[Air-l] Warchalking does not exist: a wager.

Steve Jones sjones at uic.edu
Tue Jul 1 04:22:06 PDT 2003

Christian, it's an interesting bet, but it's not one I'd take up - 
the crux of it revolves around what is "meaningful" as a directory, 
and I agree with you that it's not such if we consider it in sort of 
"traditional" terms concerning what a directory is and does. That's 
not to say, though, that it doesn't potentially serve other purposes, 
less obviously functional ones, such as a marker during games of what 
we might term "hide-and-seek" (for lack of a better name) and 
treasure hunts among the technoscenti. It's also probably been fairly 
quickly eclipsed by the numerous "traditional" online directories 
that show wireless access points, for all the reasons you note - and 
then some (the advantages of searching, for instance). Most Wi-Fi 
devices also include a means by which one can search for a node. I've 
walked around downtown Chicago on several occasions and have found 
numerous nodes that way, most of which have not been marked. The most 
recent mark I saw was about two months ago, in early May, on the side 
of a building in the financial district...but there was no node that 
I could find there. Meanwhile, a block north at a Starbucks, as you 
might guess, there was a node.


At 4:32 PM +0100 6/30/03, Christian Sandvig wrote:
>Hi Steve and air-l colleagues,
>Steve:  Remember the hallway conversation we had last fall about whether or
>not 'true' Warchalking exists?  If I remember, it was your contention that
>it does and that you'd seen it in the Loop.  As you know I'm doing a
>research project on Wi-Fi and I've been trying to settle this for a while.
>I'm writing this note to air-l because I need help.
>For background, Warchalking is the use of symbols (marked with chalk) to
>indicate the presence of a Wi-Fi hotspot.  In pure form, the story of
>warchalking is that there is a subculture of Wi-Fi users that use chalk to
>communicate with each other about Wi-Fi locations.  Hip/cool businesses then
>co-opted the subcultural warchalking to advertise their own hotspots.  More
>at:  http://www.warchalking.org/
>My contention is that the first (subcultural) story about warchalking above
>is entirely a media phenomenon -- it is a beautiful idea, but it doesn't
>make any sense as a directory service to find Wi-Fi.  It is too easy to miss
>a warchalk mark, and the chalk wears away (or washes away in the rain) too
>quickly.  Warchalking symbols were heavily promoted in the New York Times
>just *48 hours* after they were first made public on the Web.  There was a
>subsequent wave of media stories about warchalking, giving everyone ideas.
>Every single occurrence of chalk I've found can be attributed to chalkers
>who want to self-promote their own mark.  So I believe that people *do*
>rarely make warchalking marks for various reasons (to be cool, to advertise
>for their own network) but I *don't* believe that people use warchalking
>marks in a meaningful way to find Wi-Fi.
>After the conversation with Steve, on December 18th I posted an call to many
>colleagues around the world asking for verifiable instances of warchalking
>that work the way that warchalking describes itself.  Reports to date:
>zero.  If warchalking worked as a directory location service, shouldn't I be
>able to find it?
>I just had a close call -- a friend told me that my office at Oxford had
>been warchalked.  Since it is a WEP (non-open) node and I didn't do it, this
>could be half of a "true" instance of warchalking!  I ran out as soon as I
>heard but couldn't find the mark.  It must have washed away?  (Here in
>England, it is raining.)
>So I am willing to propose a wager, or a bounty.  I'll bet one dollar that
>warchalking is not a meaningful way of locating Wi-Fi hotspots.  To win the
>bounty, can anyone deliver someone that uses warchalking to locate Wi-Fi
>Caveats:  (1) Warchalking done by the provider of the hotspot does not
>count -- it is supposedly a co-option of the "pure" subculture.  I dispute
>the subculture, not the self-promotion.  (2) I am not disputing that
>wardriving, warwalking, and online hotspot mapping (warchalking with bits in
>GIS databases, not with chalk) exist as advertised.  (Though others have.)
>My beef here is only about the chalk part.
>I've made a web page for this bet that has the relevant emails I've sent and
>some links:  http://www.niftyc.org/bet/
>As you may have guessed I'm writing a paper about this.  Email me if you
>want a copy when I finish.  Thank you for any help!
>Air-l mailing list
>Air-l at aoir.org

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