Scientists from the University of Bath in the UK are mashing up Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones and Facebook to better understand how people interact in cities. This effort is part of a larger project called Cityware looking at a range of urban issues, including the spread of viruses — both biological and digital viruses.
The Facebook application has another, pretty obvious goal — to help you meet interesting new people who’re nearby.
The researchers are taking advantage of the increased usage of computers, Bluetooth and Facebook, according to a BBC article that interviewed team member Dr. Vassilis Kostakos.
Here’s how it works. First, Facebook users install the Cityware Facebook application and enter the Bluetooth ID for Cityware-approved mobile phones or laptops into the application. Cityware’s hardware nodes — located in Bath and University College London, UK, and UC San Diego in California — constantly scan for Bluetooth devices and sends information back to Cityware’s servers to match up ID’s with enabled Facebook profiles. Facebook users then see a list of people they’re around frequently, who also have Facebook profiles, and can choose to add these people as friends.
While we haven’t had a chance to take a closer look, the ability to find interesting nearby people reminds us of location-based messenger Meetro.
Analysis so far is reinforcing theories that viruses spread through long-lasting, frequent encounters, Kostakos told the BBC — just like Facebook first spread virally through close-knit college campuses. The researchers also claim results are demonstrating that short, infrequent encounters help spread innovation and new ideas (more information on their research available here).
The researchers say they eventually want to create mobile phone alerts for users when nearby Facebook users have friends or interests in common with them, although they note the difficulty of writing a mobile application that works on many different models of phones.
Locations will soon go online in Sweden, Hong Kong and Australia.
The Cityware project is funded by British government agencies and large companies including HP, Nokia and Vodafone.
Update: Hmmm, all this talk of urban viruses in the UK reminds us of something… ah, yes, the 2002 movie 28 Days Later, where a zombie-inducing virus gets out of a research lab and takes over the UK.
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