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A new electronic social network

12 Ebrill 2008

mobile phone

A new project which could allow people’s mobile phones to intelligently share content with each other, as well as with other devices such as MP3 players, PDAs or digital cameras, has just won major EU funding.

Researchers from the School of Computer Science have been successful in securing high adventure research funding under the European Union’s seventh framework ‘Future Emerging Technologies’ programme. The SOCIALNETS project, valued at more than £2.1 Million, involves collaboration with Oxford, Cambridge and four other leading continental institutions on a radical re-think of traditional conventions for of communicating electronic content between wireless-enabled devices.

The research is motivated by the rapid growth of portable electronic gadgets such as mobile phones, PDAs, wireless sensors, cameras and MP3 players. Connecting and accessing all these devices via the existing Internet is not feasible. An alternative is the concept of mobile peer-to-peer networking, where individual wireless-enabled devices can directly share data with each other when they come into range, and then pass it on to another device.

Potential applications could include messaging or sharing multimedia content such as songs, links and documents. People can share local information about their environment like the weather or transport delays. As devices in mobile peer to peer networking communicate on a one-to-one basis, there is no reliance on the Internet or mobile phone networks.

The SOCIALNETS project will investigate this approach, taking into account how humans physically interact and mix with each other. Human interaction is the basis for bringing portable devices into range of each other. Social networks with friends, colleagues and contacts can be used to transfer and acquire electronic data, information and knowledge.

Consortium principal investigators Dr Stuart Allen and Dr Roger Whitaker, both of the School of Computer Science, said: "Social networks are a powerful and natural phenomenon that can help us to develop more intelligent ways to electronically share and consume information in diverse environments without the need for ‘always-on’ connectivity between everything and everyone."

The research represents a complete change of direction for communication engineering, which traditionally views disconnection in a network as a nuisance to be overcome rather than an inherent characteristic on which systems could be based. The project brings together experts from diverse disciplines including Social Anthropology, Complex System Dynamics, Network Engineering and Computer Science. From this interdisciplinary approach, the project aims to develop new scientific knowledge and technological capabilities with high potential impact, using unconventional and innovative approaches.