It is always worth doing some investigation when you see an example of two West Coast venture giants fighting over the right to fund an early stage tech company… in SoHo. For Silicon Valley types to get hyped up about a technology idea that exists more than a hour’s drive from the Pacific Ocean is unusual. My theory on this is less about techno-xenophobia and more about a distaste for flying to Board meetings. In any event, the news of Sense Networks receiving $6 million in funding from Intel, who beat out Sequoia for the honor, deserves attention.
Sense Networks was founded in 2003 and incorporated in 2006. The founders are a group of “top computer scientists” from M.I.T. and Columbia. I get the feeling that the water cooler, foozball and lunch table chatter at their place is on a level out of range of my intellectual radar. Given their origins, I wonder how much Red Sox-Yankees smack talk works its way into debates over Minimum Volume Embedding and Machine Learning. The company has used those two principles to make some sense out of ubiquitous location data that emanates from “…cars, buses, taxis, mobile phones, cameras, and personal navigation devices.” The company takes opt-in and anonymized (they even have a Chief Privacy Advocate) location data from the various devices, and through a series of algorithms, historical normalization and external data analysis, comes up with what appears to be useful information. They are able to categorize behavior and movement data into “tribes” of similar people who exhibit similar “spatiotemporal” activities. I am hoping one doesn’t go blind from that. A visual representation of tribal movement on a San Francisco night is in the middle of this page.
Sense Networks has introduced its first application, called Citysense, which lets opt-in smartphone users determine the age-old night time question, “Where is everybody going right now?” In this case “everybody” are those people in the city where you are at the moment who have exhibited similar spatiotemporal behavior to you, wherever you may live. The application pops up a list suggesting where your tribe is hanging out (or tribes, if you tend to mix it up). Pretty neat.
So why would a digital signage geek care about this? Let’s think about applications that may be useful. Wouldn’t potential advertisers be interested in the movement behavior of network viewers before and after their exposure to a marketing message? Or perhaps learn a bit about the multi-tribal characteristics of viewers based on time of day? Would it be effective to understand what percentage of doctor office visitors went to a pharmacy after their appointment… and which one? Could real time data on the nature of viewers in proximity of the screen be used to drive “smart” content and advertising playout? There is something there.
Whether or not Sense Networks breaks through and finds the way to monetize their slick algorithms and management of data is not important in the big picture, although I wish them much success. What is important is that investments are being made to help make sense of the marriage of mobile devices, location data and personal preferences. This insight will find its way to digital signage network operations. Prepare yourself for context- and audience- relevant content. It makes Sense.