The millions of "check-ins" generated by foursquare, the location-based social networking site, can be used to create a dynamic view of a city's workings and character, Carnegie Mellon University researchers say.
In contrast to static neighborhood boundaries and dated census figures, these "Livehoods" reflect the ever-changing patterns of city life.
Researchers from CMU's School of Computer Science (SCS) have developed an algorithm that takes the check-ins generated when foursquare members visit participating businesses or venues, and clusters them based on a combination of the location of the venues and the groups of people who most often visit them.
This information is then mapped to reveal a city's Livehoods.
Wired's blog says, Livehoods is "taking a big swing" at mining insights into "cultural habits and how societies flow."
And the buzz among Twitterers includes, "Brilliant research project — Using Foursquare to understand the 'true spirit' of a city's neighborhoods."
Maps for New York, San Francisco and Pittsburgh are available on the project website. People can help choose the next city to map by voting on the Livehoods Facebook page.
"Our goal is to understand how cities work through the lens of social media," said Justin Cranshaw, a PhD student in CMU's Institute for Software Research.
Part of the emerging field of urban computing, the Livehoods project takes advantage of the proliferation of smartphones and the location-based services they make possible, providing a powerful new tool that could be used to address a wide variety of urban problems and opportunities — such as city planning, transportation and real estate development.
Livehoods also could be useful for businesses developing marketing campaigns or for public health officials tracking the spread of disease.
The Livehoods project is led by Norman Sadeh, CMU professor and co-director of the Institute for Software Research's PhD program in Computation, Organizations and Society, and Jason Hong, associate professor in CMU's Human-Computer Interaction Institute.
The team will present its findings June 5 at the International AAAI Conference on Weblogs and Social Media (ICWSM) in Dublin, Ireland.