Peter Rukavina alerted me to the existence of Pirate Boxes, as he has been blogging his experiences participating in a workshop in Berlin, and then building his own, and doing his own workshop as ‘hacker in residence’ at the University of PEI.

These boxes are a wifi enabled file server that allows you to create a local exchange hub (to share files, chat etc.), without needing to have an internet connection present. Mobile devices connect to it through wifi directly.

You can build them using a cheap wireless router, or ap Raspberry Pi computer for instance, which makes it an affordable thing to do. I have one of those Raspberry Pi’s at home, and until now did not know what to really do with it. So building a Pirate Box out of it might just be the thing.

Especially as a French group has created a slightly different version dubbed the ‘Coworking box‘ that contains a few tools to facilitate collaborative work.

So I see two possible experiments with Raspberry Pi. One is opening a Pirate Box up in our home street and see if any of the neighbors (or their teen kids) start using it. The other is following the French co-working example and see if I can use it in a group session or during a workshop.

Seems like a nice little experiment to get up and running, probably when I get back home to NL. (Although I have seen Raspberry Pi’s in local stores here)

The Coworking Boat PAN project
Henriette Weber is a friend and a social marketing pro. One of her many ideas and projects is the Coworking Boat PAN. She’s turning a boat that’s been in the family since her granddad into a floating co-working space. Basically using a
‘in real life’ thing as a social object to involve her on-line networks. A boat, that is becoming the object of lots of social interaction. The boat is in dire need of significant renovation, so different people in her network have become ‘shareholders’ in the project, aiding her to get the boat shipshape. This can mean financial support to help repair the engine, or support in time and energy, for instance the craftswork involved for the interior. The renovation work is done by her husband Thomas and her brother, and Henriette. She’s chronicling the project in video and blogpostings.
During a Reboot session on Coworking Boat PAN she talked about what the project means to her. What the impact is of people actually supporting the renovation of the boat.
The main question Henriette put forward was: what object, like her boat, is there in your own life that you could turn into a tangible pivot point for your (online) social interaction?

The boat being inspected 🙂

Paint as an emotional stake
For Elmine and me, Henriette’s project and call for support came at exactly the right moment to prompt us into action. As part of my membership in the Medinge Group, we had just returned from Paris for the annual Brands with a Conscience award session. One of the award winners this year was Ekomarine, a Swedish firm that has created an eco-friendly boat paint called Neptune Formula. Boat paints are normally notoriously toxic, but this product is fully organic and non-toxic. When the Coworking boat PAN plan came up there was no way we would let Henriette put a boat in the water that still used the toxic paint, when a perfectly eco-friendly alternative is available. It suddenly brought an action into scope that fitted an ideal (eco-friendly, turning the action into its own reward), allowed us to make use of our recently acquired knowledge, and gave us an emotional and very conrete stake in the boat project. At the same time it made a real difference to a person that matters to us. It allowed us to be ‘radical’ within the limits of our sphere of influence.

The boat has a social wake
To me it’s interesting to see that the boat project is creating social interaction in different shapes and forms. There’s the interaction around her project updates on-line of course. The day after Reboot we joined Henriette for a beach party next to the boat in Helsingør harbour. We got to see the boat, inside and out, but more importantly we met up with other friends of Henriette, introducing us to more of her life, and building a more complete picture of each other. It was a great party, strengthening ties, and again something that is its own reward. But even when Henriette is not involved there is social spin-off. Pedro and Patricia also are supporting the Coworking Boat PAN, and finding that out introduced a whole new strain of conversation when we recently went to visit them in Dusseldorf. So the boat already created a wake, a social one, from even before it was in the water.

‘Shareholders’ getting to know each other at Elsinore beach, the boats social wake

What tangible object can you turn into a social one?
This was the core question Henriette asked during the Reboot session last week. There are I think no entirely obvious answers. We have listed our home office as a possible coworking space, and do use our living room for workshops, but that’s all somewhat different. There’s no ‘project’ involved to make it so. Probably what is most reminiscent of the Coworking Boat PAN effects as described above, is how we turned Elmine’s birthday last year into a unconference. It brought people together that wouldn’t otherwise have met, it had tangible outcomes, and it created ripples in other places: one of the participants, Beverly Trayner, is now doing a similar event for her 50th birthday this month as well. To us Elmines birthday conference was very special, and tons of fun. We are thinking about doing it again for my upcoming 40th birthday in May 2010. Birthdays are no tangible objects of course, but the effects of both boat and birthday seem comparable. Of course I think the boat will have a more lasting effect, as that is a real object.
Oh, and if you know Henriette (or even if you don’t) and want to support the Coworking Boat PAN project, there’s still about 98 shares at 500 DKR (75 Euro) available. Contact Henriette for more info.