The Next Big Social Network
Here's what's wrong with the current spate of social networks. They are too easy for everyone to join, they make it too easy to know too much about you and they are being taken over by big corporate entities. I should also add that they provide way too much ego boost for (mostly West Coast) high volume, low mind braggarts that want to tell you why they are so smart in coming up with the next big thing.
A current project at MIT (hurray for the East Coast) caught my attention. It combines location based on wifi triangulation, user control over who can know where you are and simplicity using existing technology rather than waiting for some big breakthrough. And probably the neatest element is that all that location information doesn't slide through some Big Server that at best will try to sell you an ad and at worst will track your whereabouts for some snoopers to peruse.
The IFind project at MIT recently got some press in The Boston Globe . That article noted in part that, "CAMBRIDGE -- A new friend-spotting software program will debut on the MIT campus today, allowing people to enjoy the social benefits of sharing their location without showing up on Big Brother's radar screen. The iFIND project turns every laptop into something like a precise Global Positioning System unit that can spot users -- down to the room they're sitting in -- and then share that location with friends and colleagues, without uploading their personal information onto a central network."
An listing in LinkedIn (see I told you social networks were too accessible) by one of the IFind developers explained the technical background of the network. "I designed the system from the ground up : client-side Java application, server backend and the secure communication protocol. We use the Intel Placelab API to do Wi-Fi positioning. The client-side java application uses cutting edge Java technologies from Sun's SwingX and SwingX-WS. I also implemented a small public key infrastructure (X.509 PKI) to automate the certificate signing process for the peer-to-peer needs."
So what you have is a campus-wide trial of a really interesting peer-to-peer location technology being used by some of the most technically advanced users that ever walked a college campus. Unlike too many social blogging, or podcasting or videoblogging or dating networks that are only thinly disguised ripoffs of other networks, the IFind network really is something new. Remember, you read it here first.