More mesh thoughts

January 18, 2011

I think the key question, as has always been the question when it comes
to P2P network, is usability. Skype "just worked" so well that it took
off like mad. Same for the major pirate networks (though even those are
surprisingly unwieldy). A wireless mesh will only take off if it's
absolutely dead simple. In fact… I could see it leveraging some of
SocialVPN and the P2P social network concepts. Imagine:

1) You buy this USB device from WalMart, and plug it in for the first time.

2) An app launches, whether you're on Mac, Windows, Linux, iPad, whatever.

3) It asks "Welcome to the Mesh! Do you have an account, or do you want
to create a new one?" You choose "Create a new one, named Quinthar"; it
generates a huge public key.

4) It asks "There are 23 nodes in range named Alice, Bob, Cathy, etc.
Which are your friends?" You choose "Alice".

5) It shows you Alice's public profile, which is available to anyone.
It's up to Alice to decide how much to show. It asks "What password
would you like to use to friend Alice?" You say "Wonderland"

6) On Alice's computer it says "Quinthar would like to be friends, what
is the password?" She asks you, then types it in "Wonderland". It says
"Great, now you and Alice are friends, and will stay connected so long
as you are directly in range, share an intermediate mesh node, or are
both connected to the internet." [Eg, it works just like SocialVPN and
if it can't directly connect, establishes a NAT-penetrated connection
over the internet. After the initial setup, you never need to think
about it again.]

6) Once connected, you can see Alice's "Friend" profile, which is shown
to anybody who is friends Alice. It might have additional information,
such as online status, more photos and such, as she chooses. She sees
the same for you.

7) It says "Now that you're friends with Alice, what do you want to do?"
You say "Share these songs, photos, and videos, but not these other
ones." [Perhaps by folder.] When she looks at your profile, she sees
all these items. She can set offline preferences to optionally sync
your data to her computer for access if you get separated. You might
have a variety of access levels that you choose to share or not with
different people.

8) It says "Great, it's shared with Alice. Do you want to share with
any of Alice's friends — including those you don't know?" You directly
set how many levels of indirection you'll allow, perhaps just defaulting
to 3 (Alice, Alice's friends, Alice's friends friends.)

… fast forward until you have many connections, some of which are
physically in range, others are connected via a VPN over the internet,
others are offline …

9) You have a vast interface to browse the photos, videos, songs,
updates, profile information, and basically a lot of stuff about
everybody around you. The USB dongle is used to install on a new
computer, and connect directly without the internet, but even without
the dongle an installed computer can continue to participate in the mesh
via the internet.

10) If any particular computer gets lost or compromised, you can
unfriend them (or remove just that device) immediately. Furthermore,
your node is configured to monitor unfriending to automatically
"quarantine" any node that has become suspect. (For example, one of my
friends lost his iPhone; he'd remove that device from his profile and my
devices would stop talking with it, without any involvement from me.)

11) And because your USB dongle is owned by you, it can store data such
as your private key so you can easily move it between computers — or
even quickly access your mesh using someone else's computer, without
leaving any trace on the computer itself.

Anyway, ultimately I think mesh technology will be far less important
than mesh *usability*. It needs to be packaged up with really simple,
excellent software that enables the most basic peer activities —
especially file transfer — to be done in a totally seamless way

-david

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