Learn how to edit text, draw, chat, transfer files, and share social posts with apps that support local and peer-to-peer network connections.
Many collaboration apps appropriately handle two network conditions: Online or offline. Google Docs, for example, lets multiple people edit simultaneously online. Additionally, people may choose to edit offline, then rely on the system to sync all edits when re-connected to the internet. Many modern cloud collaboration apps work similarly and allow collaboration defined only in the context of connection to a software maker’s systems over the internet: Are you connected or not?
There’s also a third network condition: A local network. If you ever have sent a photo, file, or a link to a person nearby–with Apple’s AirDrop (on iOS or macOS), Microsoft’s Windows Nearby Sharing, or Google’s Android Nearby Share–you’ve used local networking. These systems let you transfer data from one device to another (over Wi-Fi, Ethernet, or Bluetooth), without the need for an internet connection.
The following five apps push beyond standard internet-centric network designs. These apps give us a glimpse of a potential world where apps let us collaborate over local networks, without the need for an internet connection. Appealingly, many of these apps not only support local network collaboration, but also work with an internet connection, when available or desired.
Chat and file transfer
Underpass offers peer-to-peer encrypted file transfer and chat for macOS ($3.99 one-time purchase) and iOS ($1.99 one-time purchase) devices. Choose to start either a Local Area Network or Internet chat, specify a password that both you and your chat partner will enter and use, then chat. Enter text to chat, or you also may paste a file (Figure A).
For more on other chat apps that work without an internet connection, such as Berkanan, check out: 3 emergency communications solutions to implement now.
Multi-platform file transfer
Feem relies on local Wi-Fi to transfer files between Feem apps on five different platforms: Android, iOS, macOS, Windows, and Linux. The app attempts to auto-detect other devices running Feem (Figure B), but if your Wi-Fi router blocks the needed ports, you may switch to Wi-Fi direct on Android or Windows devices, then share the generated password to let other people connect directly to your device. Feem may be used for free, or you may upgrade for $4.99 per year to remove ads and access additional settings.
Edit text and tables
For macOS, iPhone, and iPad devices, Collabio lets you create and collaborate on files the app calls Text And Tables. When you start to share a file, the app displays a four digit code (Figure C), which you’ll need to share with your collaborators. You can tell them the code–or share it with them with a local chat app. People may edit your shared file as long as you keep the app open and sharing allowed. Collabio costs $11.99 per month or $69.99 per year in the App Store.
Inko supports collaborative drawing for people across iPad, iPhone (Figure D), and macOS devices with a subscription to the Nearby Plan ($9.99 per year). An upgrade to the Remote plan ($29.99 per year) enables internet collaboration. There’s an Apple TV app as well. The maximum number of devices for peer-to-peer drawing is eight, but increases to 12 when devices are all connected to a Wi-Fi access point.
Manyverse, still in beta with apps available for Android (Google Play or F-Droid) and iOS (iPhone or iPad) currently, offers a decentralized “off the grid” social network. Essentially, it’s a free, open source app that lets you create posts, with images, that can be shared and synced via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or the internet with other people’s devices (Figure E). Based on Secure Scuttlebutt (SSB), Manyverse also is intended to interoperate with other apps that support the SSB protocol.
Learn or explore more?
Beyond the above apps, there’s a whole community of people exploring how software might help us collaborate in non-server or non-cloud centric ways. Search Twitter for terms such as #OfflineFirst or #LocalFirst to connect with people developing apps that work in a variety of network connection scenarios. Or, read “Local-first software: You own your data, in spite of the cloud,” for a useful, in-depth perspective on these issues. In the long-term, decentralized apps, often called “dapps”, are worth consideration, but in my experience the current generation of dapps are not yet usable without significant technical configuration or knowledge.
What apps do you recommend for local network, no-internet-required collaboration? Have you used or built apps that let you work with colleagues over local Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connections? Let me know what you think of the potential for #OfflineFirst or #LocalFirst apps, either with a comment below or on Twitter (@awolber).