Joho the Blog » Clive Thompson on building another Internet

Clive Thompson on building another Internet

Clive Thompson is talking about the quest to build a new Net without its flaws.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.


Problems: Governments can shut down the Net. Corporations have a lot of control over copyright, causing the corporations that deliver the Net to throttle it. And Mother Nature can shut it down, e.g. Sandy. Is it possible to build another Internet? He’s been talking with people about this, mainly with people building mesh networks.


But can you make a mesh big enough to cover the planet? Not now. But what are the biggest ones now. (1) Guifi.net in Spain started about 10 years ago. 19,509 nodes, 43 web servers, etc. They don’t view themselves as building a new Net but extending the old one. (2) Athens Municipal Wireless covers about 50% of Greece that has internal versions of Google, Yahoo, etc. Way faster than normal Nets. (3) Quintana Libre serves a rural town of fewer than 500 people, speeds up to 20mbps. (4) Red Hook’s mesh provides local services that don’t show up off the mesh.


For mesh to work, the local community has to be really invested in it.


A guy in Australia has tech — Serval — that lets you make mobile-to-mobile calls to your normal phone number but without cell towers.


So, can you build another Net? You can do inter-continental hops: Australia to Slovenia exists. People are talking about buying decommissioned satellites “but you’d need a really big Kickstarter for that.”


So can you build a new one? Yes, and no, and no and maybe. Reliability and scalability? Mesh sw is still way too geeky. Bootstrapping conundrum: people want global connections, not just local.


Q: [me] But mesh currently connects outside of the mesh to the Internet via the existing Internet backbones. Is there any hope for a pure mesh Internet?


A: Not yet.


Q: Suppose we scaled back our expectations and started with mesh just for SMS, for example?


A: Yes, and that’d be great for activists who want to connect.


A: The examples I gave are all different. Quintana just wants access to the big Internet, but in Athens much of what they want is access to their own local stuff.

29 Responses to “Clive Thompson on building another Internet”

  1. David, sorry I didn’t see this before — thanks so much for liveblogging this! I like having a record of talks … more skimmable and findable than video records, at least for now.

    One factual fix: The big cross-border hops I was talking about were not yet “Australia to Slovenia” … it was “Austria to Slovenia”. Going from Australia to Slovenia would be *insanely rad*; but nobody’s there yet, heh.

    (I suspect I might have accidentally said “Australia” during my presentation, because I was remarkably underslept.)

  2. Clive, I was wondering, because you later mentioned the challenge of crossing oceans. But it was undoubtedally my faultal, since I often randomally insert “als”. I’ll visibally fix it in the post itself.

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