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

Christian Sandvig csandvig at uiuc.edu
Mon Jun 30 08:32:23 PDT 2003

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!



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