FireChat – First Look
There has been lots of discussion about mobile message apps using MESH networks. Just like my deployment to Hurricane Katrina/Rita in Louisiana’s Lower 9th Ward, we had no cell service which means no internet. Common in disasters, many startups are looking to bridge that gap using Bluetooth/MESH networking for any type of mobile technology.
MESH networks literally work by using other devices in your general vicinity to relay/transmit data to any available network. Devices can automatically network with each other via flood technique (overwhelming) or routing technique (hardware hoping). To put it into terms that we in government are more used to hearing, this type of networking is considered a mobile ad-hoc network that can operate independently with little or no internet connection.
Some advantages include internet use with at least one actual connection, increasing local networking by locality through mobile hardware, and of course an automatic mobile-to-mobile network.
Some dangers include lack of security, mobile device protection, connection reliability, and as the MESH network grows the more prolonged data delays occur.
Soooooooooooo, just like when ello was released, I downloaded the app and started using it. I engaged with various users over the course of the last 4 weeks. Here’s my notes.
- GPS data is incorrect. I was in Dallas’ airport and it pegged me in Natchitoches, LA.
- Bluetooth is another way for MESH networks to communicate but strength of mobile-mobile connections is fleeting/passing in an airport
- Hyperlinks do work.
- When you upload a picture, FireChat does NOT give a confirmation message or pop-up that your picture is uploaded (I found this out because I uploaded my picture six times before I realized what was happening). #whoopsies
- Aaaaand you cannot erase pictures.
- Users cannot erase comments.
- Hashtags help users identify topic and discussion.
- Hashtags are hyperlinked in FireChat to those specific groups.
- Twitter handles do NOT hyperlink to Twitter accounts
- Phone numbers hyperlink to phone app (list using xxx-xxx-xxxx). It also works using the xxxxxxxxxx format but it looks cleaner and easier to recite w/ natural “-” breaks.
- FireChat does not allow cut/paste function.
- GPS coordinates do not hyperlink to any maps (Apple Maps or Google Maps)
- USNG does not work either.
- Refresh rate is slow (when compared to Twitter’s network refreshes faster and is more streaming).
- In a known dead spot for cell service, MESH network was slow and did not connect to internet.
- Trolls are rampant and uncontrolled in the main chatroom.
- Main chatroom has various and NSFW topics.
- Many users do not identify themselves with a profile picture or descriptor.
- Many users are using this service as a social network for personal PERSONAL reasons.
- Bad words are censored on FireChat with “*****”. Unknown what those specific terms are.
- You can like a comment from others or about yourself. Other users can see that someone has liked the comment/content by the red heart displayed. No amount is quantified. Just one lonely red heart.
If Emergency Management was to use FireChat, designate a specialist to monitor to observe and engage pertinent conversation in main chat room directing them to distinct #group in FireChat.
At this time, I only use FireChat when I’m bored and want to see if they have developed other functionality tools.
Just a few initial thoughts on FireChat.