Guest post by Mark Solomon
In this article I'd like to share a brief introduction to offline mobile media distribution and look at the strengths and weaknesses of four devices that enable offline sharing of files and media between mobile devices. You can flip through the slide deck for a brief overview and the reviews. Read on further for a more in-depth look at offline mobile media distribution, a more comprehensive look at the different devices and some helpful pointers on setting up and using the devices.
All the devices reviewed have the same potential: create a WiFi network, which only connects to a personal cloud that you create – an online storage system. You set them up with no password needed to view or download the files, making it available for anyone within range of the signal.
Your average person is sitting on a train or sitting on a bus, bored, scrolling around on his/her tablet or phone, playing games, etc. All of a sudden, they see that there’s a WiFi signal available. Great!! So they log on. Once they’re attached to this new mystery network, regardless of what page they type in and try to access, they’re brought to one page, where they are welcomed to watch or download movies, music, pdf’s, etc. Not quite Facebook or YouTube, but hey – it’s something to do! The content, of course, as YOU have made this page happen, is loaded with evangelistic materials: the Jesus film in multiple languages and the size that can fit on a cell phone (the one I have is 79MB), scripture songs, testimony videos, tract pdfs, etc. Even if it’s not their cup of tea, they’re bored and very well may start watching or downloading these files. They look around to see if they can tell where it’s coming from, but no one seems to have a laptop out, or seems to be actively engaged. Because the signal is coming from within your backpack, sitting on the overhead luggage rack. So, they start to watch.
Another use: you’re in a conference, and need to get materials out to a large number of people. Do you print out papers for everyone, or for the non-paper handouts like songs or PPTs, pass out CDs with data files for all attendees? Pass around flash drives for people to copy files one-by-one? With any of these devices being mentioned or reviewed here, all you have to do is load your files into your device, turn it on, and tell all conference attendees to switch on their WiFi, look for a specific WiFi server, and have them all download the files on their own.
The first device I reviewed and was the "HooToo® TripMate Wireless N Portable Travel Router with 6000mAh Battery Charger." From the product's description, it sounded like this would be a ready-to-go, pre-set-up device which would easily do the same as the BibleBox or PirateBox. As it turns out, it wouldn't be suitable for this type of Mobile Ministry at all. Set-up was fantastically easy...just upload files directly to it, and turn it on. However: to access the files, you need the special HooToo app installed on your device (from their website, you can download the app for Windows, Mac, iOS, or Android). Once you have it, you need the user name and password. Once on, everyone connected would have the same permissions - meaning that anyone can upload files, download files, change the password, etc. All of these taken into consideration, makes it just not suitable for this kind of Mobile Ministry. Perhaps someone will come up with a hack into it that will adjust/adapt it, and if anyone knows of a way, I encourage you to tell us in the comments below. But it currently there is no such hack. It is, however, a very useful "personal cloud" for your own files, and external battery.
PirateBox was created as a “FreeShare/OpenSource” device – a device that can be taken to coffee shops, malls, etc, and left running, creating a digital dropbox where anyone can leave files that they think others would like/should check out, and where they can view or download new files that others recommend. Similar to Napster around 2000 AD, before the pesky copyright laws caught up with them. A lot of libertarian, “no government regulation!” materials get passed along through this, along with a lot of interesting music or videos. With this set up the way their creators made it, everything is fully anonymous, and anyone can upload or download materials to and from it.
Using a form of PirateBox’s Free-To-Share-And-Adapt technology, LibraryBox was made. From their website, “LibraryBox is an open source, portable digital file distribution tool based on inexpensive hardware that enables delivery of educational, healthcare, and other vital information to individuals off the grid.” Basically, the same thing as PirateBox, but with the “Upload” feature disabled for the general user, making sure that only the admins are able to add content to the device. This way, if you’re sharing specific resources, such as healthcare files, you don’t have to worry about someone uploading porn onto your device and sharing that along with your files.
BibleBox was born from LibraryBox, as a Christian-specific version, with ideas on their website as to how it could be used for ministry, and a “read the Bible in English while connected” feature (World English Bible translation, Public Domain). There is also a “buy fully made and ready to go” option with the BibleBox which doesn’t exist with PirateBox. Both BibleBox and PirateBox do give detailed directions for making your own out of the bare materials: a portable router and a USB memory stick.
So PirateBox and BibleBox are two very similar devices, with very similar functions. How do they truly compare?
Ease of setup:
This review assumes you’re doing the “build from scratch” method. Obviously, setup is easier if you buy the pre-made device.
- The BibleBox's setup instructions are definitely much more user friendly for the code-illiterate such as myself. I find myself pretty tech-savvy, but I know NOTHING about writing code. BibleBox was easier by far, but I did get them both running well. If I can figure this out, so can you. That being said, I’m including some extra setup details that I wished were there.
- Setup Timeframe: for each device, with the exception of taking time to figure out what the heck they were talking about with PuTTy or Telnet, it took more than a half hour but less than an hour to set up the basic features of the device. (This figure doesn’t figure in time to load files onto the device…the length of time for that depends on how many files you are loading onto the device).
- The PuTTY/Telnet/SSH details that took a bit to figure out:
- The BibleBox setup page gives a link to where you can download the PuTTY software. PirateBox assumes you already have it and know where to get it. When you’re at the link below, find and download the file, putty.exe . http://www.chiark.greenend.org.uk/~sgtatham/putty/download.html
- When the directions say “telnet into 192.168.1.1” or “telnet 192.168.1.1,” you open putty.exe and type 192.168.1.1 into the bar that says “Host Name (or IP address),” click Connection Type: “telnet” and click “Open.”
- Putting files onto the device to be shared is exactly the same process for both devices – they go onto the USB memory stick into a particular folder.
- One major difference: PirateBox, as I mentioned, was originally made so that anyone can take files from the machine OR put files on to it! If you’re using this for ministry purposes, you really only want specific files to be there and available – you don’t want people putting porn, or “praise Ganesh,” or other type files on there too! There IS a way to disable the “Upload” button, but it took a LOT of me asking people on the forum to please dumb down their answers “for a complete n00b like me” before I figured it out at all. The clear directions for how to do that, I will include as an Appendix.
The BibleBox wins hands down for this, above the PirateBox, and above the aforementioned LightStream even. That’s because the BibleBox uses a TP-Link TL-MR3040 router, which has its own battery within. It’s the size of a Samsung Smartphone, battery included. I ran it one day for 7 hours when I was at a local fair, and the charge lasted the whole time. The PirateBox utilizes a TP-Link TL-MR3020, which is a little smaller but has no battery. This device needs to be plugged into a computer, a wall outlet, or an external battery to run. So the BibleBox wins in terms of portability, as it’s one self-contained unit. That being said, depending on what size external battery you use, the PirateBox needn’t be huge…some external batteries are half the size of a cell phone.
Ease of Use for Sender:
Once it’s set up & installed, they are totally equivalent in this aspect, with the exception of portability mentioned above. Just turn it on. After about 2 minutes, it’s actively sending out the WiFi signal for as long as you have it switched on. Done. It’s that easy.
Ease of Use for Receiver:
We tested this simply: we had the LightStream, BibleBox, and PirateBox all held in one spot together on our street, and walked backwards with an iPad to see from how far could we still get signal and connect. One important thing to note: the distance tripled in moving them from ground level to table-level height. If at all possible, don’t run it from ground level
- BibleBox: 217 feet
- PirateBox: 258 feet
- LightStream: 298 feet
Basically, the less compact the device was, the further the signal went. Which makes sense. And we were able to connect to each of them from over 200 feet away. Not too shabby!
The LightStream has the other two beat for customizability. The welcome page is fully and easily changeable. With PirateBox, the way to edit the welcome page’s text was hard to find, but possible (also included in the same appendix below, as it’s part of the same procedure as disabling the Upload button). For BibleBox, I have yet to find a way to edit the welcome page text, and I have been working at this for a while now (***other users have since commented that customization is possible, even to the extent of adding right to left scripts, etc.***). Perhaps someday, this article will have a comment from someone who says how to do so – and if so, fantastic!
The welcome page that I mention is basically, "Welcome to our page! Here are some files to stream or download! Enjoy!" etc, but worded very differently depending on device – generally with complicated English.
While the wordings for both devices are good for native English speakers, they would both be too complicated of English for many non-native speakers to understand.
On the LightStream, editing this is quite easy, and new pictures can be added/substituted in, changing the “LightStream” logo. The text for the PirateBox is changeable, though the photos/logos are not. The text for the BibleBox seems to be well locked in. Also, a worker in a Creative Access Nation (“CAN”) country setting up a BibleBox may be uncomfortable having “BibleBox” logos & text all over the page – being able to adjust that if needed would be a good thing.
While I think it would be best to adapt the welcome text for non-English speakers, country dependant, I do believe that even without editing the text, non-native English speakers will still be able to figure out something of what’s going on (that there are free files to download), as most phones/tablets/devices have at least “Video” “Files” “Music” and things like that in English, so the headings on the top may well be familiar enough for them to find, Much computer lingo – at least basics – are written in English worldwide. But still – it would be nice to be able to write about what they’re seeing in their own language, especially the disclaimer/instructions/welcome.
IMPORTANT – if changing the language to non-English, there may be problems with devices reading special characters (Korean, Chinese, Hindi, Arabic, etc). You very well may need to use English transliteration. (“Namaste!” instead of नमस्ते , etc), or the text may well come up as a series of nonsensical squares, or question marks. If you are using a special script, try accessing the device from a variety of sources (i.e. turn on the PirateBox/BibleBox and open the welcome page from your smart phone, your spouse’s smart phone, your tablet, your kid’s friend’s tablet, AND your laptop). Make sure it works for all of them, and if any of them come up with nonsensical boxes or ?????? where there used to be text, assume that this will happen for many other devices and change the text back to English script.
The TL-MR3040 Router (used for the BibleBox), new, on Amazon, costs $49.99, about $6 more than the TL-MR3020 (used for the PirateBox). The extra $6 is basically the battery (a good deal).
In summary, it seems that the BibleBox will indeed be a better buy for most MobileMinistry situations, is much easier to set up, and more portable, though the PirateBox could be utilized and be very useful as well (pros: a bit of a better range, and more customization possible). The LightStream device, again, would be the most pricy, but the most effective and easy to set up, giving you the most customizable setup options.
Appendix: Deleting the “Upload” button on your PirateBox, and changing the welcome message (a n00b [newby]’s guide).
-Scroll through. Find the line that has “iframe” in it, and the lines nearby that have “Upload” in them. Manually delete all of these – either by the delete key, or by typing x above each letter. This will disable the Upload button by deleting it from the record entirely.
-Look for the line that includes “Now, first of all, there is nothing illegal or scary going on here. This is a social place where you can chat and share files with people around you, <strong>anonymously</strong>! This is an off-line network, specially designed and developed for file-sharing and chat services. Staying off the grid is a precaution to maintain your full anonymity. Please have fun, chat with people, and feel free to share any files you may like.”
If you want to change this to simpler English or a different language, this is the place to do it. Delete any of the text that you don’t want (either by the delete key, or by typing x above each letter), and write in the new welcome text (even if it’s just "Welcome to our page! Here are some files to stream or download! Enjoy!")
-Scroll to the bottom
[Note from me- :wq means “save.” Without typing those 3 characters, your changes will not be saved]
And you’re set – your public Upload button is no more, and your customized welcome text is in place. J