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Yellow Chairs and Neighborly Technology
Alex Steffen, 13 Jun 06

Yellow bikes are community bicycles available for anyone to use (an experiment which has had its ups and downs, but which remains very cool in principle); yellow chairs are places for passers-by to sit and use a neighbor's Net services, while engaging in neighborly interactions:

"When a local household in San Jose decides its share its wireless network with neighbours and other strangers, the house members do not know what to expect. Few curious passersby stop by to see what would happen next. There is a rumour that somewhere else, at the other end of town, another household with a yellow chair is doing the same thing. What was going on? The rumour mill worked overtime, as people wondered why anyone would want to sit on a yellow chair to access a wireless network. But for those who sat on the chair, they knew it was a unique experience and a lot of fun. They had been ‘invited’ to enter personal networks, share music and movies and shout across town about war and politics if they so wished. They felt like cyber voyeurs, entering unknown territories, grabbing and dropping files across the neighbourhood, across the city, over a cup of coffee."

This project's still in the realm of agit-art, but we're big fans of that. What's more, it addresses some fundamental cultural issues around shared products and services, walkshed technologies and the practice neighborliness in an alienated age. These are increasingly global concerns, as co-designer Anab Jain explained in an interview with Regine, "The yellow chair project/service attempted to rediscover and invent informal meeting spaces for our evolving Wi-Fi landscape, inspired by the banyan tree and the tea stalls in India, which are active hubs for information exchange and transient encounters."

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So cool!

Posted by: Subbarao Seethamsetty on 13 Jun 06

The University of Maine has a similar program called The Green Bikes. If you see a green bike on campus, get on it and pedal away, because they are very rare to find. It's a very neat service.

Posted by: Rick on 13 Jun 06

I feel as though a whole lot of the problems we have as a society are based out of the fact that, as humans, we need face-to-face-community, (no face to face, people end up terrified/angry/unable to communicate with one other) but the more technologically evolved we get, the less physical community we have. Very cool idea to combine the virtual pluses of connectivity with the actual pleasures of community.

Posted by: Maria on 13 Jun 06

Reminds me of Douglas Rushkoff's idea that the fake, abstracted interaction of the net is just a way of easing ourselves (or tricking ourselves?) back towards the actual community interaction that we've lost.

Posted by: Gyrus on 14 Jun 06

I'd love to see such things sprout up around where I live, but, as it isn't really urban around here, I can't imagine a way that such chairs would actually be used frequently :/

Posted by: Jacques on 14 Jun 06

I'm so moved after watching the short film that I'm considering the feasibility of sharing my own wireless network with my neighbors. And Yellow Chair San Jose's coming, I found out from Anab's blog!

Posted by: green la girl on 14 Jun 06

one aggrevating thing about the way that Wifi works is that there's no standard way of seeing the homepage of the network you're on: it's not like universally points you to some user-friendly page that tells you where you are.

I used to set my Wifi ID to my email addy or phone number so that people could contact me if they were using my network. It only seemed polite :)

Posted by: Vinay Gupta on 15 Jun 06

I ran an open wireless network at my old apartment for just shy of three years, and at my current place for almost two years. It felt good to share with my neighbors, but there were a few important gaps that made it less satisfying than it might have been.

People who used my network had no way of knowing who I was, or of contacting me. All I had to work with was the SSID. Conversely, I had no way of knowing how many people were using my network, which is important since the payoff for me was to know that people were benefiting from the service. The only signal I got was that other people's shared iTunes collections would sometimes show up in my copy of iTunes.

The biggest problem, however, was the one that eventually spurred me to shut the service down. I had no control over the amount of bandwidth people could use. I was happy to give bandwidth away as long as there was more than *I* could use, but there eventually came a day when someone started using so much bandwidth that I could barely connect to web pages or check my email. I couldn't find any settings that would allow me to throttle down the wireless service, so I had to shut the whole thing down in order to get my own access back.

Posted by: Mars Saxman on 15 Jun 06

You can discover the things Vinay and Mars asked about. You just have to learn more about 801.11x transceivers, routers and packet sniffing for a start. The better wireless routers keep usage logs.

Mars' problem seemed to stem from the fact that he was the only one within x number of meters that shared his broadband.

If everyone in a neighborhood shared their Internet connections wirelessly, and clients had some load balancing means to find near connections under light load, this might not be a serious problem anymore.

The concern I have is that people will want to keep their own communications private (Simply because it could contain passwords, credit card and banking data and so on.) while sharing their connection with others. Most average folks don't know how to do this.

Posted by: Pace Arko on 15 Jun 06

My entire project seems to be *Marx's story*! The same thing - of a neighbour stealing network, appearing on itunes, then bandwidth going low, not able to see who is using etc... And in fact I put the yellow chair outside precisely to make everyone who was using/misusing my network to rethink about such 'shared services'. And so also the idea of 'danger' around such shared networks crops up. I am personally interested in how levels of privacy are maintained in such public spaces.

Thanks everyone for your comments on my project:)

Posted by: anab on 15 Jun 06

Sharing WiFi is awesome... check this out:, a fast, easy and secure way to share your WiFi and develop local content!

Posted by: Damien on 15 Jun 06

for a safe way to share your wifi see fon

Posted by: Kimo Crossman on 16 Jun 06

Regarding naming your node: I name mine my street address: 7712 for 7712 NW 25th Ave. Anyone within reach of the signal should be able to understand why the ssid is that.


Posted by: SiamesePurr771 on 16 Jun 06



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