Reality Mining

A New York based company called Sense Networks recently launched two new services.  One is an platform called Macrosense that (anonymously) tracks where people move around via their GPS or GPS enabled phones, WiFi, triangulation, etc.  The the other is a mobile application called Citysense that enables people who opt-in to being tracked to access data about what’s “cool” based on where people are going – and how often.

While the latter application falls squarely within the newly-hot geotagging movement and the now-maturing social networking spaces, it exists mostly to entice people to opt-in to the service – if you allow Sense Networks access to your data, you get access to Citysense.  This model apparently works better than paying people outright for their data.

However, we think the data mining platform is more intriguing.  The company lists many interesting applications for it such as identifying “influence points” along popular routes or qualifying demand (and the elasticity of demand) for places, activities and services by income level.  The platform might also be useful in qualifying respondents for consumer insights work.  Instead of self-reporting, one could use this system to create a recruitment center based on people opting-in to allow you access to their movement data so you would know for certain the potential respondents had actually been to Acme Retail Store before recruiting them for an IDI or focus group.

Sense Networks insists they aggregate the data anonymously (and one of its founders now consults for them exclusively on privacy issues).  Still, at some point in the process, the system must collect unique data such as income, gender or age before it scrubs and aggregates this data.  As we have mentioned before, we think that the advantages of persistent identify and the ubiquity of surveillance will continue to trump privacy issues.  Still, opting-in to a system that tracks your every movement would seem to be a hard sell.  It will be interesting to see how consumers respond to Sense Network’s inducements.  If consumers derive enough value from trading on their geodata, you can be sure the big Telcos will follow Sense Network’s lead.

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