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MIT launches buddy-stalker messenger service

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MIT students are tracking each other as they wander from lecture to lecture using iFind, a new piece of beta software from the university's Senseable City Lab.

The system looks like an instant messenger client, but as well as pinging messages back and forth, it presents the user with a map of the campus showing where all their friends are, in real time. It plots "buddies" who are logged in by tracing where they are accessing the campus' WiFi network.

iFind has been developed by François Proulx, with help from the Senseable City Lab's Director Carlo Ratti.

Proulx told News.com: "When you hover your mouse over your friend, a little ripple or star blinks, and you see a pop-up with the name of your friend, building and room where he is. You can then double-click to start a chat."

He added that since its launch, about one person was downloading the software every minute.

As with normal IM systems, users have to agree to join a buddy list, and can appear invisible to a user or group of users if they chose. They do not have to be specifically logged in to appear online, however, as the software simply tracks their WiFi card accessing the network.

The system is also peer-to-peer, to avoid location data being stored anywhere on a central server. Proulx says this is unusual, and that other, similar systems do rely on central servers collecting and storing location information.

Proulx says he also plans to release the code to the wider community under the GNU public license. ®

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