PiplMesh is the project of students at Faculty of Computer and Information Science of University of Ljubljana and wlan slovenija open wireless network. Its main goal is the development of an open source social networking and info portal for wireless networks used as a welcome page when users connect to the network.
Tagline: "omreži me", "network me".
A wireless network without content is nothing more but just access to the Internet. But it can be much more. For end-users, it can be a way to connect together, not only wirelessly but also personally, to share, to mesh.
Nodes of wireless networks can become hubs for people to connect, for their social networks to overlay over networks' infrastructure. And so the question arises, how can such networks, together with their social side (often community around the network), be more useful to people from just for providing Internet access, how they can provide people with relevant data, information and content, while encouraging them to participate.
Users in wireless networks can surf the network physically. Nodes (wireless access points) of the network provide a natural segmentation of the network, islands of people, close together, in similar geographical locations. This allows us to, based on geolocations of nodes, to infer the location of users as well. Based on that we can provide them with relevant and local data and information. And based on users' social interactions, also personalized.
Furthermore, because people close together are connected to the same node, we can use natural segmentation of the network to give them ways to limit how they want to share their content, information and data they provide. They can limit access only to the users of a given node, or share them with existing friends all over the network.
History & Motivation
In wlan slovenija network we have been using a captive portal installed on nodes for some time now, to welcome users when they connected to the network. The captive portal just displayed a notice about network being open on purpose, that everybody is invited to use it, and that it is a community effort so users and invited to participate, join, contribute ...
But this has proven problematic. The captive portal was running on nodes, so maintaining and changing the content was hard, customization impossible, it had to be simple and static, and many times it gave users problems as their connectivity did not work until they confirmed the captive portal. Even more - the content of welcome message was mostly useless to users after the first time.
Now we are moving to a different solution. To a content-rich and dynamic portal running on a server, to which users will be redirected after connection. The portal should not just be a welcome message but should be useful, informative and relevant to users, taking advantage of the wireless and location nature of the network. Through its social features we strive to strike a balance between some maintainers wanting to communicate with their users, for promotion or other purposes, but at the same time to keep the collaborative and social aspect of the network and not becoming a wireless billboard.
To provide end-users with access to relevant information and data based on their geolocation inferred by location of the wireless node they are connected to. This content would be aggregated from different content providers (like portals which provide information about events, bars, restaurants, museums, newspapers and other media, e-shops ...).
To provide a simple way for end-users to share their content with other users of the network (content they create, photos, posts they want to share while using the network, like while sitting in a park). And also provide them with a way to augment the information provided by the portal (like posting on a wall about an ongoing event). This way, the network provides content generated by users themselves to other users.
To provide organizations a way to communicate their events, daily menus ... to users of the network. And at the same time augment this information with user-generated information. Also, organizations themselves can use user-generated content to spread information. Like posting information about current special offers, events directly on a local wall.
To provide a way for users who don't know each other to communicate with one another, or with known friends. A way to meet new people, or to follow their friends as they connect to the network.
All of this makes the network itself more useful and provides additional services to the users. This way the area connected to the network benefits from a common and open multi-way information channel between all interested parties: municipality, tourists, bar and restaurant owners, students, people on the move all the day, working on the move ...
This web portal would be presented to the user as the first web page shown when connecting to the network. By that the user would be welcomed by and invited to the network, also usage policy of the network could be presented, but most importantly, the user would get direct access to relevant and local information.
The web portal would be simple, basically a one page structure, with some subpages as necessary (to register, to edit user profile ...), but mostly we would keep all users on the first and a single page.
The main page would be divided into four sections: top, left, middle and right. The top section would contain access to the profile and a search box for common search engines (both locally inside the web portal itself and on the Internet). Users would be able to enable hidden mode where they would not be visible online, and also enable automatic publishing of their location for other users (friends for example) to see that.
Three panels would be below the top section. In the left panel users would be able to share content with others. They would be able to limit sharing to the current node, home node, 1-hop away (neighboring) nodes or all nodes. There would also be private chats with one or more other users. And also the user's own wall where friends and those who follow them can see what they post (depending on the privacy settings).
The user would be able to publish text, photo/picture and video content.
The concept of home node means that users will register one node as their home node. This means they will be able to see content on that node even if they are currently not connected to that node. Otherwise content will be limited according to the node they are connected to. Users will not be able to change the home node too often.
In the middle panel there will be a list of currently online and offline (only befriended or followed) users. Probably it would be good to be able to limit the list by nodes, to be able see only locally connected people (but this can be done by sorting the list by distance as well).
In the right panel they would be given local information about the node itself and information blocks, for example about local businesses and events. Displayed on the map, with time data along it. The user would be able to configure which information blocks would be displayed, but also the system would propose those relevant for a given location, close to the municipality building the user could get information about offices there, opening times, links to relevant municipality websites and the like for example.
Some search/filtering/browsing features should also be provided for navigating through this information.
The portal should be multi-lingual (at least Slovene and English) with targeting different users depending on the language (if in English, the user is probably a tourist, if in Slovene, the user is probably from the city).
The image above shows different functions of the interface and not the design itself.
- Posting about an ongoing event by users to inform other users. This way much faster responsiveness and actual information can be achieved. The same goes for organizations themselves.
- There is a WiFi node in a block of flats. A neighbor can post a question to a local node wall if anybody has any sugar to lend. This way local cooperation can be improved.
- A person is sitting in a bar and would like to chat with somebody. They can check the list of locally connected people to this node and/or post to the wall asking if anybody would like to join her for a drink.
- A tourist is in the city. Their mobile phone connects to the open wireless network and they are presented with information based on a given location, where they are, what they see in vicinity, which facilities for tourists are around.
(If this is needed/wanted.)
- users/businesses/organizations could have a premium user account by which all posts on social walls of the portal would be emphasized in some way (like with other background color), by that they could push relevant and current information to users (such as happy hours or other special offers announcements)
- we could monetize positioning of businesses in the map – we could have those featured/endorsed/premium businesses showing on the map above others
- publishers of electronic newspapers could sell (push) them through the portal; same for books and other media
- we could resell tickets for events which we present to users
- we can get revenue from search engine companies to use their search engine inside the portal
- we could sell positioning of special information blocks (for special events, like festivals)
Premium accounts could be arranged for a monthly/yearly fee, and could be given for free or for reduced price to those who put the WiFi node of the network in their premises.
Possible information blocks
- tourist information
- proximity of tourist office
- bicikelj stands (free or occupied)
- information about sightseeings in vicinity
- other tourist guides
- could use public sources like Wikitravel
- or partner with Lonely Planet and other publishers and resell electronic version there
- events (possibly aggregating from different sources)
- open hours of bars, restaurants and other points of interests in vicinity
- tickets selling
- access to versions of electronic newspapers, books and other media (free and for charge)
- location of closest public toilets
October 7 2012 version: