For The Public Good

I just finished another article for OStatic where I imagine what web services would be good candidates for public, non-profit organizations. The two services I came up with are search and email, both I consider essential Internet tools. I’ve wondered about the democratization of the Internet before. One thought I had was wondering about the possibility of each household owning their own “server”, or server type device that connected them to the Internet, but also became part of the Internet.

The comments in the article about a server in each home mainly pointed to the fact that no one knows, wishes to know, or cares about how to configure a server properly, except for systems administrators. However, in my view that is an issue of design, not inherit complexity. A properly configured management system can build a server capable of picking up a few minor adjustments from a web form or a basic mobile application. What the server would need to know is what your domain is, or be able to assign you an address based on a default domain.

The concept is not without precedent. Connected Data’s Transporter is essentially an embedded server running on small hardware in an attractive case, accompanied by an easy to use configuration utility. The type of device I’m imagining would not need to be expensive either. A Raspberry Pi will set you back $40, accompany that device with a small flash drive and a case attractive enough to be in an average family living room and you have a home server.

The server would be capable of hosting a small web site, like this one, email, and possibly even connecting into a distributed social network like Diaspora. The device would provide many of the Internet services that a citizen of the global community could want. Now, to explore this thought experiment a bit more, what if the device was given away for free? It could be subsidized through local taxes, and organized by a non-profit. Given the right hardware the device could double as the family wireless router, firewall, and cable or DSL modem.

Assuming wide-scale adoption of such a device, we could expect large services to provide hosting for the bigger sites, but the need for lowest tier hosting services to decline. It is an interesting idea, but more of a thought experiment than anything.