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Social networking the real world
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Thursday launched an Internet service that university researchers say could be the next big thing in computer-facilitated social networking – a program that can pinpoint the exact location of any of some 20,000 people with access to the university’s WiFi network.
The idea behind the technology – iFIND – is to make it easy for people to track down professors, friends and colleagues. The university says it’s the first service of its kind.
“Our goal was to create a tool that would allow friends to keep track of friends and increase serendipitous connections,” says Carlo Ratti, director of the MIT’s SENSEable City Laboratory, which developed the technology.
A key difference is that iFIND is designed to foster interaction in the real word.
The technology inspires comparisons to George Orwell’s 1984, where the government used technology to monitor ordinary citizens. But the university says that’s unlikely to happen on its network. Users must sign up before they can be tracked by the new service and they need to specify who can see their location. Also, location data also isn’t stored on any central database, a university spokeswoman said.
The system works using WiFi access points to pinpoint the location of anybody who is logged onto the network – whether they’re sitting in a classroom taking notes on their computer, working in their office or studying in the library.
MIT says that its 168-acre campus is one of the most densely networked areas in the world, with some 3,000 WiFi access points. That concentration makes it easy to find a user’s exact location by identifying the hotspot they are using to access the network.