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Follow the Smart Phones

By Technology Review

April 14, 2010

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A service launched last week by Skyhook Wireless will make it possible for other businesses to predict, with new accuracy, which local bars will be hot at 8 p.m. on Monday night, or how many people will walk past a particular billboard poster at noon on Friday.

Skyhook Wireless's pool of anonymized location data, gathered from cell phones that have used its services over the past 24 months, shows user behavior in every major city in North America, for every hour of every day of the week at a resolution of 100 meters. This is enabled by the 300 million check-ins received daily from every iPhone, iPad, Snow Leopard-powered laptop, as well as Dell devices and a growing number of Android-powered smart phones.

Several other companies are using similar technologies to map human activity across time and space--an activity first referred to as "reality mining." However, no other company has made available a comparable amount of data to independent developers.

Skyhook Wireless's new service, called SpotRank, is available to developers through an application programming interface (API) from its partner SimpleGEO--a cloud-based service for managing large quantities of geolocation data. The data resembles a heat map of population density in a given city at any point in time. The data can be strung into time sequences to show the changes in human activity as a city cycles through the workday, the commute home, and nightlife.

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