Applications are a great way to provide tools that address community specific needs. In planning for local applications, whether you use existing applications or develop your own, it’s best to follow a similar model to building the network itself -- shaping the technology to fit human relationships rather than shaping our relationships to fit the technology.
In this activity you will develop a list of important network and neighborhood characteristics, diagram your current network, and evaluate options for where to locate a local applications server on your community network.
The more information you have about your network, the sites where routers are hosted, your community needs, and how the network is currently used, the more useful your planning will be.
Time required: 1-2 hours, depending on the activities.
MATERIALS + SUPPLIES NEEDED
- Markers / Pens / Pencils
- Scissors (optional)
Applications & Network Assessment Basics
Networks have social, physical and technical challenges. Applications can live on the Internet, on a local network, or use peer-to-peer information transfer. One of the easiest ways to provide local applications, is to setup a server to host applications locally on the network. When planning how to add local applications to your network, you will need to understand each site -- how people use the network, what resources are available; as well as what type of applications you want to support -- large media or file sharing versus a chat application; and how you plan to support or govern the applications or server installation.
Activity: Diagramming & Siting a Local Application Server on Your Network
Using the Construction Elements, create a diagram of your network. If you are just getting started, this could be a diagram of the plan that you have so far, or you can work with someone else on the plan for their network.
Given your network, or the network you are planning for, what is the best possible location for a local server? What criteria do you need to consider? Here are a few questions to help get you thinking about what criteria you may want to consider for your network:
- Do the applications that you are thinking about hosting need to access the Internet?
- Does the server need to be physically accessed? Is the location safe?
- Who from your community is most knowledgeable about how to work with the server?
- Where do people in your community access and use the network the most?
- How many hops will the server be from the access points? from the Internet?
- Are there computers already located somewhere that could be used as a local server?
- Where are the strongest mesh connections within your network? Are there multiple ways that information can flow between a user accessing an application and the local server?
- What applications does your community need? Do the applications have any additional requirements from a technical setup perspective?
- Where in your community has good, consistent access to electricity?
- Does your community have one continuous network, or are there multiple networks in the community?
These questions are designed to help you think about some of the social, technical and administrative issues that might affect where you decide to put a local server on your network. Is there anything missing? Are there additional questions that should be added to this list?
1. List sites and/or areas you would like to have access to the applications. Use the questions above to guide the criteria of the potential sites or areas that you will prioritize. Identify which sites might have better characteristics to support a server or might present challenges for providing application access. For example, does every site have access to the Internet? Do all the sites connect to each other over the mesh?
2. Find or create a detailed map of the area and layer your network diagram over the map.You can use an up-to-date paper map, or a map from an online platform like OpenStreetMap or Google Maps.
3. If you don’t have enough information about a site, you may need to go to the site and assess what resources and challenges are there. You may find the Site Worksheet from the Inventory Module helpful for the visit. Photos are very helpful for capturing many details about buildings.
4. Using the criteria that you have developed, what is/are the best location(s) for a local server, or possibly multiple local servers, on your network? It might help to map out how information flows through the network given your different options. How does the experience of using applications change with the different configurations?
5. Once you and your community have decided on a location, work with your community to install the server and setup the applications.
To explore applications that other communities use, check out the list of applications on the Commotion Wiki -- Possible Local Applications
Example Map of a local network to assess where to place a local server.