You Are Here: Site-specific storytelling using offline networks
Unlike their twentieth-century counterparts, today’s media organizations rely almost entirely on the centralized distribution infrastructure of the internet to disseminate news. Yet the internet is, in many ways, a fragile system, as illustrated by disruptive events like 2012’s Hurricane Sandy and 2016’s Mirai botnet attack on East Coast DNS servers.
Over the last decade, however, the evolution of microcomputers has made it possible to build small, independent web servers that can host substantial amounts of material accessible via their own, standalone Wi-Fi signal. Such offline wireless projects have been used in classrooms, protest sites, libraries, and even for news.
The goal of the You Are Here project was to develop and document a fully open-source, offline wireless system and explore how it could be used to engage audiences with community-oriented news content. Over the course of one year, our team designed, built, and tested You Are Here at two New York City locations using originally reported podcast stories to prompt users to share their own reflections and experiences about the sites. While our project suffered from some the same challenges as previous systems, we believe that offline wireless systems hold substantial promise for safe, resilient, independent digital news distribution.
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