When an App Catches Fire

If you make a better mousetrap, chances are good that folks will use it to trap mice. But sometimes what you think you're introducing to the market is actually a perfect fit for something you never dreamed of. Take FireChat. It was designed to improve texting between users with bad or non-existent cell phone reception by using your phone's blue-tooth or wi-fi to create an "improvised network among nearby devices without being 'on the grid.' The devices themselves become arrayed in a mesh, each talking to the other and passing along messages — a web, without the World Wide Web." (New York Times, "Hong Kong Protests Propel FireChat Phone-to-Phone App")

The founders called it FireChat because they envisioned folks using it at beach bonfires or at events like Burning Man, where people wanted to text and share pictures in remote areas without good reception. But what spiked downloads recently were the election protests in the heart of the major world city of Hong Kong.

In fear that cell phone service or internet would be disrupted by the government, hundreds of thousands of protestors downloaded the app, which enabled millions of chats between protesters. And even though the government did not shut down any services, the sheer number of users in a concentrated area strained cell service so that the app came in handy anyway.

This "off-label" use of the app points to future scenarios where it could be a critical aid in protests and emergency scenarios the word over-and will likely spur more interest and downloads than Burning Man.

Have you given any thought to off-label uses for your latest solution? Have you experienced any?

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