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Rough Thesis Proposal

Let’s suppose the internet stops working tomorrow. Not the hard disks, just the wires. Government firewall, tiered service, cut fiber, ISP meltdown — pick a scenario.

How much would be lost? How much could be recovered? What would you need to rebuild?

We have the infrastructure — computing power, abundant storage, networking — but not the know-how, organization, will, or sense of impending disaster required to start building a decentralized web. We need a way to easily rearrange our consumer electronics (which are optimized for consumption) into a network that can’t be centrally controlled or destroyed (and is therefore optimized for creation and distribution). Most importantly, the ubiquity and overlap of consumer-created wireless networks in urban areas means that mesh-based networks with thousands of nodes should be feasible without any reliance on centralized network infrastructure.

Hence the post-apocalyptic pirate web kit: everything you need to bootstrap a decentralized web in a single package. This could take several forms, but my initial thinking suggest a suitcase full of hard disks, wireless connections, and processing power designed to restore fragments of the web to nearby users and act as a node in a broader network of data survivalists.

The hard-disks would be pre-loaded with an archival version of the web. The whole of Wikipedia’s english text content, for example, is readily available for download and amounts to abut 5 terabytes. This could fit on three hard disks, which cost about $100 each, and together displace about as much physical space as a loaf of bread.

In its dormant form, the post-apocalyptic pirate web kit is something you might leave plugged in at the corner of the room — it could sit there indefinitely, like a fire extinguisher. The kit could automatically crawl the web and keep its archival mirror as fresh as possible.

When and if disaster strikes, the kit would be ready to switch into server node and thus preserve our way of internet life. (So that we might continue with a spirit of bold curiosity for the adventure ahead!)

November 30 2010 at 10 AM

Could not agree more. We live in an age that is directly reliant upon the user for the information not only for know-how but distribution as well. I imagine, like you said, this being in the background like a fire extinguisher, and could possible be a house hold staple, just as important as a stove or refrigerator.

January 4 2011 at 4 PM