’s shaping up to be an incredible influence on how to consider the social, cultural and community aspects of ubiquitous computing, from embedded devices to networking technology. The affective and emotional perspectives on technology that move away from non-Cartesian coordinated notions of spacial mapping are incredible.

I’m already beginning to apply this to the social software I’m developing, and am eager to find out what this exploration leads to.

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A further materialization of a conceptual merge of the physical and virtual layers: a Bookshelf and Refrigerator. The objects they contain and the reciprocal exchange economies that may form to optimize social relationships, trust and optimal flow of information.

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Hello there,
Slides from the first thesis class presentation:

Download (PDF, 1.83MB)

A consolidated page of all thesis-related work so far can be found here

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