MIT has started a project to map the location of WiFi users across the school's campus. The project has multiple purposes. One is just for research: to see what they can learn about wireless usage habits of students and see if that information is useful elsewhere. Another purpose is practical. The system will let students log in and see certain areas (such as a library) is too crowded. It also has an opt-in system that will allow users to identify themselves, so people can find them online -- though, it seems like a lot of students have no desire to turn on that functionality. Of course, the research aspect of it is turning up some useless/obvious info: students tend to use wireless in the dorms at night and in the early morning, while during the day they tend to log on from classrooms. However, it also is pinpointing some other useful (if still not surprising info): study/computer labs have pretty much lost their usefulness. Students can just go wherever they want to computer. What will be more interesting over time is to see how it really changes the way students do things. It's similar to when those who set up WiFi networks in offices simply to avoid the pain of running wires everywhere discovered the unintended benefit: office workers started taking computers to meetings where they could get stuff done, and make meetings much more productive. It's likely that certain aspect of student life is changing along similar lines, and data from this project should help pinpoint some of what's happening.
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