ECOSSystem - Extending Community Open Source System

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Wed, 04/25/2007 - 18:20.

While not currently a powerhouse in Free Open Source Software (FOSS), Northeast Ohio is positioned to begin excelling with FOSS in some very strategic ways that may add great value to the regional economy. 

Because of FOSS, we may now bridge the digital divide more quickly and completely here than has any other large urban center in America, we may soon have the highest percentage of workforce properly educated for the new economy, and we may lead the world in some fields of application development and technology innovation with global, open standards, all if the region now embraces FOSS..

The framework for moving NEO forward and ahead of the rest of America, with FOSS information technology, is based on enabling free universal access to high speed wifi, across Cleveland and collaborating suburbs, and making all the people, governments and organizations here effective with FOSS applications, like Ubuntu, OpenOffice and Drupal, and comfortable with social computing in general. In the process, each home and person in NEO will become connected to the new economy, from home and anywhere else in the region participating in the network, and citizens may collaborate in a globally unique and exceptional social network, in unprecedented ways.

The costs to implement such a framework will be paid through various interests that benefit from having universal wireless Internet access and a new economy here, including local, regional and state governments, school systems and universities, foundations, corporations and ultimately the individuals benefiting from the network. There is sufficient value in the commerce and communications enabled through this infrastructure to offset any costs - e.g., consider Cleveland city government savings in communications costs and improvements in efficiency enabled by such wireless technology infrastructure.

To enable free universal wifi access to the Internet, a group of open source advocates here in NEO and worldwide are collaborating to deploy the open source CUWiNware wifi mesh environment, using wifiDog user authentication, to build neighborhood wifi networks. These will be meshed together and the rest of Cleveland and many surrounding neighborhoods will be covered in one mesh network, over the next year. An analysis of the cost to deploy and maintain such an open source mesh network is found here, from CUWiN.

A sustainability and energy conservation objective of the wifi network will be to operate as much as possible off the electric power grid. We will power access points and servers with small and mid size wind turbine and battery power systems wherever possible - see http://www.motorwavegroup.com/new/motorwind/index.html.

To complete bridging the digital divide, we are also deploying large numbers of recycled corporate computers running the Ubuntu open source Linux operating system and OpenOffice and other FOSS applications, making all this free to users and so insuring households in need have the minimum hardware and software to participate in the new economy, when it becomes available to them via universal wifi access. This process must be standardized and scaled up dramatically as we deploy wifi, and include an aggressive grass roots training and technical support program.

To deploy the mesh network, we envision using very low cost hardware, running Free Open Source Software (FOSS) as the operating system and for the mesh network and access control. This model, in use in Champaign-Urbana, Il., and other places, offers a very low cost, rapid deployment solution to providing wifi city-wide. This can be deployed via a contained portal, which can be free or require users to pass through a payment or advertising gateway. I do not believe it is necessary to charge tolls to access the universal wifi network, nor do I think advertising is necessary - other than perhaps something on a contained entry portal - launch page - or with subscription services, like for the Plain Dealer or Crain's Business.

Where I believe unique value can be created is in the portal, which will be a collaborative shared community of all the stakeholders in the network, which is everyone in and interested in NEO. If all people in NEO go through the same entry point - portal - and it is an effective portal, it will retain people within the portal community. If it does a good job of providing news, people will stay there for news. If it is good for communications - private messaging... Skype... IM... Forums - people will stay there for that. If it has a good and complete calendar, it will become people's primary calendar. In other words, in this situation, where the access and the portal are interconnected, the portal becomes the primary internet experience of the region.

Under those circumstances, the portal will attract a huge number of users of all types, leading to ecommerce (Craig's List and eBay type transactions, for example), job searching, rich user profiles - all sorts of very exciting possibilities in such a social network. The value of the network will pay for the network, making it free for all users and in many ways paying users to use the network. 

Many open source social computing collaborators in this region are using Drupal portal technology (e.g., REALNEO, GCBL, Voice and Choices), and other open source social computing applications, to build up NEOs virtual community. As the wifi network is deployed, routing users through the authentication system into a contained portal, that portal will grow in importance and value to the community. It is important the physical NEO community is collaborative in development of our virtual community.

In connection with all this open source development will be creation of an Open Source Center of Excellence, here in Northeast Ohio, which will become one of the world's leading open source research, living and learning communities. The OS Center will develop curriculum and expert instructors to provide classes and programs at area school systems, private schools and colleges and universities, at their sites, and will provide advanced and private classes at the Center. The Center will also be the meeting place for the many open source programming and support groups in the area, and will have a significant computer research, development and study lab. We will also have a cybercafe, and connections with an innovative charter school located on-site.

As a service of the Center, we will need to develop a computer processing and distribution facility and service, with a vocational training focus, and a technical lab and classrooms, where students can learn how to recycle, repair and build computers - they will get training as they build computers for bridging the digital divide for those in need. In NEO there is need for 1,000s of computers for use in homes where affordability is an issue. Being provided a free recycled open source  computer will be of great value to these families. Getting these families computer savvy, and connected to the free community wifi will get them connected to jobs and opportunities, improving the overall economy.

We will need many businesses to be developed to help grow this sector of the new economy and IT industry in NEO.

We will need small computer shops in our neighborhoods, where people can go to get a cheap Ubuntu computer - used or custom built - and get basic tech support, repair, etc. In Toronto and other large cities there are whole districts of these small businesses - we need some here, around University Circle and around CSU. These shops will help area residents and businesses improve their hardware from donated equipment to more current and higher powered systems, with better capabilities - a transition point. 

We will need many small programming shops where applications are integrated and special features and interfaces are developed - rich media is explored - themes are designed. We'll need graphic designers to make new technologies compelling for various uses.

The new economy - new technologies - are forcing changes in how the world operates and that is creating exciting economic opportunities that NEO must pursue. With this strong, innovative strategy to transform this into a Universal FOSS region, NEO can gain global leadership in some very exciting ways in emerging industries that are core to the global economy, and significantly improve the quality of life for everyone in the region.