The secret sauce of Foursquare is the massive amount of location data it collects: 4.5 billion check-ins shared by its 40 million users. For non-MIT graduates, however, it's often hard to grasp why such data—or any Big Data, for that matter—is even valuable, especially given the unwieldy cache of information Foursquare has gathered. But a new set of data-viz videos produced by the startup turns its data from an intangible mess to a fascinating visual feast.
Released today, the data visualizations show the pulse of the most popular cities on Foursquare. According to a company spokesperson, the company "took a year of check-ins and condensed them to show what each city looks like on an average day." The company has done similar things before, but it's fun to see this sort of eye candy captured in cities ranging from Chicago to London and Tokyo. It gives a better sense of why Foursquare's trove of data is such a treasure: It not only indicates where people are but, more significantly, how, when, and why they're going there.
Color-coded signals show at what times of day and by what means users travel to various locations. In New York, for example, you can see yellow streaks of light zoom into Manhattan as users commute to work, and then slip away as they head home; at night, the city lights up in blue as more users head to nightlife spots.
It's certainly sexy—the color streaks resemble what I imagine an eagle-eye, time-lapsed view of the world of Tron would look like—but it's also informative, giving a strong overview of what makes cities tick during the day. "The cities light up a little differently: You can see constant travel between airports in Chicago and ferries crossing the Bosphorus in Istanbul," the Foursquare spokesperson says. "In San Francisco, we zoomed in, so you can actually see individual streets light up throughout the day."
Check out more of the videos below.