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Article by John
The purpose of this article is to
explain how Warchalking has become obsolete. It is being replaced by Wi-Fi
Zones that are being fueled by home networks, corporate networks, and even
payphones. The internet will be all around you in all places but you won't
ever need to care about Warchalking. Let's bury the idea and move
What is Warchalking?
Let's start with the definition found on the
Warchalking web site:
is the practice of marking a series of symbols on sidewalks and walls to
indicate nearby wireless access. That way, other computer users can pop
open their laptops and connect to the Internet wirelessly."
Warchalking wallet card by Matt
This is a wonderful idea.
As the Warchalking web site states, this kind of language was first
utilized by hobos during the Great Depression to communicate with each other for various purposes, mostly to find safe harbor. Warchalking itself capitalizes on this idea.
Wireless users help other wireless users by communicating about nearby
Really, this is a fun idea. It is exciting.
Without a doubt it made some of the early adopters of wireless technology feel like they
were part of a hip, cool club. Warchalking is the secret handshake. Not surprisingly, the idea of Warchalking was enthusiastically endorsed by hundreds
if not thousands of bloggers. Many technology news web sites picked up on
I honestly cannot say much about the usefulness of Warchalking.
I never heard any personal stories. None of my friends talked about how Warchalking helped them. Nevertheless, it seemed like a real
when I first heard about Warchalking I felt that it was doomed. I felt it would die.
My four reasons were rather generic:
This is a grassroots effort. Many grassroots movements die or are self-limiting. How will this grow and what is the motivation?
This is the activity of a group of amateurs. This is not an attack on the warchalkers. Instead, it is merely a reflection of a problem, namely that amateur activities are not often very well organized or funded. Without organization and funding, how could
This will make the establishment unhappy. I'm not sure who is part of the establishment but I could easily imagine that companies, for example, wouldn't want their buildings "defaced" with markings. Warchalking is just another form of graffiti
to them, or worse. Plus, they don't want people snooping around their
maintain the Warchalking network? In a short time, unless permanent markings were in place, who would
maintain the markings? What is the incentive to help other people this way? I'm all for people helping other people, but once you get past the early adopters and
Warchalking aficionados, who will keep this up?
Like I said, these
were generic reasons. My gut was speaking to me. Nothing concrete, no
evidence of failure. Furthermore, virtually any of the items above could be
turned around. Indeed, the potential success of Warchalking might be the result
of these things.
Killing Warchalking: The Wi-Fi Alliance and Payphones
dead or will soon be dead. It
is being killed by the Wi-Fi Alliance. The nonprofit Wi-Fi Alliance set up the
program. In my opinion the Wi-Fi Zones have a good chance of working because they are backed by the Wi-Fi Alliance,
which is a highly respected and supported organization. The Wi-Fi Alliance is
also a mainstream organization and by extension, the Wi-Fi Zones will be mainstream. Because the Wi-Fi Zones need to meet requirements set forth by the Wi-Fi Alliance there will be consistency
and standardization. Virtually every Wi-Fi player, from equipment
manufacturers to retail outlets, are buying into this idea. Indeed, they already support the Wi-Fi Alliance.
These folks smell profit. To summarize all of this, you have a respected organization backed by powerful players. Wi-Fi Zones
are going to kill Warchalking. With so much at stake and with profits in the
air, this is going to happen.
Did I mention that
Wi-Fi Zones will be easy to recognize? The logo offers better usability than
Warchalking symbols, in my opinion. It is just a logo. People will see it
and understand it and love it.
The Wi-Fi Zone logo.
If you're still
not convinced, there is at least one other part of this story. Telecom
companies aren't as oblivious to the rapid uptake of Wi-Fi as Clay
Shirky would lead us to believe. He argues that telephone companies
misunderstand the Wi-Fi business because they are treating Wi-Fi as a
service rather than a product. He claims that wireless networks at home and
work will be very important but access in other places, such as bookstores
and coffee shops, won't be as important. People and companies will pay to
build the network one small device and one small network at a time.
People want Wi-Fi
everywhere, all the time. In the car, on a mountain, walking down the
street. If you can offer that to people, they'll buy it. Isn't this exactly
the reason Warchalking was such a big hit? Wi-Fi is a product as Clay
indicates. But, he sets up a false dichotomy. Wi-Fi is also a service. We'll
buy Wi-Fi products (just like we bought FAX machines) but we'll also need to
by time on the network (just like we buy cell phone minutes). And,
importantly, we'll want wireless in all places. Don't forget this idea:
Wi-Fi is a product and a service. You'll buy wireless products but you'll
want to use them every place, not just at home and work.
Some telecom companies are removing
payphones. Often they aren't profitable
because people are using cell phones. But are payphones really going away?
I'm not so sure. Something interesting has happened recently. Some telecom companies are rethinking
payphones and how to capitalize on their investment. Consider for a moment
that payphones are all over the place. They are part of a huge telecom infrastructure. Better yet, people see them and understand them.
What if payphones became Wi-Fi marking points? What if you knew you were in a Wi-Fi Zone because you were near a payphone? Well folks, this is becoming a reality.
might become generic, universally recognized Wi-Fi Zones. They might become
ubiquitous wireless internet access points. They will be yet another piece of the existing infrastructure that replaces
So I think we are seeing the end of Warchalking, but we are seeing the beginnings of a very strong wireless network. The internet will be everywhere, all the time, available to all devices.
And you won't need to look for quaint Warchalking markings. Instead, you'll walk into Starbucks or Wallmart or Barnes and Noble, or you'll be walking through your neighborhood, or
perhaps some place near a payphone. You'll have the web around you, all of the time.
At home, at the office. Everywhere. It'll be like air or water. Wi-Fi will just be there. At some point, you won't have to worry about where you are. Wi-Fi or some other related wireless network will provide
you with an internet blanket, and you'll always feel warm and cozy. No
Please don't mourn the loss of Warchalking. It
made plenty of people drool and it helped people start really thinking about
Wi-Fi in all places. It helped people think about how to expand and extend
the internet. To make it more like a utility, always on and available. With
all this said, I'm actually excited about the death of Warchalking.
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I want to know what you think about this article.