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Cell phone companies are finding that they're sitting on a gold mine--in the form of the call records of their subscribers.
Researchers in academia, and increasingly within the mobile industry, are working with large databases showing where and when calls and texts are made and received to reveal commuting habits, how far people travel for public events, and even significant social trends.
With potential applications ranging from city planning to marketing, such studies could also provide a new source of revenue for the cell phone companies. "Because cell phones have become so ubiquitous, mining the data they generate can really revolutionize the study of human behavior," says Ramón Cáceres, a lead researcher at AT&T's research labs in Florham Park, NJ.
If you were an AT&T subscriber and were near Los Angeles or New York between March 15 and May 15 last year, there's a 5 percent chance that your data was crunched by Cáceres and his colleagues in a study of the travel habits of the company's subscribers. The researchers amassed millions of call records from hundreds of thousands of users in 891 zip codes, covering every New York borough, 10 New Jersey counties, as well as Los Angeles, Orange, and Ventura counties in California.
ABOUT THE VISUALIZATION
The World illustrates the provenance of those who traveled from all over the U.S. and the world to Washington D.C. to witness President Obama's inauguration. It interprets the variations in call activity as flows of people arriving in Washington, D.C. and then leaving the capital to go back to their home states and countries. A world map shows links between Washington, D.C. and countries abroad. Dynamic packets of information represent 100 calls for U.S. States and 10 calls for foreign countries depending on whether call activity increased or decreased in relation to the previous hour. The time-line on the bottom of the screen connects back to The City visualization by showing the overall trend of call activity in Washington, D.C. during the week of the Presidential Inauguration.
ABOUT THE VISUALIZATION
This bonus version illustrates the call activity in a visualization that is easy to understand. In the center of the screen, the map of Washington, D.C. is overlaid with a 3-D color-coded animated surface of square tiles (1 tile represents an area of 150 x 150 meters). Each tile rises and turns red as call activity increases and likewise drops and turns yellow as activity decreases. In the background, an animated map of the United States embraces Washington, D.C. and highlights the normalized contributions of the 50 U.S. States, where those with strong increases in call activity light up and get closer to the viewer. The time-line at the bottom illustrates the overall trend of call activity in the city during the week of the Presidential Inauguration.