Power to the People

Access to the global internet

With the repeal of Net Neutrality, the national conversation has once again turned to whether Internet Service Providers will begin to throttle traffic or provide preferential treatment for certain sites over others. They have already done this before, and they’ve even injected their own Javascript into webpages you visit.

Today’s US internet service landscape is run by a cartel of too-big-to-fail telcos, who don’t compete with one another in the same cities. Over 100 million users have no choice in provider. These companies are happy to sue cities in state courts to prevent competition from municipal broadband. It’s very hard to start a competitor to them today.

The people rise up

Meanwhile, in cities across the world, there are now efforts for people to build their own mesh networks, which provide high speed connections outside of the large telecommunication companies. Among European efforts are Freifunk in Germany and Guifi.net in Spain. Now, growing movements in cities like New York City and Detroit have started building their own mesh networks as well. Connection speeds within the network are far higher than what people get on the global internet through the ISPs.

If you think about it, there is no reason why signals have to travel to a Facebook server 3000 miles away just to plan a local dinner or outing with friends. Students in a class should be able to connect with one another and collaborate on documents without using Google Docs. The same is true of passengers on a plane, or shipmates on a cruise, or villagers in Nigeria. Local networks should suffice.

Software to unite communities

All this growing local infrastructure unlocks the potential for people to connect with one another on a local level without relying on the ISPs. However, until now there has been a lack of good software to run on this infrastructure. The platforms people use today are almost invariably centralized and require access to the global internet. Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, GMail, Apple, Microsoft, Instagram, WhatsApp, SnapChat, Etsy, Netflix, Uber, you name it – they get venture-funded, get a bunch of people on both sides of a market, and extract rents. They have 1 engineer per million users, or less. Customer support is non-existent. They choose what features you have and what interface you see. They have the people’s data in one place, and sometimes that makes an attractive target for governments and advertisers. In a recent article, we covered this situation in more detail.

Since Qbix released our first apps back in 2011, we has been steadily developing our Platform to power community apps. Now it turns out that this Platform is a perfect fit for the mesh networks springing up, allowing people to enjoy use apps running on local servers, and get high-speed connections to one another, without even needing to connect to the global internet. Once in a while, a message needs to be sent globally, but most of the time, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

We recently paid a company called Antamedia to develop OpenWRT firmware that runs on many popular commercial routers. This firmware now allows communities to run our entire social platform and apps off of their local wifi. Imagine coming to class and having attendance taken automatically, because your phone connects to the local wifi hotspot. Imagine having messages stay private in the classroom, or unlocking rewards from actually being physically present at a concert, and so on.

As time goes on, we are continuing to push the boundaries of what’s possible in this space. Our next goal is to release software to turn an Android phone into a hotspot, allowing people to host a local community on demand wirelessly just from their Android phone. Even when they’re out camping. And the social apps built on our platform should work on all these networks, whether it’s a wifi router, an Android phone, a mesh network, or a website on the global internet.

Money to unite communities

In the last few years, all major social networks have added the ability for users to pay one another. It’s not just PayPal and Venmo anymore: you can now send money in GMail, Facebook Messenger, and now even iMessage. In China, WeChat (the chat application) has become a huge payment network within a few short years. People can now pay with WeChat at restaurants and other businesses across the country, and cash is rapidly becoming obsolete.

With the recent proliferation of interest in crypto-currencies and blockchain software, we got to thinking, why not help communities issue and manage their own money supply? This was our vision for social networking, but translated to the realm money. Instead of having large, global one-size-fits-all currencies (US Dollars or Bitcoin) we could once again give communities the power to determine their own fate.

So, starting 2017, we launched a spinoff company called Intercoin Inc. to do just that. Where Qbix focuses on social networking, the Intercoin project focuses on building the infrastructure to run a secure and resilient payment network. Similar to Facebook and GMail, Paypal and Stripe, we would implement buttons that app developers and website publishers could easily add in order to seamless get paid in the local currency. Prices would be displayed in the currency of the user’s choice, and Intercoin would make cashing in and out of currencies seamless.

Just like Qbix Platform enables local apps where most actions work without access to the global internet, the Intercoin project enables innovations in local community fintech. Basic Income becomes achievable by any community. All citizens can see how the money is being used, spot issues and deal with them as a community. Governance can be done in a democratic manner. The money supply can be controlled by the people instead of the elites, leveraging the wisdom of the crowd.

Decentralizing the gatekeepers

There is another huge benefit of letting communities install and run open-source software. Qbix Platform and Intercoin enables a richer developer system (just like the Web has done). Developers of apps and plugins don’t have to worry about some gatekeepers kicking them out of the App Store, or revoking their API keys while they build a competing product. Each developer can market to entire communities, who can then recommend the app to one another. Communities can do the work of promoting the app to their own members, while the apps would make it easier for the communities to engage their members and give them tools to get together and feel connected.

So that’s the vision: empowering people, uniting communities. When communities need more apps, they can band together and organically raise funds to pay developers to build and maintain them. It’s an open ecosystem where collaboration leads to more and more positive feedback loops.

Communities don’t necessarily have to be local. A person can belong to several communities, including their neighborhood, city, and a poets’ guild. They can get $20 a day Basic Income from the city and another $5 from the poets’ guild. This can help decrease poverty, food insecurity, and lead to increased freedom and prosperity.

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