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Posts from July 2015

Firechat Enables Private Off-The-Internet (P2P) Messaging Using Mobile Phones

Firechat mesh network

There was a fascinating article posted on Medium this week by the CTO of messaging app Firechat:

In the text he outlines how they do decentralized "off-the-grid" private messaging using an ad hoc mesh network established between users of the Firechat app. It sounds like the app instances join together into some kind of peer-to-peer (P2P) network and then do normal "store-and-forward" messaging.

Of note, the apps do NOT need an Internet connection, or even a cellular network connection - instead they can use the Bluetooth and WiFi radios in the mobile phones to create a private mesh network and connect to other users of the Firechat app.

Naturally, having spent some time exploring P2P networks back when I was playing around with P2P SIP and distributed hash tables (DHTs) and other technologies, I immediately jump into the techie questions:

  • How are they routing messages from one user to another?
  • How is the "directory" of users in P2P mesh maintained?
  • What addresses are they using for the communication? Is this still happening over IP addresses? Or are they using some other kind of addressing?
  • How do users join and leave the mesh network?
  • How do user get authorized to join the private mesh? (Or is it just open to all?)
  • How secure is the communication between the parties?
  • Is the message encrypted or private in any way? Or is it just plain text?
  • How well do smartphone batteries hold up if multiple radios are being used? What is the power impact of joining into a mesh network like this?

None of that is covered in this article, of course... this piece is more about the theory of how this can work given a particular density of users. It introduces the phrase "percolation threshold" and provides some background and research into how these kind of networks can be created.

I've always been fascinated by P2P networks like this sounds to be. The beauty of the Internet... the "Internet Way", so to speak... has been to support distributed and decentralized architectures.

If you think about mail or web servers, they are (or at least were) massively distributed. Anyone could set up a mail or web server - and millions upon millions of them bloomed. While we've certainly seen a great amount of centralization due to market dominance (ex. Gmail), the architecture still is distributed / decentralized.

Except... of course, the directory is still centralized. Mail and web servers rely on the central directory of DNS to resolve domain names into IP addresses so that connections can occur. Most other applications rely on DNS for this as well.

Hence my curiousity about how Firechat is handling the directory and routing issues.

I'm also intrigued by how the article hints at integrating Internet-connected users into the P2P mesh. So you really have a hybrid network that is part P2P and part connected out to cloud-based servers.

(And all of this brings me back to those early days of Skype 8-10 years ago when so many of us were captivated by the P2P mechanisms they created... most all of which is now gone in the post-Microsoft-acquisition as Skype has moved from P2P to server/cloud-based - with one big reason being given that mobile devices apparently had speed and battery life issues participating in true P2P networks.)

A key challenge Firechat faces, of course, is the "directory dilemma" of building up the quantity of users where P2P mesh networks like this can happen. This is the same dilemma facing basically all over-the-top (OTT) messaging apps. "Percolation theory" requires a certain user density for a mesh like this to work.

That will be their struggle.

And in some urban areas I can see this working quite well. Perhaps not so much out in the woods of New Hampshire where I live!

But I wish them well with this. I love to see new explorations of potential new architectures for communication. And I can certainly see instances when ad hoc, distributed/decentralized P2P meshes like these could be quite useful.

And I'm definitely looking forward to some more technical articles that dive down into some of these questions.... I do hope they'll write more soon!

Photo credit: Stanislav Shalunov's article about Firechat

There Was Power In What Happened Last Night (At InterCommunity 2015)

Icomm15 all

There was an amazing power in what happened last night. There was a "magic" ... that I can't quite explain.

I sat in a room in Ottawa, Canada... but yet for 2.5 hours I was connected into a global meeting that brought me together with people all around the world... sitting in their homes, offices... or wherever. And gathered in large groups in New Zealand... Tunisia... El Salvador... Uruguay... New York... DC... the Dominican Republic... more...

The event was the Internet Society's InterCommunity 2015 ... something I wrote about on Circle ID, wrote about here, and talked about twice in my TDYR podcasts: episodes 258 and 259.

For that 2.5 hours we talked about how we are collectively working to bring the opportunities of the Internet to the 50% of the world that doesn't yet have access... we heard stories about the amazing work people are doing... we heard about our new 2015 Global Internet Report that highlights the rise of the "mobile Internet" and both the awesome potential - and pitfalls - that we are seeing... we talked about "Collaborative Governance" and how we need to work together to address the changes the Internet has brought to governance - and how governments adapt to the Internet... we heard from people in different parts of the world about the work they are doing... we talked about Internet security and how our "Collaborative Security" approach can be applied to activities people are doing... we had excellent questions about encryption and open vs closed systems... we talked about needing to speak in clear simple voices to explain these challenges... about the need for a stronger identity for the Internet Society... and so, so, so much more.

But it was FAR more than just the conversations... which were excellent.

It was the CONNECTION that I could feel...

Over 2,300 people registered for the event and some % of those folks were online for the first session last night...

There was power in seeing the faces of all the people around the world.

There was power in hearing the voices of the all the people around the world.

There was power in reading the text comments in the chat or on Twitter and social networks.

For that period of time... geography didn't matter... nationality didn't matter... race didn't matter... gender didn't matter...

We were just people ... connecting ON the Internet... and for the Internet.

Exploring together how we could truly bring about the "Internet of opportunity" that would be available to everyone, everywhere, and that could be trusted for our communication... our conversations... our commerce... and indeed our connections.

Talking really NOT about the technology, but rather the impacts of the Internet on our society... and on our daily lives.

It was a remarkable event.

And this was just the first session! While we in the Americas timezones were getting some sleep, another group of participants was having a second session bringing together even more people across Europe and Asia.

I woke up to see a steady stream of outstanding tweets using the #icomm15 hashtag - as well as email from colleagues and others - showing that the second session was equally amazing.

There was power in what happened last night.

The challenge now, of course, is to move what happened last night from beyond just conversation into the action that we need to truly realize the potential of the Internet.

That will be our task in the days, weeks, months and indeed years ahead...

For me, as I get ready now to make the 7-hour drive back home from Ottawa to New Hampshire, I'm still processing in my mind what it was all about. It may take some time - and reflection - to truly understand.

Yes, on one level it was "just" a meeting of different people tied in via video connections all across the Internet and streaming out to individuals via the Internet. No big deal, right? We can do this all the time, right?

But it was also something more...

There was power in what happened last night.

P.S. Here are some more photos taken by Glenn McKnight of the Ottawa node ...

InterCommunity 2015 on July 7/8 - Join In To Voice Your Opinion! (And I'll Be In Ottawa)

Intercommunity2015 squareHow do we as a society address some of the most critical concerns about Internet governance? Internet security? connecting the entire world? (including all the Internet of Things?) This week on July 7 and 8 you have a unique opportunity to get involved with discussions - and actions - related to these questions at the Internet Society's InterCommunity 2015 event.

It is an event happening ON the Internet... not tied to any one physical location but rather bringing together thousands of people around the world in a global conversation.

You can register for free at:

You can join in from your home, office, or wherever you have connectivity. The meeting will be taking place in two different sessions:

  • 7 July 2015 from 20:00 to 22:30 UTC
  • 8 July 2015 from 06:00 to 08:30 UTC

(Use this time zone converter to find out what times these are for you!)

As the agenda shows, we'll have sessions on Internet access, governance and security - and a chance to interact with people on all of these issues.

Now, there are what we call "regional nodes" around the world where larger groups of people will be gathering together to have face-to-face conversations and to also join into the global conversation. If you are near one of those locations you are welcome to go to the meeting place there to meet other people in your region.

I'll actually be in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, at the node there... if you are in Ottawa I look forward to seeing you there!

I'm very much looking forward to this meeting in part because these issues are so critical... and also because InterCommunity 2015 is an experiment in doing a global meeting across the Internet - and that is to something we need to do more of! So I'm looking forward to seeing how it all works out!

Please do join with us over the next few days and be part of this conversation!

P.S. InterCommunity 2015 is a meeting of the members of the Internet Society, but if you are not already a member (membership is free) you can join as part of the registration process.

P.P.S You can also follow the #icomm15 hashtag during the event on Twitter ( ) and other social networks.