Sneakernet Trial In Kenya
See also: Ricardo, Sneakernet
By Ricardo March 8, 2009 12:40 CET (see my profile page for links to my other pages)
This page covers a Sneakernet Trial in Kenya project.
A Sneakernet is a network of people, who transport files from place to place on foot, by bicycle, bus or vehicle, carrying files on physical media, such as USB Flash Memory Drive, memory card or Re-writeable CD/DVD-ROM. The name Sneakernet started as a joke and comes from the sneakers people wear (cheap sports shoes).
Even in places where the internet is available, it is often expensive and time consuming to send large files, such as video-files from town-to-town among a group of friends. GPRS phones (that charge by the megabyte) and internet cafes are okay for email and small files, but a Sneakernet would be useful for transporting large files of hundreds of megabytes.
KenOwino and I are aiming to do a small Sneakernet Trial project in Kenya, then publish a guide to setting up similar systems in other places. People can add more services on top of the basic Sneakernet file transport-layer.
The trial project in Kenya will try moving large files from town to town (Mbita, Eldoret, Ahero, Kangundo, etc) on USB flash drives, by post in padded envelopes, using a star-shaped Sneakernet network centred on Nairobi.
Each town will be linked to Nairobi by 1 flash drive, sent once a week by post. In this way, there is an 'economy of scale'. Instead of sending flash drives to many different towns, each town only needs 1 flash drive to 'connect to the network' via Nairobi and to all the other towns.
Files take a 2-step journey via Nairobi, the centre of the star-network. For example, files from SamwelKongere to KennethChelimo would go 1) from Mbita-to-Nairobi and 2) from Nairobi-to-Eldoret.
We will use large video files to test the system. Large files would be expensive to move by other means, such as GPRS internet-access and take a long time to upload/download.
We will be using a simple manual system for a start, a bit like an old-fashioned postal service. In Nairobi, file-sorting and routing will be done by a person, not software, so any organisation can adapt the Sneakernet for their own local conditions, without technical skills.
Please see the Sneakernet page for more details of the Sneakernet concept.
Operating Procedure Please download and read this Adobe PDF document, the "Sneakernet Trial in Kenya - Operating Procedure". It describes the project in detail and has a map of the system...
If you don't already have the free Adobe Reader program, you can download it from here...
Duration The project will run for 3 months initially, but it's cheap to run (just postage costs), so there's no reason why it can't carry on. People can build many other services on top of the Sneakernet file transport layer, such as video-sharing, photo-sharing, distributing freeware/eBooks/newsletters/training-material, data-collection, surveys, video-mail messages, etc.
After the trial, the final Sneakernet Operating Procedure will be published and people can change and adapt it for Sneakernet services in other places.
Here are some ideas for ways to use a Sneakernet system. Feel free to edit this section to add your own ideas or email me to add them for you.
In all these ideas, I don't want to place a large work-load on KenOwino, who is managing the project, but we could try each of these ideas at least once, as an experiment.
Ricardo May 11, 2009 10:55 CET
This list is auto-numbered. If you add ideas to the list, please start each line with a # character. Also, please add your name.
- Sending large files to 1 other person via the Sneakernet (videos, sets of photos, programs, documents you've written, etc). The Sneakernet is slower than emailing the files using your GPRS phone and laptop, but the Sneakernet is free. It saves on GPRS costs.
- Sending large files to many/all people on the Sneakernet (such as Newsletters, a copy of your own website to view offline (a collection of HTML and JPEG files), documents, useful freeware programs you've received on CD-ROM, etc). If there's plenty of room on the flash drives, to reduce KenOwino's work-load, it may be easiest to send files to all users, instead of spending time sending files to a specific list of 2 or 3 recipients.
- If a file would be useful to many Sneakernet users, one person could download it and send it to the other people by Sneakernet. For example, all the Sneakernet users might need the latest Adobe Reader program. If people have to pay 10 KSH per Megabyte to download files via their GPRS Phone + Laptop, it makes for just 1 person to download the Adobe Reader and send it to everyone else via Sneakernet.
- Someone with fixed-price internet-access (such as KenOwino) downloads a file and sends it to everyone via internet. For example, you could ask Ken by SMS to download something for you.
- Working together on business-projects, such as 1 person designing pictures for T-Shirt iron-on transfers, then sending the pictures to friends/colleagues via the Sneakernet, for them to produce and sell T-Shirts in other towns.
- If several people want to view the same website every week, 1 person could download a copy of the whole website (if it's not too large), using a website-grabber program such as HTTrack, then send the offline copy of the website to everyone on the Sneakernet. See http://www.httrack.com/ . Ask me how to use it.
- Free email - You could use the Sneakernet to send email text-files between people in different towns, who don't have any internet-access, or who can't afford to use the internet. Each file can look like an email, with To, CC, Bcc, From, Subject, Message lines. The filename follows the normal Sneakernet File Naming Convention, so it is routed to the right person. This email service might be useful later on, if we want to link up all the children in different schools or all the people in different deaf-groups with a free email service. It wouldn't be much work for the file-sorter in Nairobi, as he just copies 1 main folder from one town to another, containing all the emails from one town. He isn't concerned about individual email files.
- We may be able to find some way to dump the latest 50 messages from our Yahoo Groups to a set of files (Mendenyo, Nafsi Afrika, Holistic Helping, etc), then 1 person can download it and send a copy to all Sneakernet users. That way, users can read all the messages without spending money to read them online.
- Printing web-pages to PDF files - If many Sneakernet users would be interested in the same web-page, such as an article about the national football team, 1 person could go online and print it to a PDF file, using the PrimoPDF program, then send a copy to all the Sneakernet users. See http://www.primopdf.com/
- Uploading Files - If someone has some file to upload and they normally pay for internet-access (GPRS charges or cyber-cafes), it makes more sense to send them via the Sneakernet to someone such as KenOwino, to upload for them. Possible uses could be uploading photos and videos to Flickr.com, uploading videos to YouTube, uploading large photo files to Worknets or Yahoo Groups, etc. KenOwino doesn't have unlimited time to do this, so this would just be an experiment. Passwords is an issue to think about. If you want someone to upload files for you, you should only give your Flickr password etc to someone you trust.
Quite a few ideas relate to using the Sneakernet in conjunction with the internet. Can anyone think of some good ways to use the Sneakernet for entirely offline tasks, just sending files from town-to-town? Ricardo May 11, 2009 10:55 CET
Feedback on the Sneakernet Trial Dear Sneakernet Users, please add any feedback here in this section, to say what you think of the Sneakernet system, how well it's working, what you would change, etc. You can either login to Worknets and edit this section or email the information to me, and I will do the edits for you.
Ricardo May 11, 2009 11:47 CET
Sun, 08 Mar 09 15:36:41 +0000 AndriusKulikauskas: Ricardo, that's great! and very helpful as I write a proposal to organize a sneakernet in Afghanistan.