How can we put the principles of the manifesto into practice? In the first episode in a series, Johan Stokking of The Things Network explains how his organization defines ‘From everyone, for everyone’.
From everyone, for everyone. It not only sounds good, but can really work effectively, as The Things Network demonstrates. The initiative is a network for the Internet of Things that belongs to everyone and provides for everyone. “Everyone can use the network, and everyone can expand the network by connecting a gateway to it,” says Johan Stokking, technical director of The Things Network. “The idea for it is based on the internet, which grew big by connecting small pieces of networks, using open standards and protocols. That is also how we want to approach the Internet of Things.”
The advantage is that there is no dependence on companies: no subscription fee has to be paid in order to use the network and individual parties. Private citizens and companies have the option of expanding the network themselves. “The network gives you access to connectivity without you having to pay for it. We are firm believers in that openness.”
The fact that he and co-founder Wienke Giezeman were not alone in their confidence is warranted by the success of the initiative. In Amsterdam, the network now offers complete coverage, with 41 gateways, and things are moving fast in the rest of the world as well. The support base, the ‘everyone’ is highly diverse. In 2015, a crowdfunding campaign raised 300,000 euros, rather than the target amount of 120,000. Stokking: “Our community consists of many different types of people and companies: enthusiastic individuals who like IoT technology, start-ups, schools and universities that use our network for R&D. And yes, our network also includes a group of techno-anarchists who want to be in control of technology rather than being at the mercy of major American players.”
The Things Network is transparent about the use of the network. “The network belongs to everyone, so I feel that we as a foundation have a moral obligation to report to our users about how that network is being used. We provide vast quantities of metadata, about signal strengths, where gateways are located, how much data is being sent.” The data itself is encrypted, Stokking explains. “It belongs to the person who makes the data. We did consider making a platform on which participating parties could make their data available, but that does not have top priority right now, because it is far more complex than we initially thought.”
If network users want to do so, there are plenty of opportunities to share the data, according to Stokking. “I do not think they are obligated to do so. I could imagine that some sort of exchange could take place on a voluntary basis. For example, if Uber is interested in how people are distributed across the city, they could share that data with the municipal authorities in exchange for its own relevant data. But that may be a very idealistic concept.”