Public Lab Research note

Conversation on decentralizing data storage and mesh networks

by liz | January 25, 2018 01:17 25 Jan 01:17 | #15606 | #15606

We had a great conversation last night at New America Foundation (here was the event posting I'm still getting photo consent in order to post the great pic that Lenny took.

Greta, the outgoing Director of Resilient Communities at New America, facilitated the meeting by asking for people to request "Community Agreements", here's what we set for ourselves:

  • step up, step back
  • break down the lingo
  • one mo*, one mic
  • no pix without consent
  • here's no such thing as a stupid ?s
  • "keep stack" of questions, advanced level kept to a minute

* "mo" in this context stands for Michelle Obama.

Then we started introductions

Greta started us off by saying "I'm here because the internet is broken and our discourse is too." Danny Peralta, the executive director of The Point, said "I'm here for that, and also for justice."

As we went around the room we discovered just how wide of a wide-ranging group we were! The director of a community development & youth organization in the Bronx i quoted above, the Resilient Communities team at New America that's building mesh networks with 5 NYC communities, young people who run discotechs (short for "Discovering Technology"), programmers writing applications for the distributed web, other programmers who wrote protocols to fix the problem of links breaking when content moves (IPFS), a librarian and maker (@bronwen :), three people working on governance and consensus-based discourse, a scholar of missing datasets, a legal fellow at the New York Civil Liberties Union, a remote engineer working on mesh technology, someone who works for 18F and who has had a balloon mapping kit since 2012, a small cluster of omnivores who code for EDGI including @weatherpattern, and me (instigating extrovert/social gadfly/fraggle).

We all had some overlapping interests & affiliations, but had not all met, much less gotten together simply to listen to each other.

We brainstormed collective goals

  • How can we join forces and build and implement mesh with other people (students or otherwise)?
  • Find out why the combination of Mesh and Data Justice is compelling for people
  • Share knowledge
  • Map out people's skills and progress with mesh networks
  • What are good practices for archiving (for example, Data Together). Specifically, how can NYCLU's archive of documents from FOIA litigation become accessible in a user friendly way? Or more broadly, how to do projects like this in existing institutional structures? What are good practices for using decentralized tools like IPFS or GoodNewNet?
  • How to keep conversation going? What is the best medium?
  • Expand access to tech education
  • How can this support just rebuilding efforts in the Caribbean and specifically Puerto Rico?

This list was refined into conversation topics that we wrote on the well

(To Do, get picture from Greta)

And then pizza came


We started defining terms

  • Mesh: ad-hoc wireless
    • meshing where there is
    • no center to network
  • Community Networks:
    • Mesh (or any kind of network) as community network/support for infrastructure : cooperative, pooling resources.
    • More people pieces than technical pieces.
    • function of a community network is to provide access (to internet)
      • need to join an ISP (various ways communities go about this)
  • New America Resilient Communities:
    • in New York
      • Setup in NYC provides internet but also setup for local network (if broadband providers go down) five neighborhoods, five community partners, five local wifi networks (a.k.a. RISE:NYC), local servers
      • The Point CDC, Hunts Point, Bronx
        • training 8 young men and 8 adults to install and maintain a mesh network
        • what are the ways to sustain the network?
        • young people learning these skills, community owenership in the network
    • Detroit:
      • Putting equipment in people's households
      • More centralized, Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP)
    • Interesting to note: People/communities are learning about the tradeoffs in mesh as they build the infrastructure, in real time
  • Protocols:
  • IPFS:
  • sneakernets (for example, this PNK!)
    • PNK has two modes: local server or internet
  • Backhaul commons -- negotiating terms with broadband providers
  • HTTP: location-based. the web address you connect to corresponds to a physical location on a server somewhere (except nowadays it doesn't)
  • Decentralized Protocols: peer to peer networks (as internet was originially designed to be) where people's devices can connect directly to one another.
    • "we need a protocol that allows us to talk about content as content, and not just as location"
    • For example: IPFS, or ffdn.rog (Federation are Non-Profit Internet Service Providers)
  • Cryptographic hash: a fundamental aspect of how we acheive security on the internet, verifies you are getting the same content / same results - unique identifier;

Oh, and about the notes -- we were all connected to a local network created by a raspberry pi, we were taking notes on an etherpad hosted on that pi! I aim to post about these nifty portable network kits in another note, maybe make a research area out of it for us.

Then we actually talked about topics for a while

An exciting topic was Dawn Walker's work in Toronto. She has created a participatory game for setting up IPFS for hosting and sharing distributed data on rasberry pis which are functioning as a mesh network. It was a little dizzying to see how two decentralized technologies could work together. We all enthusiastically agreed that all this stuff is complicated.

(will fill this in further when i get more notes from other people)

the room got really hot and we opened windows

there were still 19 of us in a tiny room so it didn't really help


  • Greta will follow up with Dawn about her game
  • At first I committed to "no new projects" but then I relented and committed to "throwing another party" which got re-interpreted to mean a discotech (see above) for decentralized technologies, which is sort of how Public Lab Barnraisings work, so everyone was excited about that.
  • Greta said that in her new job as Co-Director of a Digital Equity Lab at The New School she will be helping to build some kind of alliance around this stuff for NYC. Everyone was excited about that!
  • tbd

we had a great time!


Login to comment.