Send in your ideas. Deadline June 1, 2024
Theme fund: NGI0 Discovery
Start: 2019-06
End: 2022-10

Practical Decentralised Search and Discovery

Search and discovery inside mesh/adhoc networks

Internet search and service discovery are invaluable services, but are reliant on an oligopoly of centralised services and service providers, such as the internet search and advertising companies. One problem with this situation, is that global internet connectivity is required to use these services, precisely because of their centralised nature. For remote and vulnerable communities stable, affordable and uncensored internet connectivity may simply not be available. Prior work with mesh technology clearly shows the value of connecting local communities, so that they can call and message one another, even in the absence of connectivity to the outside world. The project will implement a system that allows such isolated networks to also provide search and advertising capabilities, making it easier to find local services, and ensuring that local enterprises can promote their services to members of their communities, without requiring the loss of capital from their communities in the form of advertising costs. The project will then trial this system with a number of pilot communities, in order to learn how to make such a system best serve its purpose.

  • The project's own website:

Why does this actually matter to end users?

Users have a right to internet access and should be sure that the rights they have offline are also protected online. The internet is not just a technology or a communication medium anymore, as these declarations from the United Nations show, it has become a crucial building block of our society, economy, democracy and the way we work, live and come together. But in practice, the right to internet access is still a privilege because connectivity definitely is not global (yet). Search and discovery is also unequally distributed: if you want to use one of the major search engines, your computer needs to connect to a server operated by this service provider. But not every region or local community has a stable and uncensored internet connection, so a lot of 'free' advertisement-based online search services are then out of reach.

At their core, communities are built on networking. To be a part of a community, you need to know where you can get your daily groceries, who can fix your car, where to go to if you want to meet new people, how you can connect with your friends. Search and discovery in this sense fulfill basic human needs and should not only have to rely on centralized services, especially when the stable internet connection needed to run these services is not there.

The Serval Project is a extensive effort to create local networks that are extremely fault- and disaster-resistant and can work independent from a centralized infrastructure like the internet. Community members only need their own devices, like their phones, to create and maintain a network together so they can call, send messages etcetera, all without a central service provider or connection to the internet. This project will add search and discovery to these local networks (so-called mesh networks) so community members can more easily find each other and local enterprises can promote their services. This can help strengthen the ties in local, remote and rural communities and improve the quality of service for its users.

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This project was funded through the NGI0 Discovery Fund, a fund established by NLnet with financial support from the European Commission's Next Generation Internet programme, under the aegis of DG Communications Networks, Content and Technology under grant agreement No 825322.