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Show HN: Wifis.org - making WiFi networks 'social' (wifis.org)
103 points by Major_Grooves on Dec 17, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 57 comments

A friend of mine built this as an evening side-project and launched it about a year ago.

With pretty much no effort, it got picked up by theNextWeb, RWW, BoingBoin and others: http://www.wifis.org/p/press

He only told me about it today and I haven't seen it on HN before, so I told him the Hacker News community would be a good place to get some feedback.

He hasn't tried monetising it yet, but I'm trying to convince him there is something there. In my mind it could be the 'AirBnB of WiFi networks'. What do you think?

This has potential but it needs more focus. Instead of making it so open ended (i.e. Want to grab a beer? -- which is kind of creepy), make it very specific. This is a service for allowing neighbors to easily share Wifi. It helps subsidize your wifi costs, etc.

You may already be doing this, but then you need to add/build the following:

- A way to actually take/manage payments from your neighbors.

- A way to manage access to the Wifi network (it's kind of like Lockitron for your wifi network in this way)

Once you have the idea simplified and the tools required to make this work end-to-end, as a potential user I'd rename my network to "RENT ME: Awesome Wifi Network" and see what happens.

Food for thought!

I believe that with nearly any ISP you're contractually prohibited from sharing your home internet connection with neighbors or anyone outside of your residence, so creating a service explicitly designed to do this is a bit of a grey area.

yep - same as with AirBnB most people are not allowed to sub-let their apartments and let's not get started on Uber...

This is called 'disruption'.

And it should be made clear that 'disrupting' existing businesses can get you evicted, or can get your internet service shut off.

Grey areas are great areas to start a business, or at least a cool project!

I'm fairly confident that this is not a "grey area". When something is specifically prohibited in a legally binding document that you agreed to / signed it is not "grey" it is, quite literally, "black and white". And, as the other posters have pointed out it is almost always specifically prohibited.

I don't know about you, but I've never signed a contract for residential Internet access. I just call them up and give them a credit card number and a few days later have a box with a live Ethernet port show up in my apartment.

I'm sure they could cut me off if they didn't like what I was doing, but they could cut me off at-will so it's not worth trying to read their mind.

In this case, it might be useful to indicate how fast your connection speed and network is, to give people more information if they decide to buy access.

What about having bitcoin payment for x minutes of access to the hotspot? :)

Seems to be easier to just give your neighbour the cash instead of sending it through a website.

Fairly obvious practical detail --

I'm at someplace new, where I don't have internet. I see if there are any open networks, no dice, but I see an encrypted network as www.wifis.org/poop. I think "oh, great, maybe my neighbor is friendly and I'll just go ahead and emai-- wait, I don't have internet, so I can't even visit the link."

Later I'm at a coffee shop seeing if FiOS is available in my area or double checking whether or not I live in Kansas City, and I think "oh, right that URL", but by then it's already disappeared from my SSID list.

Who's gonna have the forethought to write the URL down?

Explicit instructions in the SSID itself might encourage people to jot something down when they do finally get internet access. SSIDs are limited to 32 chars. The best I could come up with was:

  ask me for access:hi@domain.com
Of course, even better would be to do something clever like -- make an SSID called "Friends in Building Wifi", that's open access. Upon connecting, you get pushed a page that says "Want to share my bill? Send me a message with this form". The message then gets passed on to you, and then you can go walk downstairs and chit chat, or whatever. This way your neighbor can message you without requiring internet to do so, as wifis.org does. (And then, naturally, put your actual internet on a different WPA2-protected SSID.)

This is a good idea. The market is fairly small (people who are both tech savvy enough to understand what's going on and altruistic enough to want to participate), but that's ok.

I see very clear benefits over just putting your email address in your SSID. 1)Anonymity 2)Users may learn to trust the wifis.org brand. People can leave feedback about you on the site. I kind of see it as a couchsurfing for wifi.

That being said, I wouldn't bother trying to monetize. It can't cost him more than a few bucks a month to run this and unless he changes the product a bit (either provide higher value or larger market), I don't see monetization being particularly successful. Right now it is a great resume builder and a way to promote other projects that may be more lucrative (e.g. "Hey remember the guy from wifis.org, well now he's working on X"). If he's really worried about the hosting costs, he can put a donate button on the page.

It's a clever idea. I'm not 100% sure I'd use it because I'm not totally sure what the benefits are vs the potential downside (spam? e-mails saying LET ME USE UR NETWORK QUICKLY PLS). Maybe I'm too cynical, though.

Personally I like the anonymity of funny SSIDs. This just seems slightly desperate (not helped by the example on the landing page: "I just moved into this building and saw your Wi-Fi. Want to grab a beer?"

I really do want to like this idea, but I just can't see the benefit of it. Worse still, there's nothing to stop me adding my own e-mail address to my SSID and short-cutting wifis.org entirely.

That said, the concept has potential, but I think it needs to branch in a slightly different direction. Maybe the site can be used to search for people who offer up their wireless as free hotspots. Or have interesting intranet services (eg clubs could have some of their local bands content available to download, but only from their Wifi intranet for wifis.org members). At least then they've created an infrastructure where a community can grow in a way similar geotagging. As it stands, I suspect people will sign up and then forget about this service in a couple of weeks time. Which is the opposite of how social networks grow (where people are encouraged to return frequently).

Actually, I might set up that wifi geotagging idea myself...

Let's not forget the potential hassle when somebody starts conducting illegal activities with your network as the source point.

comment below from Mat, who built this:

Email spam should be prevented by the captcha - check http://www.wifis.org/example

It's completely different. FONERA aims at creating a global network of free wifi everywhere. To participate you need to buy a FONERA router. Wifis.org is simply a way to communicate with the wifi network owner. You just need to rename your SSID and your neighbors can now email you.

Oh, haha. I wouldn't have guessed something that simple.

People could just name their network after an e-mail address if they wanted to be contacted..

I would say wifis.org is "cutting out the middle man" and you don't share with an anonymous global community, but rather locally with someone you probably (get to) know. Also, its potentially free. Personally I see the biggest use case in moving and temporarily needing a wifi connection until your real ISP can hook you up.

In the UK FON is everywhere due to it being defaulted to on with BT Internet for the last few years (BT is one of the most popular ISPs and also runs the landline phone network)

What's the advantage over renaming my network to "@mikeash", "twitter.com/mikeash", "http://mikeash.com/, or similar?

privacy and ease of use?

Privacy I could see, although it would be very easy to set up a new account just for my wifi if I was concerned about that. But ease of use? How is setting something up on a new web site easier than just using what I have already?

Ease of use in the sense that you don't need to monitor an additional twitter account or create a mail redirection to your email to receive messages.

It seems like an interesting idea. But without wifi access, it's hard to visit a page to send an email.

I guess the idea is that you note it down and then message them from work. Or maybe you can do it using 3G on your phone, so that you get get on to WiFi with your laptop.

While true, it's definitely an inconvenience; especially for one-off uses of wifi.

interesting idea, but how can the user contact the owner when he currently doesn't have an active internet connection ?

I guess the user has to contact the owner from a different device that has internet access.

and why not just rename my SSID to ContactMeForFreeWifi@somemail.com ?

How about some software which actually lets the other person with no internet access contact me ( via WiFi ), of course security should be taken care of .

That's an interesting point. Of course it would be more complex, but it does seem like a good idea to go a step further and provide a WiFi landing page to have the contact form on.

i have an open wifi that my neighbours can use. the biggest problem is establishing consensus about how it should be used.

what i intend is that anyone can use it, particularly for emergencies, but that you don't use it so much you damage my performance (or break the law).

i kind of assumed that was obvious. but in practice i need to ban someone about every 6 months. i just use the mac address to drop everything except port 80 tcp, which gets sent to a "you were banned because..." page.

that works fine - people aren't smart enough or motivated enough to work round the mac block - but it's too late, in that the person has lost all access as part of learning about the expected use.

so, anyway, for me that's what needs to be solved here - educating users about what is acceptable use of open wifi. i'm not really sure this solves it (i doubt people will actually look at the url in the ssid).

What I would do in this case is set up a eula that they need to accept in order to use the wifi. Even consumer-level routers can do this, if not out of the box than with Tomato/DD-WRT

thanks, that's a good idea. the historical accident of how things ended up connected as they are means it's non-trivial to do right now. but i guess i should have it as a long-term goal.

[edit: i do understand what you mean; but currently this is implemented just as a wifi endpoint (no router - just wifi) on an internal network and some iptables rules.]

Hotels have that already. Drop all traffic except web, then route that to an authentication or EULA page, set cookie, etc.

Here is a video tutorial (not mine): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d1Dpyin-99M

This makes so much sense in high-rise apartment buildings where everyone has their own cable connection and wireless router. The cable companies don't want you to share your connection -- they want everyone to pay up. But sharing is much cheaper for end-users. Good luck with this, smart idea. Incentivizing broad adoption is the hard part. ;)

Is there any limit to what type of info you could place in the 32 byte SSID field? It could be an email address. It could be some other plain text. It could be encrypted text. It could be a public key. It could be a 32 byte "blog". Or a 32 byte "tweet". Use your imagination.

On your mark, get set, file your bogus software patents!

Neat idea. Here's another I've been stewing on for a while: give every wifi point a wall/chatroom that's only writable (and maybe, only readable) by people using the same public (behind-NAT) IP address.

One problem with SSIDs for messaging is how their display is often truncated. (iOS's wifi screens are a bad offender here.)

Several years ago I set my AP name to one of my email addresses with the express purpose of being able to share WiFi if someone needed brief internet access. No one has ever contacted me about using my WiFi. Perhaps I needed to name it "Want WiFI? email me ..." to make it clearer.

Perhaps people couldn't email you without WiFi...

Having the ssid as a url is a nice idea. Instead of charging neighbours to use your net, perhaps it could be used to collaborate a mesh net or something?

Edit: Hey, the meshnet project is really taking off... https://projectmeshnet.org/

Someone should start making me social, instead of making my wifi...

I don't understand why?

what do you not understand?

Why would I want my WiFi to be contactable?

A lot of people don't talk to their neighbours. This has the potential to have lots of social benefits. You could contact people in your vicinity about lost pets, garage sales, etc. beyond just sharing a wifi connection. Maybe you could even help a neighbour have a better connection by letting them know that they should change their WiFi channel.

There must be a better way to do that.

It's about people being nice and sharing with each other. Like Couch Surfing perhaps. There doesn't have to be financial gain, although I am trying to tell him there could be...

You could just put some piece of contact info in your ESSID?

Two problems with that: 1) You and your WiFi don't stay as anonym as with wifis.org 2) The "neighbor" seeing eg an email as a SSID get's no explanation why you did this

I don't think it takes a doctor of human psychology to work out why an e-mail address has been used as an SSID.

I got a few of my friends to sign up using the invitation link, but have not received my extra WiFi IDs. I can't find any way to contact WiFis.org, either.

If you built a way for people to pay each other into this (like Stripe Connect, for example) this could be interesting.

this is a very bad idea! Since the concept of "Störerhaftung" got introduced (interferer accountability), the account holder will be held liable for copyright infringement.

This is not hyptothetical. It happened to a friend of mine, she has to pay around 1500€ I think.

I really wish some service (such as Fon) would provide a vpn service that I could setup and automatically route all guest traffic through. This way Fon could establish themselves as an ISP, and be protected legally (common carrier), and I wouldn't have to worry about what people are doing with my wifi.

I've also though about setting up a guest network that routes over Tor. This way none of the traffic could be traced back to me.

Basically, I would love to provide free wifi for neighbors to use that is limited to a few mbps, but I don't want to have to deal with the legal risks associated with this.

need to connect this with Karma https://yourkarma.com/

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