There is now Wi-Fi access on the New York City subway. Well, only on the “L” train. Okay, just the last two cars of the L train, on a portion of the line, from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Only for the week of Nov. 14–19.
‘We’ve created a captive audience media channel’
OK — subway Wi-Fi is still as rare as New York’s non-existent subway mobile phone service. But a little experiment that has combined some roguish impulses, a bit of minimalist tech prowess and a “just do it” mentality is showing what might be possible.
Using 15 portable battery-powered web servers hidden in shopping bags, a nascent creative agency called WeMakeCoolSh.it is creating temporary pirate Wi-Fi hotspots in select subway cars, allowing mobile devices in range to access a public intranet complete with chat room, news, and original content from local artists and writers. The name of the project — which (perhaps unintentionally) also works as a pun on the state of the subway service in recent years — is the “L Train Notwork.”
On a recent ride-along, I got to see the stealthy team in action.
One by one, members of the team board Manhattan-bound trains from the Morgan Avenue station in Brooklyn, each carrying a green cloth tote bag containing a server, router, power inverter, and 12-volt battery tucked into a shoebox. They also carried slick, iPhone-styled flyers explaining how to access the network. When logged on, users were greeted with a retro-web interface with 8-bit graphics and links to the “Missed Connections” chat and other sections highlighted in pixilated glowing green text.
“Our notion was to first appeal to creative people,” says co-founder Matthew McGregor-Mento about the content selection, which is on-target for the artsy-geek contingent commonly riding that stretch of the line.