Engineers at The Ohio State University (OSU) are working on software that helps people locate their friends in a crowd and make new friends who share similar interests.
The software, eShadow, made its debut at the IEEE International Conference on Distributed Computing Systems (ICDCS) yesterday in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
It uses nearby wireless networks and smartphones’ wireless communication technologies to alert users that a friend who also uses the software is in the area and gives directions to that friend’s location.
Dong Xuan, associate professor of computer science and engineering at OSU, hopes that his research group’s software will also build bridges between strangers who share personal or professional interests.
At a business meeting, such as ICDCS for example, the software could remind a user of a forgotten acquaintance’s name, or help her make new professional contacts in the same area of research.
Since it enables face-to-face meetings, eShadow is a complement to online social networks such as Facebook, which excel at connecting people who are far apart, Xuan says.
“Today, online social networking has advanced dramatically, but our ability to meet people face-to-face hasn’t gotten any easier,” he said. “We want eShadow to close social gaps and connect people in meaningful ways, while keeping the technology non-intrusive and protecting privacy.”
The name eShadow comes from the idea that users input their interests into the software, and their smartphone broadcasts those interests to certain other users of the software—but only within 50 yards of the phone. So as users move, the broadcast follows them around like a shadow.
As to users’ safety, Xuan feels that, at least for some situations, meeting someone in person is safer than meeting them online.
“Online, people can steal others’ identity, or lie easily without detection," he said. "It’s much harder to pull off a masquerade in person."
Plus, users only share information which they want to share and can observe potential friends at a distance before deciding whether to introduce themselves. Young people, Xuan pointed out, are especially comfortable with putting personal information online and could readily adapt to using the software.
That said, people can be selective about who they wish to receive their eShadow signals. Users can select individuals from their phone’s contact list, and specifically de-select people as well.
Presently, the software works best when people move infrequently. Xuan and his research group are enhancing it to better accommodate motion. They are also extending it from Windows Mobile to support multiple smartphone platforms, such as Android, and exploring opportunities for publicly releasing the software in the near future.
(Story materials provided by The Ohio State University.)