Occupy.here is a distributed wifi occupation, a virtial public space embedded in the physical environment.
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Project Location

New York New York United States of America
Artists Involved

Sean McIntyre
Dan Phiffer
Project Description

Occupy.here is an invisible Temporary Autonomous Zone built on Internet technologies like wifi and HTML. The project seeks to build a network of independent wifi routers, each hosting local services that don't require an Internet connection. The routers have no upstream bandwidth, there is no mesh protocol. Each node of the network is a LAN island in an archipelago of affiliated websites.

People who are physically within range of the wifi network can share messages with others nearby using a simple "offline" web forum. Additionally, a JavaScript syncing mechanism shares content between wifi nodes using a kind of sneakernet; each user who connects to a node stores a backup of the router's data on their device, which is then synced upon connecting to subsequent nodes.

The wifi hardware runs OpenWRT Linux and custom web-based forum software. Anyone with a wifi-capable device can have asynchronous conversations with others who happen by. The message forum supports a range of purposes—from idle gossip to political debate to organizing direct action.

The project has developed in parallel with the global Occupy movement, and takes inspiration from its horizontalism and capacity for spontaneous expansion. In that spirit the project is developing a custom OpenWRT image that can easily be flashed onto an off-the-shelf router. We have a working prototype, an open source code base, and a handful of wifi routers.

A Rhizome commission would build on prior technical research to support the deployment phase of the project. This would include investments in hardware, workshops, documentation, and experimentation with various physical forms a wifi occupation might take. Here are some permutations that seem promising:

  • Statically hosted wifi (predictable and consistent)
  • Backpack wifi (flexible and mobile)
  • Bike- and solar-powered wifi (power independence)
  • Weather balloon wifi (spectacle)
  • Subway train wifi (MTA worker solidarity)
Occupy.here offers anonymous, non-corporate venues for communities to share locally-relevant information. It also enables that data to migrate more widely within a region. It's social software that favors proximity instead of prior acquaintance. It is a modest step toward making alternative networks relevant to a broader public.
Project Timeline and Budget

Part I: Education and outreach

Deploying and maintaining a functional wifi router will require some ongoing support. In exchange for access to free hardware, we will seek volunteers to help deploy new nodes and keep them running. During this initial 3 month phase we will provide free workshops to cover topics ranging from wifi networking basics to moderation and community support. Some possible venues include Eyebeam Atelier, The Public School and my communal workshop space in Bushwick, Brooklyn. These workshops will be self-contained, but will contribute to a 10-week course curriculum on networks, hardware, and programming autonomous web services. I'll seek to offer two of these workshop series in parallel, pending venue availability. Instructors will be paid $100 per workshop for labor.

During this phase we will also focus on developing online documentation and finalizing the custom OpenWRT image.

Part II: Statically situated wifi routers

During the education and outreach phase we will research potential locations that can facilitate an ongoing "virtual occupation." The ideal location will be accessible at no cost and provide the necessary electricity and physical security to host the router hardware. Possible categories include public libraries, privately-owned public spaces, community gardens, churches, communal living spaces, etc. This phase will last 3 months, during which we will deploy 20 wifi routers throughout New York City. The hardware has a unit cost of about $100.

Part III: Experimental deployments

Once a baseline static network has been established, the next step will include other more experimental deployments. The first area of research will focus on a mobile, battery powered variation that can be carried easily in a backpack. Other possibilities include a bike-mounted version powered by the rider's pedaling, a solar-powered variant, an aerial wifi router held aloft by a tethered weather balloon, and an underground version in collaboration with MTA subway conductors. This phase could last six months or longer, depending on the outcome of the experiments. It's hard to anticipate with certainty how much budget this phase will require, but we'd like to set aside $1,000 for hardware costs.

Total Budget: $5,000
About the Artist(s) Involved

Here is a link to Dan's c.v.:

Dan Phiffer is an artist/hacker from California interested in the cultural dimension of low-cost communications networks. I'm interested in how technology can help individuals and groups engage more meaningfully with their socio-political context. I'm proud to have received a 2008 Rhizome Commission, in collaboration with Mushon Zer-Aviv, for our open source project ShiftSpace. A more extensive list of my artistic activities can be found in my c.v., linked above.

Here is a link to Sean's c.v.:

Sean McIntyre (boxysean) is a Canadian technologist and artist living in Brooklyn, New York. He completed his B.Sc. in Computer Science and Pure Math at the University of Calgary in 2009 and is currently a masters student (Class of 2013) at the Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) at New York University. He has presented work at Nuit Blanche New York (2010, 2011 Brooklyn, NY), Maker Faire (2011 Queens, NY), Bent Festival (2011 Brooklyn, NY), and Art Hack Day (2012 Brooklyn, NY). His projects have been published in MAKE Magazine and Wired.com.
Artist(s) Work Samples

  • L Train Notwork is an unauthorized intranet on the L train that served curated local literary arts, image media, news feed headlines, and featured a chat application to let commuters connect to one another
  • moc.elgooG is a situated net art project that provides an alternative to popularity-driven search algorithms, reversing the order of results to surface unpopular Internet content
  • Neversink Transmissions is a site-responsive sculpture and local wifi-based archive of ecological knowledge of the Neversink Watershed
  • Postnational Foundation is an ongoing set of media interventions questioning issues of citizenship and nationalism
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