This is an intellectual challenge: how to design a generic, many-to-many communication system that prohibits surveillance entities from proving that you (1) read some website or (2) contributed content to some website, even if they do (1) capture and analyze all traffic on the Internet and (2) can break all encryption that is used for many-to-many communication (practically mostly SSL, which might be broken in many cases by NSA using MITM attacks). The only capabilities that we assume here that the surveillance body does not have is (1) breaking encryption used for local-only storage, such as TrueCrypt and (2) breaking encryption used for one-on-one encrypted communication between parties who know each other personally (which is comparatively simple to achieve with PGP etc.). So we're only talking here about them treating you as part of the big mass of people (one of the many activists out there …), not being one of the select few for which they do "targeted access operations" to infect your computer by software or hardware …

Note that, as we assume that the surveillance body captures all Internet communication globally, Tor can no longer be considered secure as they can then do timig correlations on the whole Tor network at once and with that information (simplified by running some own Tor nodes …) de-anonymize its participants. (For that reason, we cannot use realtime two-way communication at all.)

So: here's my proposal from three hours of thinking on today's evening about this. I guess it's pretty wanky 🙂 Anyway, your feedback is welcome.

The basic idea is to hide reading the website steganographically in reading another unsuspicious website, and contributing to the website steganographically in a botnet infection (and by contributing from public wi-fi only). So the surveillance body would see you communicating, but you can plausibly deny reading and writing on that forbidden website; you just read a photo blog and had a spam virus infection … can happen, right? 😛

Part by part:

Deniable reading: steganographic site-in-a-site

This needs an unsuspicious "host website" with considerable data traffic for every user. For example a photography forum or even a porn site. Being used as a host site could be negotiated in secret with the operators (if you are an activist with a valid cause to which people tend to agree), or the site could also be hacked for that purpose, or a site can be "reused" which happens to be a customer website on a web server you operate. But that's quite evil … . In any case, the site should have a large existing community so that everybody can justifiably claim that they just used the host site and did not know anything about the payload data hidden in its traffic.

So to read the "secret website" you want to access, you do a daily round on this "host website", looking at new posts etc.. You will use a special browser (started from a steganographically hidden and encrypted partition on your computer) with a plugin that extracts the new steganographic payload data from this host website. So every new day of updates on the host website also contain the new day of updates for the payload website. The updates are very compact, compressed, git-style updates, probably just plain text. Also, to make connecting input to users even harder, normally every post in the payload site is anonymous (not even pseudonymous!), but users could identify themselves with transient handles for just a few posts to create necessary context in a thread.

Instead of starting the payload extraction and decryption software from a steganographically hidden area, another alternative is to get it to be part of the basic operating system installation for everyone. Which is then likewise unsuspicious because it provides an alibi.

The payload website would not be encrypted. So the surveillance body would find out about it quickly, and it would take some weeks or months to get the host website switched off or its "infection" with the payload site removed (by choosing a proper jurisdiction for the server location, and by using Tor to hide its location somewhat, it can definitely take that long). At which point the payload site would switch to a different host site. Even better, it would always use different host sites in parallel for redundancy, and switching from one to the other would not need any re-downloading of previous data. Just the new "git commits".

But maybe it is better to have the payload data encrypted – if it helps to keep the "infection" from being detected for a long time, it definitely is better. That however implies that every user has to get their own specialized payload, encrypted with a PGP public key. So the host site cannot be a broadcast type of site (like a forum), but has to provide content to every user (like a PTT voice messaging site for example, since PTT voice messages can well take steganographic payload). The payload site server would also encode slightly randomized payload for the different users, and of course not log the random elements, to prevent the connections between the public keys (on the server) and the user accounts (of the host site) to be made when the server is compromised. Which means that even then, nobody can tell which users got data with payload and which are just normal users. Only when finding the users and seizing their computers one could tell that … but no, not even then, since (1) the users usually cannot be found and (2) their private keys for decryption are steganographically hidden on their computer (see below).

Against breaking communication encryption: anonymity by free wi-fi

There is no issue with encryption being broken (or content not being encrypted at all!) if this still does not give them a hint to your real-world identity. The solution is to not give them any connection between the IP address and personal identities. How to achieve this?

  • Use a mobile device that looks for open wi-fi networks while you walk around in a big city. If it finds one, it will connect to it quickly, send its data, and disconnect again. The data is a git-style, very compact update to the shared content of the website / forum you contribute to. With this method, you can sync to that website 1-2 times a day, which should be enough for most purposes.
  • If your country does not allow anonymous Internet access at all (such as in China), send your data by encrypted e-mail to somebody abroad whom you trust and who will perform the above procedure for you. If you don't have somebody you trust, you are doomed anyway 😉

The security and safety of this procedure can be enhanced by:

  • using directional wi-fi antennae hidden below your clothing (for example in your arm – the system will guide you to point your arm in the right direction to get the best connection to a remote wifi 😉
  • more importantly, by using a new, spoofed MAC address for every connection. Which is important in case the wi-fi network logs the MAC addresses of connections
  • choosing only wi-fi networks open to the general public (in bars, airports etc.), to avoid raising suspicion of the surveillance body against individuals whose wi-fi you would else compromise
  • disguising your optical appearance against face recognition through surveillance cameras etc.
  • unsuspicious behavior, to prevent raising suspicion in surveillance videos etc.; this however is a pretty low-grade threat, as it involes a lot of manual coordination work ("targeted access operations"), which a surveillance body cannot do for its whole population
  • writing from a different device than you use for reading; you would use commands like "reply-to:post452798" for placing your content at the right spot of the website; you would never ever exchange data between the two devices (since then, also data coming from a trojan by which the surveillance body infected your reading computer, could be transferred to your writing computer and could prove that you participate in the website instead of just "unknowingly" getting its data in steganograophic form)

Deniable contributions: a botnet is controlling your device!

This is a pretty funny idea: claiming that your computer (that you use for sending) does stuff that you don't even want it to do is perfectly reasonable. So even if you are caught sending through a free wi-fi network, you still have an alibi. Because there will indeed be a virus on this device, that also has the habit of sending out e-mail spam, but it is special in that you can control it. You can also justifiably deny doing so, since all the programs and data to do so (including your website contributions before being sent) are in a TrueCrypt-style partition with a full filesystem that is steganographically embedded in your personal library of self-made photos. Because these are your own photos (and you did not publish them anywhere!), nobody can claim that you steganographically modify them since they did not see them before.

But we need some more stuff: as spambots usually do, yours will auto-generate the spam e-mails you will send out, including many spelling errors, random input for changes to embedded images etc., "to pass the spam filters". But instead, these changes also allow you to add the steganographic input, which also will look just like random changes, so just like the spambot behavior. In reality, it is encrypted with a public key of the server from the website you contribute to, and as long as that private key keeps private, your alibi is safe. This is actually P2P encryption which we allowed above to be not broken. But even if it gets broken, you're still not caught by any means since you always use the free wi-fi for Internet access 🙂

The e-mails will travel to the server hosting the secret website (or to a P2P encryption connected, befriended server), with the alibi that it is also an e-mail server. The server will however claim that these e-mails are spam, and not forward them to its users. But of course, internally evaluate them to extract the payload data. The private key for doing that, and the whole "secret website" software has to be protected in the server, of course, and has to have "deniable existence". This is possible by, again, using steganographic storage of a TrueCrypt style partition, maybe in the image data of the "host website". When the server is physically accessed, it will quickly unmount that logical partition, delete the access key from its memory, and be just another normal webserver 🙂

Simplifications and optimizations

  • It is not needed to hack or infect a host site to use it for embedding another site. Just select one that allows anonymous image or video uploads. If doing so, it should however be a site where all the steganographic content is downloaded by regular users, too, so the steganographic users have an alibi. For example, a meme collection site that allows anonymous submissions and publishes daily updates is a good choice. Or a site that hosts pirated content or porn. This is much better than "infecting" sites and running a separate server for the steganographics. Since this way, no own server and no infected site can be taken down. All own software runs on the clients (which would have a little configuration file that selects what URLs to download for steganographic content, and which for cover, and a decryption key to access the extracted steganographic information. Depening on how far this key is shared, it becomes any software between steganographic 1:1 communciation or many-to-many communication.)
  • The important point is to make steganographic communication comfortable. Not like e-mail, but like a full forum, even with special features like calendars etc.. Only then one can organize social change with it. The way NNTP (Newsnet) works is a good paradigm: a desktop client software collects message / data packages from somewhere, and provides the frontend locally.
  • For anonymous posting on public wi-fi networks, maybe one can even use little quadrocopter or blimp drones, operating at night. During the day they would hide in some place not at your home, and in passing on your way to work etc. you would transfer the next set of data to upload to them.

Has been nearly a year since the last release. But then again, it's just a for-fun project for me at the moment where I put in some spare hour to relax by indulging into creative technological thinking and some systems engineering. Anyway, here we go:

The new version 0.13 of the EarthOS document has been published. Access it with that given link, or via “Downloads -> Main” in the site menu.

What's it all about? A constantly evolving open content project where I collect and orchestrate existing open hardware and open source projects and own ideas into a system with which you could manage all material and technological requirements of living, from food to water supply, mobility to clothing, health care to Internet connection.

What is it good for? Personally I use it as a framework of thought: I do not implement it all since it's too much of an effort for one person alone, but where applicable I align the designs of stuff I build according to the EarthOS proposals. For example, things I integrate into my mobile home. So I guess it would be great as a combined roadmap that could help all the open projects to coordinate efforts for arriving at a fully open world efficiently and fast. Preferably in our lifetime!

What's new? Too much to count. Really, it's 850 pages now and I do not remember all I changed. Main aspects are however the energy supply design: levels L2 and L3 rely on biomass gasification now. This includes innovative ideas that have never been tried to my knowledge, like a bike with wood gas powered assisted power engine, or a truck where 100% of all energy is used because the 60-70% thermal energy, normally lost via the exhaust and radiator, is used for meaningful work like drying collected biomass and recycling water by multi-stage distillation.

Why are there no images? :S Umh, I admit the document is very much in draft state, also still containing untranslated German sections etc.. It's like a brain dump … and probably shows the nature of my thoughts: many details but not aesthetically pleasing 😀 I am wide open to your proposals how we could make this a great, usable piece of content. In order to make faster progress, we'd either need more people, or some compensation so I can put in more hours. Any ideas? Any feedback on how applicable this is for a small crowdfunding campaign?

At DIY Days Gothenburg, I showed the EarthOS project in the experience hall. With this, I collect and integrate open source alternatives for plain everything in life, and showcased things like Makerbot, Bitcoin, Open Source Ecology.

What totally surprised me was how DIY Days contributed back: It made me understand that EarthOS is more story than engineering project. Because that's how DIY Days participants intuitively understood it ("I appreciate it as a work of art.") It's a novel, disguised as a manual. An utopian exploration into how open source will transform the world.

Some thoughts from the accidental storyteller that I am:

  • Share Do Learn. Share your half-ready project – DIY Days fits great! Forced to explain, you're forced to learn what you do. It so happened to me.
  • Mingle with people you never meet. As a tech hacker, getting involved in the artful DIY Days community enabled me to see my story. A story is what the audience says is a story!
  • Tell an open story, not just an open end. EarthOS has no plot, just a framework, tools, inspirations. People imagine their own plot and role from this vague vision of the future.
  • Let's call it a plan. Your ambitious story is most inspiring when you call it "project" and disguise it as reality. It made me sad that People never knew if EarthOS is real, vision or outright fiction. Now it's a story that covers all these, and I want to play with this confusion, challenging the audience towards action.
  • Live out your stories. It makes them much harder to ignore, and it makes you a synthesis of the arts. Everything has its place: code is poetry, sewing is costume design, makeup is art, home hacking is set design and demonstrations are stages. Let's care to tell world-changing, deeply meaningful stories with our lives. Unfinished stories which others desire to continue when we're dead.

Awesome life stories to all! (And, would love to hear how you enact yours.)

Matthias (@matjahu)

This is a somewhat extended version of an article by me that appeared in the Learn Do Share Book number 3 (from DIY Days Gothenburg in 2013-02 – available in full for download). The article was inspired by my experience at DIY Days Gothenburg 2013.

Some weeks ago, the EarthOS project happily made it to be a part of a presentation by Nadia El-Imam at TEDxULg (it’s the first project of those she presents, starting at 0:50):

All this happened because of the Edgeryders project. It’s an initiative to listen to the stories, ideas and strategies of young people to derive policy recommendations for our Europe-in-crisis from that. The project is funded by the European Union and the Council of Europe, and organized by the Social Cohesion Research and Early Warning division of the Council of Europe. I contributed some things about EarthOS and the “open everything” movement, and was happy enough to get the opportunity for a small presentation about EarthOS at the Edgeryder’s Living On the Edge 2012 conference in Strasbourg, which was 2012-06-14 to -15. Yep, and finally Nadia, creative director at Edgeryders, included this and several other projects in her powerful presentation at TEDxULg, one of the independently organized TED events.

So much free publicity for EarthOS, and it’s not even ready be published! It seems I need to hurry up 😉

It has been 3.5 months since releasing it actually, but I wanted to point it out in its own post: the new version 0.12 of the EarthOS document has been published. Access it with that given link, or via “Downloads -> Main” in the site menu.

A quick intro to the EarthOS project for those who do not know yet:

What is it for? EarthOS, or “Earth Operating System”: what Linux is for the computer, EarthOS aspires to be for this world: a free, open, DIY operating system. It contains free and open tech for all of life, essentially being a “civilization in a box” with which individuals can reach a high level of personal autarky and resilience, and communities of ~200 can reach it fully. From a social change perspective, EarthOS is a local community centric, freedom enabling approach to global human co-living, making it both stable and sustainable.

What does it look like? So far, like a long document of 971 pages A4 (as of version 0.12). The document contains both a framework of design principles and technical interface standards, and also the actual list of equipment items. You will find web references to hundreds of interesting free and open projects in this document.

What's the current state? So far, the document is far from done. I guess that about 25% of the work is done on the way to a collaboratively edited and finished document in similar-to-Wikipedia quality. The current version 0.12 still has a heritage of being derived from a personal project with a somewhat different focus. And unfortunately, that initial project was documented in German language, which has to be translated. Also, there are hundred of notes and references to open projects in so-called "unsorted sections", which have to be worked through to get them either into the proper place in EarthOS, or discard them if they do not fit in. The key decisions about the EarthOS system architecture (including equipment levels, energy sources, technical interface standards) are done, but some might need to be corrected as the work on the document and on DIY tech itself progresses.

Who is doing it?  So far, it is a personal open content project of mine. But I'm open to find more collaborators, and esp. want to bring it into a shape for comfortable collaboration with others. For that, Open Source Ecology has agreed to host the content in their wiki “if it's about open source, modular, simple  lifetime design ideas” – which it is. So if you want to help out with that conversion, and further development, very welcome to contact me.

Currently I'm building the first parts of my truck's furniture system. The system is based on gridbeam, an awesome simple DIY construction system from the 1970's. Practically this means: boxes, room partitioning walls, shelves, desks etc. all use the same sheet material and connector elements and with the same compatible hole pattern, so one can build everything from the same set of elements, and can reuse the parts from a no longer needed object to build something else. Or reconfigure the furniture according to current demands, using an inbus wrench.

I'm starting to build my furniture with some simple storage boxes that will be secured to the wall in several layers, yielding a big 70 cm deep shelf for general storage. Both this box system and gridbeam itself are detailed in the interface specs part of the EarthOS document. But here's a quick overview of my design choices:

  • Compatible with ISO pallets. Size is 700 x 350 x 350 mm, together with with handles and corner elements etc. up to 800 x 400 x 400 mm is allowed.
  • Same size walls. The basic wall size is 350 x 350 mm, and in this case I build double-depth boxes, so some walls are 700 x 350 mm. These larger walls could also be created by combining two of the smaller walls with aluminum sheet metal connectors; and likewise for even larger boxes. To allow creating a box from just same-sized walls, the walls have 45°  beveled edges.
  • 50 mm gridbeam system. This means, all sheet material has a 50 x 50 mm hole pattern starting 25 mm from all edges (holes are here only around the edges, more holes can be added on demand). Holes in boards are 8.5 mm for M8 bolts, but in the case of boxes fitting for M6 sleeve nuts. Holes in aluminum connector elements are 6.5 mm for M6 bolts.
  • Modified hammer-in nuts. I really had a problem finding reasonably priced sleeve nuts for going into the board holes – I'm just not paying 1 EUR and more for one lathed sleeve nut, that would be 55 EUR per box for 'em alone. So I finally tried ordinary M6x8 hammer-in nuts with their four spikes, and just cut away the spikes with tinsnips. By letting 1 mm of the spikes in place, these nuts will not even free-rotate when at the loose end and turning a bolt into them. They have enough grip in wood that way, while the sheet wood and the nut is still reusable infinitely (which was not the case with the spikes in place).
  • Bolts used. Currently M6 x 13 stainless steel (A2-70) bolts with inbus head. Used together with a washer to secure the bolt against loosing and to better distribute the force to the (relatively soft) aluminium sheet metal.
  • Apt for cheap and salvage materials. I'm currently creating the corner elements from simple aluminum sheet metal that I had lying around and that can be had from the local recycling yard nearly for free (as in free beer, not as in FREE BEER). Using 50 x 50 mm and 100 x 50 mm aluminum L-profile is also possible and looks better (examples in second picture) but is of course more expensive and less autarkic. Also, one can use many different types of material for the box walls: any thickness will fit because of the beveled edges and because the box's outer measures are standardized, not the inner ones.

Writing this I realize how trivially simple this design is. Yet the simple ones are hard, for whatever reason. I had developed thoughts for the box system over months, and even started building one variant which was way too complex and too expensive. The current variant emerged after some great, inspiring discussions with my Dad on the matter. (I should know where my hacker genes come from ;))

And here are some pictures of the current progress with the boxes. (Some parts are obviously still missing: corner elements for stacking, handles, a flap, locking bolts.)

See this unrelated item in the media gallery? It's a rare Thermoflash fluid-heated jacket that I got as a bargain on eBay. Can keep everybody warm through German winter. Yep, really everybody 😉 Normally used on motorbikes and connected to the engine's cooling circuit via a heat exchanger and digital temperature control.

Most of us Europeans might be heading for a severe economic crisis, including mass impoverishment, food supply shortages, restricted personal mobility, and cutdowns on medical care. To err on the right side, let’s say, all of us are heading for a really severe such crisis. And some of us are in it – Greece is cutting edge, they’re the front warriors now …

With this approaching, I thought repeatedly what simple, fast to set up system could bring us safely through such a time. Because we won’t have much time and resources left to set up something once the crisis is there, and before it, hardly anybody cares … . Here’s what I came up with so far … nothing’s finished, but it might offer some inspirations.

The Basic Idea: Jump-starting Local Economy

What seems clear is that this resilience has to be provided in a local environment: the trans-local systems are broke then anyway, there’s no critical mass of people with enough resources to fix them in the near term, and lack of fuel etc. restricts activity to the local area naturally.

The basic observation behind this proposal is: everything for a strong local economy, including most everything we need is already available locally with limited effort. Even in severe mass impoverishment, a community is far richer than it seems: there will be much unused resources and things left over from the “age of affluence”, and one man’s trash is another man’s treasure … .

If only we would know of each other’s needs and wants! Because our current economic knowledge capturing and distribution system does not fit for the local level, and does not fit for crisis times at all. Because, it does not index anything about unused resources and reusable trash objects – these things are simply ignored as valueless in a “functioning” economy. But they’re all that is left after a breakdown.

So the basic idea is to have a “Local Resource Information System” on the Internet. (And to have Internet at least city-wide, obviously!). In essence, this is about sharing and collaborative consumption of plain everything that the multi-faceted collaborative consumption economy is about. It should provide all the information for local economic activity in the highest synergy that is attainable. And it should be able to provide sufficient autarky in any municipal area of 20 000 people and up (own wild estimate!). The idea is a bit similar to the “state services in a box” one, but rather meant to start within a quickly deteriorating situation (like in Greece or Spain these days) rather than from a momentarily crash.

Design of a Local Resource Information System (LRIS)


Eventually, every product and service that can be produced locally should be registered in the LRIS. But while the national economy is “just” tight but not completely broken down, the focus should probably be on unused and underused resources. It does not compete with the formal economy business while it’s still functioning, it still gets the LRIS running, and it offers the most benefit to the local population (namely, “free” resources).

Unused and underused resources to be managed by the LRIS would include:

  • Unused things. There are literally tons of unused things available in private homes and companies. This would work similar to classifieds, but with the difference of trying to index all unused movable things available in the local area, whereas classifieds might only have 1-2%. Unused things include everything from unused mobile phones (40 million in Germany alone!) to unused and potentially broken agricultural devices in the barns of the elderly. In crisis time, we can’t afford not using this. Underuse is wasted wealth!
  • Meal sharing. With realtime coordination on the LRIS web portal: you offer how many people you would invite, and if they register in time, you’ll cook a bit more and let them be part of the regular family meal, for a compensation in alternative currency. This amounts to a distributed community kitchen, of which the hosts profit by earning the compensation for little additional effort, and the guests by saving time for preparing their own meals. And as always, synergy means prosperity.
  • Surplus food. This means both surplus agricultural produce, and also leftovers from meals that would else be thrown away. The latter would be done with a real-time coordination system, where you enter what is left over after the meal, and within 15 minutes somebody will drop by to pick it up. The goal is to reduce the amount of food that is thrown away from today’s 25% or more to 0%. Trashed food is trashed wealth! Update 2012-09-09: Here’s an example of somebody who started this in Lisbon, Portugal: collecting food leftovers with a bike from restaurants and markets, then distributing it to the poor [German article].
  • Trash wood. And other burnable trash, as fuel.
  • Surplus gardening materials. Like humus, earth, hay, grass. Some have too much, and others just need this.
  • Storage capacity. Like in old and underused parts of commercial facilities.
  • Private car sharing and ride sharing. Also including parking spot and car port sharing.
  • Private transportation services.
  • Accommodation. Both as re-use of abandoned houses and commercial facilities, and as taking in people in guest rooms. In crisis times, the standards for what is expected from a guest room will drop, which means that much more underused private rooms can get a reasonable use.
  • Medical counselling. From experienced private persons, reputation based.
  • Help with repairs and odd jobs. This is esp. to give a forum to people with free time and skills but no way to compete in a regular market – like the retired handicraftsman who likes to explain to the young how to do repair their cars. This is an underused resource like everything else, and not using it even in crisis times just means the local economy is poorer than it had to be.
  • Privately tool lending and workshop sharing. With coordination via a web portal.
  • Private workshop services. There are lots of underused special machines even in private homes, including welders, CNC cutters etc.. Their owners do not have the time to make a business from them, but might be happy to help out with them at times, or to let a well-reputed LRIS portal user access them in exchange for something else.
  • Electricity sharing. From photovoltaics production etc..
  • Sharing of home produced goods. Many people can produce canned food, marmelade, fruit juices, furniture, firewood, bread, herbal extracts etc. for themselves, and could easily produce some surplus. Legal restrictions mean that they cannot do so commercially, which basically is a waste of production capacity. Which should be fixed by enabling a trade with these in the LRIS.

Map Integration

When it’s about local economy and restricted mobility, resource maps and vicinity search are a great help for navigating to the best options for economic interchange. An interesting tool for this is the free and open source Ushahidi platform (also available as the Crowdmap web service). It’s normally used for crisis mapping in natural catastrophies, so why not for crisis mapping in economic catastropies … . But an economy software has of course to add a tight integration of the map with the trading feature, including live information on supply and “online shopping”. That’s missing so far in the applications I’m aware of.

With proper map integration and vicinity search, it would also not be mandatory to have one portal per municipal area, but instead one can have one for a region. Because depending on the type of resource, some things are economically relevant beyond city boundaries even when mobility and transport capacity is severely restricted.


Using a local currency for the trading in the LRIS seems to be a good idea, because it can protect the local economy from the global one, where there would always be a company with lower prices. However, the experiences with launching local currency systems are a bit disappointing: it works in crisis times, but it does not reach critical mass while the economy works “normally”: people don’t see the advantages then that would persuade them of using a less convertible currency.

However, a good and workable preparation could be to introduce the alternative currency for just the “unused resources exchange” part of the LRIS. It can be easily explained as a system of exchanging trash for trash, ensuring mutual synergy by prohibiting people to capitalize on others’ trash by selling in commercial scale. In addition, the LRIS’s trading section would need a feedback and evaluation part for trust building in the local economy.

To implement the alternative currency, one could re-use an existing software for that (cf. for example my analysis).

Community Activities

In crisis times, where a city will lack the money to provide certain public services and citizen do not have any (legal tender) money to spend on this, these public services can be provided by shared work from citizens. The LRIS software would include sophisticated project management that can organize (for example) to build a huge public hackerspace as a community project, where everything is provided from private means: the tools, the workforce, the meals for the workers. It leads to extremely cheap solutions, cutting through all the slack and overhead of commercial “solutions” (where the incentive is to make money, not to provide something good as a public service). Citizens would be required to work (like) 100 hours a year for such community projects, but could choose those that match their interests and skills. If done right, this way of grassroots community provided public services is “the efficient style of planned economy”, because it has the service users as service providers.

Ease of Use

When an economy is confined to be local, there’s no way around integrating plain everybody. If somebody does not contribute because of technical difficulties or usability issues, he or she might still survive without the synergistic trading, but the worse issue is, it’s a severe blow to this small local economy because the synergy is also missing from the economy as a system. Making it more fragile and less efficient. To ensure everybody’s inclusion, there are several usability and interface issues to take care of:

  1. All-in-one portal. The current collaborative consumption economy is highly fragmented by type of product and service. Within a local area, none of these sub-markets would have critical mass. The LRIS should be one central web portal for the complete local economy.
  2. Active data sourcing. It’s the most effective way to real critical mass locally: going around and asking all the people for their resources and persuading them to contribute and also asking for updates on resources.
  3. Phone and office interface. Where every local inhabitant is so valuable for the local economy, this also includes the elderly people who simply cannot deal with computers, but also have needs and offers (like unused rooms for storing things, taking people in, unused agricultural devices etc.). A phone and personal interface can be provided by a small company operating the LRIS, see below.
  4. Help with computing. Even those who are open to use the web interface may need a bit of training, a helpdesk and the active distribution of computing equipment (also via the LRIS) to get everybody connected.

Resource Mapping as Business?

Even better than starting the LRIS once we are in the middle of a crisis would be to have it up and running and becoming well-used before that happens. There seems to be a way for this. Because, it is an opportunity for a small (2-10 people) social entrepeneurship business / collective consumption startup to set up the LRIS for their local municipal area. Apart from setting up and maintaining the software, these people would mainly travel around and collect the data by themselves. Because in many cases, this active data collection is the only way to reach critical mass for a web portal in a localenvironment that is not in crisis mode yet. And it surely is the only way to register all the unused and broken things lying around: the problem with trash is, people are too lazy to even do something to offer it.

Collecting the data is as straightforward as visiting people house by house, explaining the idea, and if they want to be part of the system, making pictures and notes about what own products, unused resources and trash objects they would offer in the local economy. For the business aspect, I suggest that these resource mappers should work on a donation basis to be a truly social, non-capitalist business. This won’t generate any riches, but should keep the business floating. Like for example, people will offer them more often than not that they could have trash objects that they’re currently recording, if they remove them. Which they would do, storing them in unused buildings that they also mapped out, and offering them like everything else in the LRIS, to then get food and other essentials in return.

By the way: LRIS-as-business idea was inspired after reading an impressive list from a U.S. author about jobs to do in a recession. There was a “list broker” job in there, which was essentially the LRIS core idea before the advent of the Internet. There is some truth to the saying that U.S. citizens have this ingenious self-made-man and entrepeneuring approach of adapting to a recession …