(NP2) With the #FireChatApp WE ARE THE NETWORK

Instant Soc network((updated with article from the Philippines +  news about the Greenstone relay gem – May 2 PS.5 ))

((updated- post scripta on Feb.11 2015)) (( added link to the Tutorial on October 14, 2015))

FOR A SHORT TUTORIAL READ:  http://opengarden.com/how-to/

The FireChat smartphone App worked like a charm during the #umbrellaMovement demonstration in HongKong and during the #JeSuisCharlie demo for Freedom of Expression in Paris. In both cases hundreds of thousands of civilians stood together, packed shoulder to shoulder, on full squares or blocked roads. About 1.5 million people in Paris (total in France approx. 3.1 million)  that day.


and 50.000 to 150,000 in Hong Kong depending on the day.

Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 13.28.08

Yes, the cell phone networks broke down under the load of people trying to phone or text eachother, but those who had pre-installed FireChat on their smartphone (notice the lightApp on their screens, above) could chat together or in Chatgroups. Without the networks of the providers. Much to the surprise and maybe shock(!) of the Authorities. The same authorities that Charlie Hebdo and his collegues, may they RIP, used to criticize and mock 🙂

Firechat voorb

“Look Ma No Networks !!” With the app you can start and follow, nearby or far away, a number of (group)chats, which where used mainly to coordinate the crowd by self-organization. Congestion & flow situations where shared and medical facilities/ food/ water/ waste where set up for those in need. In HK the crowd could very quickly and orderly respond without violence to police attacks that that where tried to break up the demonstration. And they could organize cleaning-up teams, food distribution and first aid. Many of the participants had pre-installed FireChat because they anticipated that the city authorities would take out the cellphone networks to de-fuse the demonstrators power.

You can download this free App from https://opengarden.com/firechat  for either iPhone or Android phones.

1. What is the communication problem, to prevent for instance wild mob behavior which can lead to crushing (i.e. the New Year stampede in Shanghai) and deaths, in such cases of mass gathering? Loudspeakers and chanting do not really work, since it may escalate panic or create avalanches like in stadions. Central control by a hierarchy of police officers and sportsclub menders can do only so much to calm the audience, including organized tribes of hooligans. The problem is wireless network congestion.


There is not much the mobile network providers can do about that since by design a certain maximum amount of “phone traffic” can be handled by the basestations in each cell. This installed equipment and backhaul lines to collect the basestations is a tradeoff between average number of people & calls they make vs. the cost of installation etc. The providers already struggle to handle the recent increased use of data volumes and connect-duration on 3G (UMTS) and 4G (LTE-adv). During mass gatherings they can bring in extra basestations and install extra Wi-Fi access points to offload the very high amount of (data)calls. But this turns out to be insufficient, for instance at New Year events in cities, so people have to wait for minutes or hours to reach their relatives,

Fortunately the “emergency services” like for police, ambulance crews, firebrigades and security personell have their own mobile systems based on the TETRA standard (France Tetra-Pol?). These services must be able to manage the crowds and act to prevent harm to people and stuff. But even they can do only prevent mass accidents up to a certain point.

It is therefore wise that before the visit of the Pope this week in the Philipines media companies there: Rappler (@rapplerdotcom) and GMANews (www.gmanetwork.com/news/ ) have encouraged the people who want to attend to bring FireChat on their smart phones with them so they get up to date information and can inform each other of the situation.

2. How does ‘the network without a network’ work? The solution is that the smartphones are used with both Wi-Fi and BlueTooth wireless On. The FireChat app makes contact through either one, with the nearest other smartphone running Firechat. The short distances of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radiation links (60 meters / 30 meters) are not a problem, but an advantage since the FireChat apps  build automatic daisy chains and mesh networks between the phones of the people standing near eachother.


It should be known that besides texts and photo’s which can be exchanged in the (group)chats this app and mesh network are unfit for telephony or exchanging large datafiles.

FireChat constructie

There are a couple of extra tricks build in I guess. And the app is improved based on the things learned in the field. This is a clear example of User Side “New Power” which is taking off, see my NP1 blog.

The fundamental shift we can watch is from Supply Side to Demand Side dynamic growth. I will comment further on this in my next blog (NP3, about Obama’s State of the Nation speech, today: unleaches Muni FttH broadband)

jaap van till, TheConnectivist

PS.1 OpenGarden could see the following numbers in Manila: 11,000 people and 280,000 (!) chat sessions in 5 days, which was below their expectations.

PS.2 Youtube video about what the FireChat app is and does:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xaxRp3JuM5k&app=desktop

PS.3 User instructions will be published on the website that Open Garden is preparing.

PS.4 LIFESAVING ! In for instance football stadiums there can be a special “ALARM chat” on FireChat to notify the medics that somebody has fainted/ fell in the public. As long as there are enough people using the app so that the mesh works. And as long as this specific chat is followed by the medics and stewards. And only when the AlarmChat is not misused for non alarm messages.

PS.4  How a chat app for became a tool for a news gathering revolution via

Screen Shot 2015-05-02 at 09.06.04
Screen Shot 2015-05-02 at 09.05.13

About broodjejaap

See ABOUT on TheConnectivist.wordpress.com
This entry was posted in coordination, Demand side, flocking, Internet success, P2P Power and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to (NP2) With the #FireChatApp WE ARE THE NETWORK

  1. Pingback: NP3 #SOTU2015: Breakthrough Power to Municipal Community FTTX projects | The Connectivist

  2. Pingback: (NP 6) The ‘new power’ of distributed software systems: 2nd FLOSS4P2P Conference in London | The Connectivist

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