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« Mobile Gaming Goes Social | Main | WikiCourt: The Proposal, and First Rebuttal »

February 24, 2004 Ad hoc social networks

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Posted by Clay Shirky

Jonah Brucker-Cohen and Katherine Moriwaki are developing an ad hoc mesh network, both technological and social, with devices embedded in umbrellas. As a result, the network only appears with the "coincidence of need" that occurs with the first drop of rain. Concept:
In Dublin, Ireland, rainfall is frequent and unpredictable. Often individuals carry umbrellas with them in case they are caught in a downpour. It is common to witness during a sudden and unexpected flash of rain, a sea of umbrellas in the crowded streets sweeping open as raindrops first hit the ground. This collective, yet isolated act of opening an umbrella creates a network of individuals who are connected through similarity of action, and intent. The manifestation of open umbrellas on the street could be tied to a temporary network which is activated through routers and nodes attached to the umbrella, which operate only while it rains. While the coincidence of need exists, the network operates. When the necessity of action and intent ceases, it disappears. We believe these transitory networks can add surprise and beauty to our currently fixed communication channels.
The system works with a hardware and software component that is integrated into the design of a typical umbrella. By embedding the system into an everyday object, our intent is to lessen the point of entry for people using the system as they are already familiar with the object and how it works. The prototype will include handheld PocketPC (iPaq) computers that will interface to the umbrella and only communicate with each other when the need exists: ie. When rain is present and other nodes exist in close proximity.

Comments (7) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software


1. F. Randall Farmer on February 24, 2004 3:03 PM writes...

[I couldn't find the paper from the link provided, so my comments are on the excerpts above.]

"coincidence of need"?
"similarity of action, and intent"?

I'm really confused and/or dense. This looks like a SWAP (solution without a problem) to me.

Isn't the intent to keep dry and the action opening an umbrella? Why on earth would I want (much less need) to network with happenstance strangers that have open umbrellas?

My need is quite satisfied by my $5 umbrella opening properly.

The only common coincidence of need here is if I don't happen to have an umbrella and someone else has a big one and is going my way. But, without an umbrella, I'm out of the network. I guess I'm all wet. :-)


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2. AJ Kim on February 24, 2004 6:32 PM writes...

Well, the specific example of an umbrella network may be a SWAP -- but the general idea of an ad-hoc, state-based, device-specific local network is intriguing. I'll bet there's utility for that type of service. Hmmm...

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3. Ben Hyde on February 27, 2004 11:44 AM writes...

Doesn't the rain creates a demand to be elsewhere? This solution provides a way to be in the Internet rather than in the now. Seems to me this is the perfect just in time delivery of solution to emerging need.

Such solutions usually emerge in those venues where the need is most accutely felt; so no surprise the Irish would see this need before those in more temperate climates.

Does cell phone use rise when the rain begins to fall?

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4. Matt Hart on February 27, 2004 12:03 PM writes...

Better to examine this by embedding devices into drink cups at a ball park. The ad-hoc network here has some use - creating a stronger sense of community during a relatively lengthy, focused activity where communal communication enhances the experience.

It could be as simple as a list of buttons from 1 to 5 that are pressed in response to a question that appears on the big screen - such as "Should the manager put in a new goalie?"

Perhaps a better sense of community would prevent the frequent scuffles that often attend such games.

"Do you intend to riot if the home team loses? Press 1 if no, 2 if not likely, 3 if maybe, 4 if probably, and 5 if you'll riot no matter what."

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5. F. Randall Farmer on February 28, 2004 2:44 PM writes...

As to Matt's wonderfull "cups at a ball park" example:

A company already attempted something like this in the early/mid 90s: A small radio-linked hand-held unit available at certain ball parks. It displayed stats, had real-time trivia (with cash prizes you could collect by plugging into a land-line) and other non-symetrical multiplayer activity. Customers didn't like them much. Admittedly, there was no cel network to connect them all at the time, so the idea might have been before its time.

Certainly, this could be tested with current cel-phone technology.

[I'm sorry I can't remember the name of the company. They were based near Shoreline in Mountain View. They also tried their units in the home, where people would 'play along' with game shows for real prizes. Of course, time-zones were the bane of that model. :-) ]

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6. Christian Hauck on March 2, 2004 9:19 AM writes...

I think you missed the point when it comes to the issues of re-charging the batteries.
So here is my solution: get the energy from a miniaturized dymano that generates the energy when the umbrella is opened! And closed. Add a little solar cell module on top, weave it into the fabric of the umbrella, and you're done.

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7. heather on March 5, 2004 3:10 PM writes...





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