Proof the ethos of the Internet is still alive and strong

Whilst it’s inevitable in the capitalist society that we live in that, once something becomes popular, it will be rehashed for profit, claimed, branded and eventually copyrighted.  Let’s take that as a given, put it to one side, mark it as wholly uninteresting. Let’s instead focus on the grassroots movements behind some of these feats of ingenuity and revolution.  User-driven/demand-driven/whatever you want to call it, what interests me are the people and stories behind the trends we see emerging in our newly networked world.

But how does something go from being a localised activist campaign or small artistic movement, to reaching all corners of our globe, being printed on t-shirts or simulated for advertising purposes?  I think part of the answer to that lies within the Internet’s geneses…

The origins of the Internet

When Tim Berners-Lee gifted the World Wide Web to the world in 1990, he could have restricted it and copyrighted the code it was written in, but he didn’t. He foresaw the amazing things that could be accomplished by sharing and distributing the ability for continued growth and development. In doing so, Sir Berners-Lee (yes, he has since been knighted) epitomised the extraordinary characteristics that the technology continues to enable and produce.

Tim Berners-Lee

The definition of humility in tech. Source: Twitter

New app Firechat enables a revolution

A much more recent development and example of technology being used for amazing feats of communication is the phone app FireChat. Firechat allows users to send memos to one another “off-the-grid”.  The app allows content to be broadcasted and received through ‘peer-to-peer-mesh’, meaning, you don’t need network connectivity!

Just as the inventors of sticky notes  never expected their product to become essential office stationary, Firechat never expected to be aiding a revolution. But for the resident protestors in Hong Kong’s Admiralty District who are taking part in the Umbrella Movement, that is exactly what is happening. The app is enabling communication despite an overburdened network.

It’s by no means perfect, concerns about authentication and privacy are already being raised, it is still very much a fledgling technology.  But with over 100K downloads per day at the moment, expect big things to come!  My brain almost explodes with excitement at the prospect of a future in which no one is beholden to large telecommunications companies!  Imagine the possibilities!