It’s my first post on Publish0x! Thanks for reading.
With the quickly approaching and increasingly anticipated Polkadot (DOT) parachain auctions right on the horizon, I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about a project that really fascinates me and why I think it’s going to be an essential part of the future of the internet. The project is called Nodle Network.
Fig. 1—The cover page of the Nodle Network’s white paper. Each green dot on the map shows an active edge node (smartphone, computer, server, etc.) that interacts with IoT devices.
First, let me take a moment to say: I came to study Nodle because, as a researcher, I am interested in today’s forms of electronic capital and their possibilities. I have been mining Nodle (with consumer devices, will get to that later) for a few months, have a modest amount from that, and have never spent any money on Nodle. I have no connection with the Nodle development team. These are my opinions. Nothing written here should be construed as financial advice.
Now, some background. There are a few crypto projects floating around that explicitly say they conceptualize themselves as part of “Web 3.0”. For a deeper dive on what that means, check out the Web 3.0 Foundation’s website. The long and short of it is that our world is changing, it’s predominated by small electronic devices and there’s an immense thirst for data (delivered rapidly, and, especially relevant for blockchain technologies, in a way that is verifiable, immutable.) So many of the things around us are constantly broadcasting, in other words, sending out data: think about the RFID chip in your clothing (yup, see this article from 2010 on Walmart putting such chips in their clothing), Bluetooth (Low Energy, abbreviated BLE) in keychain trackers, and a lot more. A key observation, too, is that human-technology interfaces are increasingly common—humans are increasingly embedded in technology, and technology is increasingly a fundamental part of human sociality. Polkadot is a new blockchain that is set to launch imminently and, with its interoperability and ability to accommodate many different ledgers (blockchains), sees itself as the blockchain technology of Web 3.0.
Nodle Network is positioning itself as a database and facilitator of information flow between the burgeoning world of IoT devices. According to the Nodle whitepaper, there will be over 40 billion of these devices worldwide in the next five years. Nodle, through its software, creates “edge nodes” that gather and relay data, and this has been done in part through the Nodle Cash smartphone app.
If Nodle Network’s vision is realized, it will serve two primary functions: a ‘map’ of the world’s IoT devices and a cheap way to send data to those devices. Let me discuss each separately.
(i) A ‘Map’ of World IoT. The Nodle team has mentioned setting up an explorer of the data collected by Nodle edge nodes. In the public discussions I’ve heard, they are thinking through such an explorer with a desire to prioritize privacy and anonymity. I am personally curious about how they will design such a querying mechanism in a way that will provide anonymized data. You could imagine, though, a kind of search portal where someone could write, “How many IoT devices are online in California in the past 24 hours?” or, “In New York City between 8am and 9am on Monday afternoons, are Apple or Samsung wireless airbuds more popular?” There’s a lot of potential here for both market researchers and social scientists. Keep in mind that this kind of data query is unprecedented and, at time of this writing, powered by over 4 million nodes. What we are talking about is bigger than Big Data in theoretically profound ways.
The ways this kind of ‘map of world IoT’ or ‘IoT search engine’ could be used are really quite broad. As a social science researcher, I have been thinking about the uses researchers may have for this kind of portal. Geographers (those who study remote sensing systems, social geographers, etc.) would be interested in asking all kinds of questions related to ‘space, place, and scale’ through the IoT portal, and could speak not just about IoT devices but perhaps also about the people who carry, purchase, and use such devices. Economic Sociologists and those concerned with network theory could ask interesting questions about human-machine networks. Could Economic Sociologists get an unprecedented glimpse into the types of relationships people have (in the literature called ‘strong’ [familial, institutional] and ‘weak’ ties [casual interactions, say between service workers and customers])? The possibilities are large, and social scientists should begin thinking about this now.
If Nodle wants to make their network’s data accessible to researchers, though, it has a hefty task ahead of it when it comes to walking a fine line between the granularity of that data (which relates directly to what the data can and cannot say) and protecting the privacy of individuals and groups. I strongly urge the Nodle team to collaborate with social scientists and data scientists interested in big data and privacy to thoroughly think this through; this kind of difficult problem is one that needs a multidisciplinary team. In the future, I could even imagine Nodle seeking grant funding for an ‘information officer’ who would process information requests, query the database, ensure proper privacy protections, and then release the data to requestors.
Fig. 2—Screenshot of Nodle website showing that, within the past 24 hours, edge nodes (smartphones and laptops running Nodle Cash, and, apps that include the Nodle SDK, etc.) have gathered a whole lot of data from over 80 million IoT devices. Source: www.nodle.io
(ii) Delivering data cost-effectively to IoT devices. Nodle is working to become a provider of cost-effective data delivery for companies in a very specific way. For example, putting a SIM card (giving cell data coverage) in a small device is often unpractical for size (imagine having a cell radio transceiver and battery in a dog collar), cost (access to cellular provider networks is expensive), and power reasons (cell radio transceivers eat up a lot of electricity, which means a large battery). Companies can embed Bluetooth transmitters in small products, like dog and cat collars, and using the Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) protocol can now have internet access via Nodle. Bluetooth is low cost and already in computers and smartphones. Nodle has already partnered with Paris to track public infrastructure usage via IoT/BLE, a global company tracking its signage in the real world, and others.
So consider this. Nodle has deployed millions of decentralized nodes worldwide that collect real world data from Bluetooth and IoT devices, all without manufacturing a single thing (except for a particular use case, a project for COVID-19 tracking and essential workers.) They’ve achieved this major feat by allowing developers to insert their Nodle code package (an SDK) into existing apps, and through the Nodle Cash app.
So yes, anyone, using an M1-based Mac, iOS device, Android smartphone, or Chromebook can mine Nodle Cash by running an app that turns your device into an edge node on the Nodle Network. Instead of mining the network's token through Proof of Work (like Bitcoin) the Nodle Network uses ‘Proof of Connectivity’, which grants Nodle token when the edge node identifies IoT devices over Bluetooth and/or the IoT device uses the Nodle network to either receive (for example, a firmware update) or send information (for example, location of a lost dog) to its developer.
Wow! Yeah, so that’s a lot of information, but that’s all to say that I believe Nodle Network has not only positioned itself to be a darling of the upcoming Polkadot parachain auctions as well as an foundational network for the Internet of Things and Web 3.0. The Nodle Network will potentially offer an unprecedented way of seeing the world through its IoT explorer, something that could one day be used just like a search engine, or by interested researchers who want to understand the social world. The future success of the Nodle Network hinges on whether or not its value proposition catches on at the enterprise level, and, whether or not Nodle can maximize the utility of its data through an explorer while properly designing and implementing privacy safeguards.
Please comment below with your questions and comments and I’ll be glad to think along with you!