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Staying in with Friends on a Wireless Mesh

staying-in-with-friendsThe difference between staying in with friends and going out? Obvious, really. But, translate that idea to networks and you have the basis of self-organized virtual communities, according to Panayotis Antoniadis of the Université Pierre et Marie Curie, in Paris France.

Writing in the IJWBC (reference below), Antoniadis and Benedicte Le Grand discuss the bootstrapping problem of starting such a virtual community. I’ve discussed scientific virtual communities which relate to this previously. They suggest that it should be possible to kickstart a community by inheriting the social context and trust values from existing centralized web communities such as Facebook and LinkedIn.

Allowing a community to self-organize rather than to create it using a single centrally managed web service and servers would have significant benefits, not least it would avoid reliance on a single organization or company. It would, of course, require members of the community to contribute different types of resources (e.g., bandwidth and storage), which is common to file-sharing systems known as Peer-to-Peer (P2P) systems. “Unfortunately,” says Antoniadis, “such cooperation cannot be taken for granted.”

The team hopes to face this obstacle by introducing the notion of a “cross-layer incentive mechanism.” Such an approach would encourage users to contribute resources at a low-level to gain privileges or simple kudos at a higher social level within the community.

“We believe that this type of incentive mechanism will play a central role towards the realization of self-organised virtual communities and enable users to take advantage of the attractiveness and value of web-based communities, on the one hand, and the externalities and flexibility of P2P networks, on the other hand,” the researchers explain.

They are taking what they say are the first steps towards such a solution by developing a way to categorize the different types of social incentives and by providing insights for the design of the appropriate social software required to map member behaviour at the resource-sharing layer with suitable rewards at the social layer. Of course, some web 2.0 communities would say that kudos and trust-based communities already exist, but this approach abstracts it from the centralised model.

“The goal of the proposed system is not to grow to the level of the Internet but provide the means to small communities of people that trust each other to communicate in a privacy-preserving way, socialize and exchange resources,” Antoniadis told Sciencebase. “It is the digital analogue of ‘staying home with friends’ instead of ‘going out’,” he says. “Such communities could even be built on top of wireless user-owned networks without the need for the Internet at all, but on a much smaller scale and for different types of communication.”

Such wireless networks are known as “mesh” networks. Antoniadis and colleagues describe how a wireless mesh community might be built in a recent issue of IEEE Technology and Society.

Such a community would avoid the centralised nature of MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Ning by creating a network that shared out the necessary back-office tasks (storage, file sharing, newsfeed rendering, instant messaging (Skype is P2P in this sense already), and graphics distribution. This would make the community distributed rather than federalized so that it would no longer be reliant on a single organization or its servers. In one sense, you might say it would be like a small-scale internet.

Information about a new project with similar goals can be found here.

Research Blogging IconPanayotis Antoniadis, & Benedicte Le Grand (2009). Self-organised virtual communities: bridging the gap between web-based communities and P2P systems Int. J. Web Based Communities, 5 (2)

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