Chatting off-the-grid: a useful tool for crowds


FireChat-1024x416

You may have read about Hong Kong on the news or on social media these past few days. In a nutshell, there are pro-democracy demonstrations happening in this special administrative region of China. However, I’m not here to write about politics. What I am actually presenting to you is the following application: FireChat. Why? The Hong Kong people massively downloaded FireChat to be able to keep in touch with each other during the demonstrations (The Independent, 2014). So what is special about FireChat? Keep on reading.

What is FireChat?

FireChat is an application for iOS and Android that gives users the option to chat without Internet or cellular connection. It is free of cost and the only requirement is that the person you want to chat with must have the application on their phone as well.

How does one use it?

You can instantly message people that are near you; we’re talking about a 70-meter radius (Forbes, 2014). However, when connected to the Internet, the distance is of course not limited. Besides the ability to work “off-the-grid”, it has the features of a normal chat application. You can enter into group conversations, and send all sorts of media files to each other.

Why should you use it?

During demonstrations, large masses of people gather in a small area, which can negatively affect the cellular networks. The app can help you to keep in touch when you are in these areas. It can be useful when you are on holiday with family or friends to a place where you have no cellular network on your mobile devices.  If you are at a festival, it can help you find your friends. If you are in a demonstration, it can help you communicate with other protestors. As one can imagine, there are a number of occasions where FireChat might come in handy.

Why shouldn’t you use it?

There is a privacy concern with this application. The contents of FireChat are made public so users should not share personal details such as their actual names. That is also the reason why the app does not have login or password details (Open Garden, n.d.). However, the owners of FireChat, Open Garden, are currently working on encrypting the messages so this problem will hopefully be solved in the future (Forbes, 2014).


Sources: 

Forbes, 2014. FireChat Prepares Encryption Feature As It Drives Hong Kong Protests. Retrieved from: http://www.forbes.com/sites/parmyolson/2014/09/29/firechat-prepares-encryption-feature-as-it-drives-hong-kong-protests/

Open Garden, n.d.. Open Garden launches FireChat for iOS: Chat off-the-grid! Retrieved from: http://opengarden.net/2014/03/open-garden-launches-firechat-for-ios-chat-off-the-grid/

The Independent, 2014. Hong kong protests: Demonstrators turn to ‘off the grid’ messaging app FireChat. Retrieved from: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/hong-kong-protests-demonstrators-turn-to-off-the-grid-messaging-app-firechat-9761773.html

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4 responses to “Chatting off-the-grid: a useful tool for crowds”

  1. 417662wn says :

    This is an interesting application! Thank you for your article that introduce me this new application! After reading this, I download this application on my iPhone. It just requires only a few information i.e your display name, user name, and e-mail. Then, it go to the next screen to join whether existed groups or send a message to people nearby you.

    The overall concept of this application is really amazing since it’s out of rule of the current chat application that requiring access to internet. However, it’s still have a limitation in terms of a distance. By the way, this application has been put in the right situation (Hong Kong Protest) as well as Twitter in the Arab Spring protests(Hardawar, 2014). Thanks to this unexpected situation, there is a dramatic increase of users registration.

    However, the firm should consider how to develop the application especially in terms of privacy. Since you can join any groups that appear in the main screen, this application is extremely transparent. It has both advantages and downsides.

    It’s a good news that the developer consider to improve the security issue. The flexibility is also the main issue that consumer will choose downloading the messenger application. It’s really convenience that you can send message to people nearby you in the location lacking of internet service. This fulfill the gap of customer’s requirement actually.

    According to this new concept and the increased users, I affirm that this application would be in the first row as well as well-known messenger applications.

    Reference list
    Hardawar, D. (2014, September 29). FireChat gets embraced by Hong Kong protesters, plans for verified usernames and encryption. Retrieved from Venture Beat: http://venturebeat.com/2014/09/29/china-blocked-instagram-so-protesters-turn-to-firechat/

  2. valeriekovalenko says :

    Thank you a lot for sharing the information about this application!

    It seems to me that it is rather convenient in conditions when you have no access to internet and still want to communicate.

    However, I would rather say that the application is relevant or useful only in terms of this “family rest”, not for demonstrations, and I will try to explain why.

    Firstly, the disclosure or lack of privacy can lead to certain interventions. For example, if a demonstration is organized, there always must be a particular purpose. Usually, the purpose reveals some dissatisfaction with current political/ economic issues. And in that case the government has an indirect interest to prevent this demonstration or at least make it less feasible.
    Thus, having an opportunity to disclosure the names of participants (and usually even when use anonymously through Apple device there is an opportunity to identify users) government can implement some leverages to stop the demonstration or to catch the people pending the demonstration. The case is mostly relevant for Eastern countries, where the concept of democracy is not that developed.

    Secondly, as far as I know how the demonstrations look like, it is a chaotic movement of the number of people. It looks aggressive and it is even more violent. That means that there is no sense in using any mobile phones during this chaotic movement.

    So, in order to address my comments, I would strongly recommend creators to think out of straight implications of their app. My suggestion is to adapt the technology that way, it can be mostly useful for families or friends who are not far away from each other, and not to provide additional soil for people to create demonstrations.

  3. stefan2014bim says :

    I really like your blog about firechat. One question i have regarding firechat and your blog is, how will this app be usefull for people that are not participating in a riot or going to festival. As i can see the use of a chat programme is hugely dependent on the network externalities, as more people use the program, the chat program has more value. I see this as a dange for firechat since the network externalities are only high in times of no cellular connections like riots and festival. Do you think firechat will prolongue and grow bigger the coming time?

    • 357782jt says :

      Thank you for your reply. Since you asked for my personal opinion: I agree with you that the competition is tough (Whatsapp, Facebook, Line, Skype, and many others) and that FireChat would need to attract a larger audience to become more successful. Everyone in the comments seems to really focus on my mentioning of the demonstrations in Hong Kong. However, it was simply how I got to know about FireChat. And it was one appropriate use of this application. Of course I acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses of this.

      To answer your final question: I do not think it will become much bigger, at least not to the level of Skype or Whatsapp. It is actually true that more and more people gain access to the Internet on their mobile devices so FireChat’s advantage is likely to become less valuable in the future.

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