Here’s a hypothetical for all you geeks and geek-lovers.
Let’s say we could blanket Charlottesville in WiFi. Or, at least, substantial portions of the city. The connection could be fast (say, 384k) or slow (dial-up speed), strong (available in buildings) or weak (not). There could be an authentication page, or it could be instant-on.
So, fine, we can all hypothetically be on-line while we’re sitting out front of Bizou or on the bus.
What’s the multiplier effect? What magical things will happen as a result?
I’m not being facetious (a word which I have just now, for the first time ever, spelled correctly on my first attempt) — I really believe that all great ideas should have some sort of a multiplier effect.
Years ago, when I set up cvillenews.com, I didn’t intend to provide any sort of special news to people. I wasn’t trying to going around the “MSM.” I wanted to provide an on-line watering hole for folks in Charlottesville and folks who wish they were in Charlottesville. The multiplier effect has been the establishment of connections between area journalists and regular joes that would otherwise have never happened, providing sources of information for local media. Another has been increased awareness of a wide array of news among people who might not otherwise pick up the Daily Progress, but are hip enough to want to read a local website. Another has been those people who are a part of the news — even being written about — are able to talk back, involving the community in the news, as opposed to the news being a distant, removed concept. It’s just a website where I post rehashed descriptions of the daily news. But all of these other things have come from it.
I just set up Charlottesville Blogs a month or two ago, but that multiplier effect is already clear. It’s nothing more than a listing of recent local blog entries, along with a listing of every local blog of which I’m aware. I do nothing — it updates itself a few times each day, and I enjoy reading it. The result has been bloggers in the area becoming aware of one another, commenting on one another’s blogs, sharing interests, and everybody having their blog’s traffic boosted as a result of their listing and the cross-traffic. I really enjoy reading Charlottesville Blogs every day, because I get a taste of what dozens of people across town are thinking about. I anticipate other multiplier effects coming out of this — I’m just not sure of what they are yet. Setting up the site cost $15 for a domain name and maybe an hour of my time establishing the site itself, so I’m OK with that uncertainty.
Back to my thesis, what is the multiplier effect for C’ville WiFi? Here are a few off-the-wall ideas that I’ll make up as I go along:
- By providing extremely high-speed access within the network, but throttling external connections, along with encouraging things like Bonjour services, perhaps a BBS of sorts would develop, with people providing bandwidth-intensive services only to others on the network. A local filmmaker could make works available at no cost to anybody on the network. Venues could narrowcast time-shifted concerts throughout the network to promote themselves and the bands. Discussion boards and blogs could be free-ranging and open, without fear of spam or outside intruders.
- Area websites could customize their content, based on the individual’s access point. If each access point only covers a few square blocks, sites could provide service overlays via, say, Google Maps, to show where restaurants, hotels, gas stations, etc. are located, relative to the individual’s location. On the more creative end, somebody could provide an interface to the city real estate assessors’ data, making available home value assessments on a map centered on the current location. Ditto for crime data, electrical lines, sewer lines, and so on.
- Public services could be improved through always-on connectedness. Police officers could have high-speed access to the department’s database from their cars, providing them with mug shots, plate matches, rap sheets, warrants, etc. Buses could have a WiFi-equipped Palm Pilot stashed in each one, with a bit of software tracking their current base station by MAC ID. Not only would that make it possible for CTS to know where all of their buses are at all times, but individuals could then track the buses. If I know that my bus is six blocks away from my office, I know it’s time that I headed on down to the bus stop.
Again, I’m just making this up as I go along. I’m not sure that these are particularly good — or even particularly likely — multiplier effects.
What other good could come of community WiFi?