Converting the homeless to hotspots

By on March 13, 2012
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It’s actually a pretty good idea.


We published a news report yesterday about homeless people acting as Wi-Fi hotspots in Austin, Texas for the South by Southwest 2012 conference. While controversial, I think this is a brilliant idea.

If you didn’t read the news report, a marketing company called BBH got together with a homeless shelter in Autin and equipped homeless people with MiFi devices- basically 3G equipped devices that create a Wi-Fi hotspot for you to connect to and check your email or surf the web etc. These homeless guys then wandered around (something they would regardlessly do) wearing a t-shirt that said, for example, “I’m Clarence, a 4G hotspot. SMS HH Clarence to 25827 for access” along with a URL to homeless hotspots website. In return, a donation priced at US$2 for every 15 minutes was suggested. Whatever money was collected, went directly to the person that was acting as a hot-spot.

Obviously, the first, gut feeling of most human beings is of disgust. How can we, afterall, objectify people as such? But if you really think about it, it takes care of something important. On my recent visit to San Fransisco, I saw many homeless people just wandering around with signs that read “Hungry” or “Feed Me.” Converting such homeless people from humans just bumming around to someone who is actually working and making money to feed themselves is a stroke of genius.

These guys probably started feeling important and needed, and I’m sure their self-esteem took a boost when they ended up making money by the end of each day. Maybe one or two of them might go out and look for a real job by the time the conference is over to continue being able to take care of themselves without relying on someone else’s pity. That, I feel is an achievement.

About the only place where the marketing company went wrong is the choice of words. As @kissane tweeted, Last thought before sleeping: the difference between “I’m running a hotspot” and “I am a hotspot” is a difference that matters.


Abbas Jaffar Ali is the founder of and a blogger, geek and self-declared tech pundit who can't stop talking about technology. Find him on twitter as @ajaffarali

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