iProtest - Page 2

The revolution will not be powered by smartphones (but these apps might help it along)

|
()
Dovetail wants to allow protesters like the OccupySF march communicate even if cell phone service is down.
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY LUCY SCHILLER

"In the last two weeks, we've had about 1,000 new downloads from people in Russia," Van Anden noted. In early December, Russian riot police arrested hundreds in Moscow protests led by citizens angered over election fraud, and voicing opposition to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's ruling party.

The year's protests have sparked ideas for other apps, too. Mobizi's Rich-O-Meter, for Android, features a circular gauge with a needle that points to your standing on the spectrum from 99-percent-to-1-percent, based on personal income.

Although learning how one stacks up against billionaires may have limited appeal, the app's usefulness is revealed by pressing the red "Occupy Wall Street" button. That brings up a comprehensive "Actions and Directory" listing of Occupy websites and Twitter feeds from around the globe — from Fresno to Istanbul, with hundreds in between.

Then there's the Shouty app — which still might not be as effective as the Occupy-inspired People's Mic, an echo delivered with old-fashioned vocal chords. Shouty helps amplify sound in large crowds or spaces where sound systems have been banned by authorities. Developed by coder Nathan Hamblen and others at the "social coding" site Github, Shouty is a live-streaming tool that broadcasts sound as an MP3 stream so others in the crowd can pick up what is being said, even if they're out of earshot.

Other sound apps may still catch on, like the just-released Occupy Drum Circle, which allows one to "start your own drum circle protest anywhere," according to an description posted by developer Michael Desmond. For newshounds, there's Occupy Wall Street News, an iPhone app, plus about a dozen others that aggregate information and news updates relating to Occupy and display it in a common feed.

I'm Getting Arrested, Shouty, Occupy Drum Circle, and Occupy Wall Street News all require cell service or an Internet signal to function, but Dovetail will be unique in that it's designed to operate even if cellular towers have come down or a repressive government has sought to block the free flow of information by silencing networks. It could also be used in a natural disaster scenario.

Vogeltanz and his team have tested out Dovetail using Bluetooth transmitters, which send information over a shorter range than wifi, but project team member Robert Meredith, an IT director, says he thinks they'll be able to harness wifi transmitters to improve the distance messages can travel. They plan to make it available for a free download, and it would be free to send and receive messages.

In a protest situation, there would be nothing barring law enforcement agencies from outfitting their own devices with the app to see what people in a crowd were saying to one another via Dovetail — but theoretically, they wouldn't be able to pinpoint the senders.

To help their project along, the Dovetail developers have started a Kickstarter page where they hope to raise $30,000 by Jan. 23. Much of the funding will go toward purchasing phones for testing.

"We're cutting the cell companies out of the equation," Vogeltanz explained. "You're using the built-in equipment on your cell phone to send a short-range radio burst." Messages sent via Dovetail would be more resilient in a denser and larger group, he added. "There will be no viable way to shut down that communication," he said, "unless you disperse the real-life group."