Monday, May 07, 2007
Île Sans Fil...
I've recently had a chat with Michael Lenczner one of the main people involved with the
Île Sans Fil project.
Île Sans Fil is a non-profit community group devoted to providing free public wireless internet access to mobile users in public spaces throughout Montreal, Canada. Their project has been running for several years now and is interesting for several reasons:
- They are a non-profit organisation who operate a WiFi hotspot network providing Free access.
- As an orginisation they are very aware of the social & economic effects of free, pervasive WiFi access.
- They have developed and offer a number of very interesting applications trough their network.
Their hotspots all use the WiFiDog(Open Source) software that is flashed on off-the-shelf hardware. The Wifidog project is an open-source embeddable captive portal solution. It uses the physical limitations of WiFi as an advatage to encourage hyper-local social interactions through location-based content and location-based services. Click here or here for examples of the location-specific splash pages which users are forced to see before they can access the web. Some of the content that the Île Sans Fil network shows to users are location-specific images uploaded by users themselves. Users can send pictures to the portal pages of specific ISF hotspots by using the appropriate tag. Wifidog will grab them via an API and present them on the portal page to subsequent users. Another source of dynamic interactive locative content are any RSS feeds from either the owner or other local sources.
The Wifidog project was started by Ile Sans Fil and is now in use by over 30 communities and businesses across four continents. It can also aggregate and present other content besides Flickr and Rss feeds. Click here to view the central server.
A screenshot of an example captive portal page can be viewed here.
They also have developed or incorporated a wide range of very usefull applications and plugins on their portal.
Following is a list of most (but certainly not all) of these applications:
- Sonic Scene:
Sonic Scene explores and creates personalized, mobile audio, video and textual experiences of the city. A fragmented artwork (sound, video, text) is distributed across a selection of ISF hotspots, encouraging the user to drift from hotspot to hotspot to experience the totality of the work. Each fragment is unique to its hotspot, developing a relation between wireless art and its physical space—one must travel to a certain hotspot to experience a particular fragment. Conversely, the casual user will encounter art on various ISF hotspots alongside information and Net access, thereby encouraging the creative use of wireless networks.
As a public space, digital networks offer new opportunities for public participation, dialogue and intervention. This project will create a network database to support MDCN projects as well as conduct research with sensors in the urban environment. We will prototype a series of low-cost, task specific, wireless sensors capable of capturing and measuring urban stimuli by sending text, sound, and image over the internet to a newly established urban database, TRANS.ACT 1.3. The database will house a range of media objects contributed by users that can modified be in relation to the data collected by the sensors and used to trigger events in the database that will activate zones of public dialogue and exchange.
Election07 is a project realized in collaboration between Ile Sans Fil and ZAP Quebec. The goal of Election07 is to use the free wireless service operated by the two groups to engage and inform their users about the upcoming election. News items are automatically collected from all* the political parties. They are automatically displayed on the portal pages of ISF and ZAP Quebec. Since the users of the two groups have to pass through these portal pages before gaining access to the internet, they are automatically informed about the latest news from all of the parties.
- HAL: HAL is a new open source platform to distribute audio and video content to wifi network user. HAL assists Montrealers in discovering local artists and media producers by making their works available via wireless jukeboxes located at select Ile Sans Fil hotspots. As easy to use as opening up iTunes, HAL brings high-speed streaming of video and audio together with location-relevant media.
- Hotspot map: The captive portal also displays a map of all hotspots on the network using Google Maps.
WiFiDog also uses a very capable management GUI
I really enjoyed talking to Michael as he and I shared a common vision on how WiFi hotspots and hotzones could be used as a social rather than technical tool. I had one of those refreshing moments when you talk to someone and they understand exactly what you're saying.