Off-the-grid messaging app FireChat is designed for chatting in congested spaces, like political protests in Hong Kong or music festivals in India. As the city of Austin gears up to host the music, film, and tech festival South by Southwest, FireChat is getting ready to introduce a new way to join a conversation with so-called "chat-tags."
FireChat's SXSW upgrade, now available for iOS and Android, allows anyone to create a new chat room using a hashtag. Christophe Daligault, chief marketing officer for FireChat developer Open Garden, compares FireChat to "a WhatsApp session with 10,000 people at the same time."
The new chat-tags will create smaller, more topical chats, so you can move from the larger SXSW room to the #SXSWparties room. You can even deep-link to the new room you've created, so people who didn't tap the hashtag immediately to join your new conversation can still find it.
"Other networks use [hashtags] as a way to filter a news feed, and in our case we use it as a way to have a live discussion around any topic," Daligault said.
The app is trying to capture some of the chatter usually found on Twitter during big events. More than 665,000 tweets were sent during South by Southwest's Interactive portion of the festival last year, and the festival is expecting more than 80,000 attendees over the 10-day event line-up. Because FireChat works without cellular or Wi-Fi connectivity, using the Multipeer Connectivity Framework on iOS and proprietary mesh-networking tech on Android, it's perfect for chatting in areas where your tweets might not go through.
The upgraded app will also make it easier to find out what's new or hot at specific events by highlighting messages like, "George Clooney is at the Spotify House!" in red.
"It's a way to crowdsource the best thing to do right now," Daligault said.
SXSW organizers partnered with Eventbase to launch another app for festival-goers that uses strategically placed iBeacons to help attendees find out what's going on around them. The SXSW Go app has a social feature that matches attendees by interests for more useful networking. You can also see who's around you using those iBeacons.
While the SXSW app is good only for SXSW, FireChat is using the festival to show off its long-term potential. If you're heading to the show this year, you can check out FireChat's SXSW room on your phone here.