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the activity of drawing chalk symbols in public places in order to indicate the location of wireless Internet access points
'Warchalkers beware. The fightback has commenced. Over the past few weeks, diverse organizations have blasted the technique of warchalking – clandestinely chalking symbols on pavements and building walls highlighting hot-spots where wireless LANs can be accessed freely – as plain bandwidth theft.'CommsDesign.com 22nd September 2002
'Mr Jones said that the numbers of wireless networks was proliferating and many were being created as free nets that serve anyone who wants to use them … Warchalks are a good way to let people know of their existence and zero in on their exact location …'news.bbc.co.uk 23rd July 2002
In the noughties, not all the symbols you see scrawled on public pavements and buildings are mindless graffiti. If in recent months during your walk to work you've noticed a proliferation of symbols resembling those in a game of noughts and crosses, then you have probably witnessed evidence of the new craze of warchalking – a way of indicating to people where they can take a WiFi-enabled laptop and go online – for free.
the practice of warchalking was … an obvious development, a way of indicating to passers-by where they could get wireless access
When many companies set up wireless networks in their buildings, it meant that not just employees working within the building, but also people in the immediate vicinity could take advantage of the wireless facilities. People on the look-out for free access would walk or drive past particular places in the hope that the wireless connection spilled over into the street, a phenomenon known in recent years as warwalking or wardriving. The practice of warchalking was then an obvious development, a way of indicating to passers-by where they could get wireless access.
The term warchalking has a variety of derivatives associated with it. A verb warchalk can be used both transitively and intransitively and is often used in passive constructions such as We've been warchalked' … meaning something like 'the building where we work has had warchalking symbols put on it'. A participle adjective warchalked is also very common, for example: a warchalked location/building/pavement. People who engage in the activity are referred to as warchalkers, and a countable noun warchalk refers to the chalk symbol itself, also often occurring in compounds such as warchalk sign/symbol/map/mark. There are three main warchalks, each representing a different kind of wireless network node. For example, a symbol resembling a cross and consisting of two back-to-back semi-circles indicates an open node.
The term warchalking was coined by the founder of the practice Matt Jones, a London-based Internet design expert, in June 2002. The expression was inspired by the words wardriving and warwalking, themselves based on the term wardialling, a word in popular use in the 1990s referring to the practice of repeatedly dialling many phone numbers in the hope of finding a modem.
The practice of drawing symbols with chalk is said to have taken inspiration from the Depression in the USA of 70 years ago, when homeless travellers drew signs to indicate to each other where they could get a meal or shelter for the night. The use of chalk rather than paint in warchalking symbols is seen as a way of ensuring that the signs will need to be re-written regularly and the information in them maintained.
This article was first published on 17th January 2005.