A Columbia University computer science professor has co-founded a New York-based company named Sense Networks to sell tracking software to other companies. It is also distributing a free version of this software named Citysense, which shows on your cell phone where the wild things are happening in your own town. Citysense 'uses advanced machine learning techniques to number crunch vast amounts of data emanating from thousands of cell-phones, GPS-equipped cabs and other data devices to paint live pictures of where people are gathering.' Citysense is available today in San Francisco before being soon deployed in Chicago and five other U.S. cities. But read more...
You can see on the left how "Citysense shows the overall activity level of the city, top activity hotspots, and places with unexpectedly high activity, all in real-time." (Credit: Sense Networks) Here is a link to additional information and a larger version of this picture. As you can see, the application is available on Blackberry devices. But an iPhone version is in the works.
This software has been developed by Tony Jebara, an Associate Professor in Computer Science at Columbia University and director of the Machine Learning lab. Jebara founded Sense Networks with several partners including MIT's Alex Pentland. Here is a link to the Citysense web site.
And here are some quotes from Jebara about this project. "'We are providing consumers with free applications on their mobile phones for visualizing several cities: 'where is everyone?,' 'where should I go eat?,' 'which jazz bar would I like?,' 'where would I like to go shopping?' and so on,' Jebara says. Gaining access to the hottest locales with Citysense involves a trade off for users: information on their own whereabouts is also fed into the system. While all information gathered is anonymous, the data could be a goldmine for marketers and consumer researchers looking to enhance sales pitches, learn where people actually shop, or don’t, and tweak emerging retail trends as they evolve."
But how exactly does Citysense work? "Citysense is an application that operates on the Sense Networks Macrosense platform, which analyzes massive amounts of aggregate, anonymous location data in real-time. Macrosense is already being used by business people for things like selecting store locations and understanding retail demand. But we asked ourselves: with all this real-time data, what else could we do for a city? Nightlife enhancement was the obvious answer. This release is just a test, and we're interested in your feedback on how to make the application better. You'll find a feedback button in Citysense."
And what's next? "When you use Citysense, the application learns about the kinds of places you like to go from GPS – without ever sharing that information. In its next release, Citysense will not only tell you where everyone is right now, but where everyone like YOU is right now. The application will compare your history and preferences with those of other users, and show you where you're most likely to find people with similar tastes at that moment. So each person's nightlife map will look a little different, and will display a unique top hotspot list. Cool, huh? That's why we save your location when you use Citysense: to remember what you like. Of course, you don't have to keep a personalized nightlife profile. You can delete your data from our system anytime you want. You created your data: you own it."
The Citysense application was widely covered by the press at the beginning of June 2008 -- check the Sense Networks Media Center for example. One of the most interesting features of Citysense was covered by Brady Forrest in a post on O'Reilly Radar (June 9, 2008). "In addition to these sexy visualizations they included an alarm lock that will wake you up earlier if the city is busier than normal before your commute (set it for 7:30 and sometimes it will get you up at 7:28, but on busier days you might be hitting the snooze at 7:21)." I'm not sure to like this feature...
Sources: David Poratta, Columbia University News, June 20, 2008; and various websites
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