Foursquare Check-Ins in the Boroughs By Category 

The Spatial Information Lab at Columbia University has a new project which measures how people vote with their feet by using Foursquare and Facebook check-ins. The exhibit, entitled  Here: Now Social Media and the Psychological City, is currently on display at Columbia University’s  Avery Hall.  Sarah Williams, the co-director of the lab, and her team analyzed two weeks of check-in data pulled from Foursquare and Facebook API to explore how people communicate their thoughts and preferences on locations in New York City. What’s unique about this analysis is that it links psychological information about the city with hard statistical and spatial analysis. Using urban planning tools such as GIS, the exhibit  re-purposes and visualizes where people are at a given place in time and what they are saying about it.

What neighborhoods are most check-in obsessed? What types of check-ins are popular? How do we visualize human movement over the course of one week?  One fun visualization which is not available on the website is about the density and location of check-in categories which they call the “Psychological City.” The first category was “apocalpyse”–anybody in New York over the summer will remember the flurry of “heatpocalpyse,” “earthquakepocalpyse,” and “hailpocalpyse” check-ins. But other categories they mapped include XXX, Food Truck, Dungeon/Caves, Hell, Heaven, and Purgatory.

By looking at spatial clusters, Williams and her team uncovered some of the most popular places in New York (at least on Facebook and Foursquare). Not surprisingly, the densest places were Times Square, the Empire State Building, Madison Square Garden and Little Italy. Not only are these the locations tourists and residents frequent which drive the local economy, check-ins can also be a status symbol for people. As Williams mentioned in a lecture on using social media for urban research, people are eager to tell their Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter friends that they are on top of the Empire State Building.

Foursquare Check-Ins Around Union Square

The exhibit debuted to complement November’s BitCity Conference at Columbia University. The event, covered by Untapped Cities, focused on the intersection of technology, social media and transportation and featured Rachel Sterne and Janet Sadik-Khan. Although the conference has passed, the Spatial Information Lab  spearheads innovative projects all year long. A full list of past and current projects can be found here.

For an award winning and fun app that checks you in and shows your hidden connections with those around you, check out Sonar. It’s especially great for the types of clustered locations shown at the Here:Now exhibit.

The  Here: Now exhibit is downstairs in Avery Hall at Columbia University on 116th Street and Broadway. Map.

Get in touch with the author at @UntappedAlley. Additional reporting by Michelle Young (@UntappedMich).