OpenGarden, the Ram Shriram backed company behind the off-grid messaging application Firechat, has now opened up its technology to other app developers via a new platform called MeshKit. OpenGarden’s technology allows for data transfer from peer to peer, device to device, over WiFi, and connecting multiple users by using the WiFi capability of their devices.

Firechat had come into prominence shortly after it launched when protesters at the Umbrella Revolution student protests in Hong Kong used it to communicate with each other. In India, it was used at the NH7 Music Festival, where mobile data connectivity is usually patchy owing to the presence of thousands of users at a single venue at the same time: messaging without having to connect to the Internet has its own set of use cases, but these are fairly limited because the proximity is limited to 30-70 meters.

However, with MeshKit, OpenGarden is enabling sharing of music, video, and applications for installs. Paul Hainsworth, Open Garden’s CEO, told MediaNama that they’re planning to announce partners in India soon, and are in conversations with several app developers. The first partner they’ve announced, though, is Studio Sol, a Brazil-based music app publisher with 25 million monthly active users, allowing sharing of music playlists and content between users, without the need for them to connect to the Internet. “They have 25 million monthly active users, and their struggle is that their users don’t want to download music over the cellular network, and wifi isn’t everywhere,” Hainsworth said. “So they want to increase engagement, and they’re using our technology to get users to discover and share music peer to peer, using the same technology we’ve built with Firechat. We can move playlists of music, and several hundred MBs of data at a time, using the just radios on the phone.”

“A lot of folks in India, Indonesia, Philippines, Brazil, have many periods in which they don’t have connectivity on the smartphone. That means that those people can’t engage with apps on their phones. For app developers, it’s hard to make money and monetize a business when a lot of your users are disconnected. So we’ve created a platform to help close that gap, and to help drive, engagement, transaction, advertising revenue and user acquisition for developers,” Hainsworth said. “We’re working with media companies that want to push their content: news articles, photos, audio, video clips. They want to take that content and move it peer to peer. Again, the problem is that a lot of people don’t update the app and get new content every day because they are concerned about using their cellular data plan all the time. They don’t open the app, or see the clips. With our technology, we can move articles, photos, and video clips.”

It’s likely that OpenGarden will need apps with a large user base to sign on first for this to be really useful since it needs a certain threshold beyond which it will work, but the value is there for users to not have to download content using cellular data. Use cases are when someone gets on a bus, or when people are at train stations. If there are people around, then there is a high probability that someone running that music app will be nearby.”

But don’t we already have file-sharing apps?

“The difference,” according to Hainsworth, “is that (in the case of file-sharing apps) the two users have to be actively engaged in the activity in case of something like Shareit. With our technology, a network is created between users around you, and they phones discover and connect and share data without the users taking any active role. Studiosol has playlists like the top 40 songs. The idea is that when people are near each other, they don’t have to actively engage. They get music pushed to their phone. When you have 25 million users for your app, it’s easy to run into people who have that app. It’s more efficient and has more utility than a Zappia or Shareit.”

What about consent?

Users have to opt into permissions on their android phones when downloading the app, or updating it, and that’s when consent for file-sharing is taken. “In Firechat, in places like India, almost 65% of people have wifi turned on all the time, because they’re looking for wifi hotspots. We’re not requiring people to change their behavior. The way that our technology works that a user doesn’t have to take any action. The users don’t have to do anything. We have partners signed up in India, and were expecting to announce them at MWC, but they wanted to wait. Many partners in India are in the evaluation stage with us.”

Monetisation model 1: payment for usage

“There are a couple of models. A primary one is a licensing model, and we get paid by performance. If we drive more engagement for the app developer, we’ve done our job. We have a way of measuring how much engagement we push. If we cross a certain threshold, we get paid. If we push it higher, we get paid more. IF we don’t drive engagement, then it doesn’t drive value for the developer and we don’t get paid. ”

Monetisation model 2: App install ad network

OpenGarden is also enabling app installs peer to peer, via advertising on the apps integrated with Meshkit. “Most people in India and Indonesia don’t install apps over cellular. We’ve developed the capability to push apps peer to peer, and we’ve enabled this as an app install advertising model, so that publishers can use it to generate ad revenue, through app install advertising. We can move small apps, and we can move 300-500 MB games. The phone could be in your pocket, and you have Candy Crush, and I sit next to you and I get an ad for Candy Crush, and it transfers the game from your phone to mine. We get ad revenue for developers. ”

The challenge with this model is that OpenGarden will have to work both the demand and the supply side of advertising: it would need a relationship with both the publisher and the advertiser side of the business. This requires sales setup to develop advertiser and publisher relationships. Why doesn’t OpenGarden tie up with existing ad networks instead?

“Yeah, we’ve thought a lot about this,” Hainsworth conceded. “As a small startup, the approach we’re taking is to prove the model: we’re building the whole thing end to end, and then we’ll start to plug in partners on the demand side, who have advertisers already, and then we’ll start to plug in the publisher networks as well. We’re also talking to some networks now about using our SDK inside their advertising networks. We’ll get scale over time, and it’s a channel strategy in the long run, but in the short run, we want to show that we can do it all on a small scale. People see the numbers, the monetization, and (then) ad networks on the demand side get really excited.”

Read our previous discussion with Opengarden about going off-grid here.