FireChat, crossing borders

Have you ever had those “off” days, no internet, no service plan, and no credit to make calls, isolated from digital means communication? It’s funny how much you can miss out on, when out of service. There is a relatively new chat service which has harnessed the use of something relatively old, peer-peer, mesh networking. They have created an application that will perform so long as there is another device within a 60 meter radius. As each device picks up on another, the strength and range of your connectivity increases, the bounds of your network are not limited to your neighbour two doors down; your network can extend well beyond the borders of your town.

It is common knowledge that when in a huge crowd, telephone service usually goes gaga as a result of having a significant amount of users in one space, servers often overload. This is the kind of environment which FireChat thrives in, therefore, during the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests FireChat was used as the primary means of communication. Governments are more and more interested in internet surveillance and control and the Chinese Government flat out surveys and controls the internet.. FireChat was a backup resource, should the government have decided to shut down the networks. Mesh networks cannot be controlled as the connections aren’t dependent on the cloud, nor are users logging into a server, the connections are among the devices. With mesh networks, tracking the online presence of users becomes considerably more difficult. People are able to drop off the grid without a trace, providing they were smart enough to use user names, in a sea of peers it becomes difficult to track any one peer.

As a result of the spread of smart phones, Open Garden the creators of FireChat, have developed an application that can interact with both cell service and Wi-Fi and also operate on the mesh network to fuel more than just a chat, but also create a web of users that can ultimately feed off each other. People could connect and communicate without the use of Wi-Fi or a telephone signal. They could also get interactive access via the ever growing network of users.

One major drawback of FireChat is its inability to create private chats; users aren’t able to filter who contacts them. This means you are privy to a wide range of different language and opinions, the good, the bad, the ugly and plain old nasty. Cross platform communication is also limited, cross platform nearby chat is unavailable between iOS and Android.

FireChat has implemented what so many others have tried to in the simple form of a mobile application; this is but the beginning as they seek to further unlock the possibilities which exist peer-peer. Based on technology, this is a great application, based on function, although it was great during the Hong Kong protests, other protest and events the like there is some fine tuning that needs to be done in order give users the best and most secure experience available peer-peer

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