Sneakernet Forum

Internet forum software for people without Internet access.

A traditional Internet forum is a web application that hosts discussions. People can participate in the conversations by connecting to the web site directly. In Figure 1, the Internet discussion forum at www.yourforum.com consists of a collection of messages, and Person A and Person B have both posted messages by directly connecting to the web site through the Internet. Person C and Person D, who don't have a way to connect to the web site using the Internet, cannot participate in the discussion forum.

Traditional Web Forum Figure 1: Traditional Web Forum

Sneakernet Forum is free and open-source software for creating a distributed web forum. Multiple different independent web server nodes coordinate to create a single, coherent discussion forum. The web server nodes can operate in disconnected mode, and they can relay messages for other nodes. This enables forum participation for users without Internet connections, using web server nodes that also do not have Internet connections. Sneakernet Forum allows messages to be relayed using a "sneakernet", including USB Flash drives or any other form of mobile media. In Figure 2, the Internet discussion forum at www.yourforum.com consists of a collection of messages, which are also copied periodically onto USB flash drives. When you plug one of those flash drives into a computer, it becomes a part of the www.yourforum.com discussion forum, even if it can't connect through the Internet to www.yourforum.com. Person B carries a usb flash drive that contains copies of most of the messages in the forum. Person C and Person D can access the forum using usb flash drives that have been synced with the main web site, or they can be synced second-hand or third-hand.

Distributed Relay Forum Figure 2: Distributed Relay Forum

The Sneakernet Forum software maintains copies of the conversations on your forum in multiple different places, including USB flash drives. If you post a message to a conversation from any node, then your message will be copied to all of the other nodes when people sync different nodes to one another. Even if the node that you can access never has Internet access, your messages can still reach the Internet through relay nodes.

Message Relay Overview Figure 3: Message Relay Overview

Status

Sneakernet Forum is currently experimental, and is not yet ready for widespread deployment. Please contact info@informationwithoutborders.org if you're interested in helping to beta test Sneakernet Forum by operating your own distributed sneakernet forum.

Technical Details

Sneakernet Forum is a project built using Ruby, with an included web application built using Ruby on Rails. The project is hosted by GitHub. This web site is hosted by GitHub Pages.