The Burning Man festival kicks off this Monday in the Nevada desert, and while many startups are still assembling their camps, the messaging app Firechat has built something more elaborate for the playa. Built by Open Garden, Firechat specializes in peer-to-peer messaging, relying on Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to deliver messages to phones as far as 200 feet away in areas without a cell signal — areas like Burning Man's Black Rock City.
"Deserts are the ultimate off -the-grid situation."
The new feature will let users designate a different username and avatar for peer-to-peer messages, effectively providing a pseudonym for any chats that happen outside of the public grid. "Deserts are the ultimate off-the-grid situation," Open Garden CEO Micha Benoliel said in a statement. "I went to Burning Man last year and wished there was an app like FireChat."
The new pseudonyms could also prove useful in internet blackout scenarios, where Firechat has been popular in the past. Although the app isn't built for secure communications, the persistent name would allow users to identify themselves in a limited way, potentially protecting against potential repercussions from a repressive regime. Still, the company has focused on events like Burning Man and Coachella to expand Firechat's userbase, and the new feature is aimed at expanding that growth even faster. The app is currently available in seven languages, and according to Open Garden, it's in use in more than 115 countries across the world.