Just how powerful can the data behind a location-based application be? Extremely.
Earlier this month, the second annual Internet Week New York took place, and Dropio founder and certifiable data nerd Sam Lessin crunched a bunch of numbers based on what his contacts on urban navigation and friend-finding service Foursquare were doing. Lessin was working with a group of fewer than 100 contacts, almost all of whom are involved in the tech and new-media industries (this is the scene that birthed Foursquare and its predecessor Dodgeball, after all), and yet it's a fascinating peek at just how much this kind of data can reveal. He's posted it on his personal file "drop" on Dropio.
Lessin trawled through the data to find what time people checked into coffee shops in the morning (and whether they were doing this earlier or later on a given day), how much people "lost steam" over the course of a party- and conference-filled week, and how much the most popular gatherings actually matched up to the Internet Week New York official schedule. As it turns out, the hottest parties were impromptu, unofficial gatherings at the Standard Hotel and, um, Sing Sing Karaoke.
Obviously, this isn't perfect. Foursquare updates are voluntary, which means that data can't say a thing about what people are doing when they aren't telling the app about it. The presence of an app like Foursquare, too, can also skew social activity: word about the massive impromptu party at the Standard Hotel bar, for example, spread when the Foursquare check-ins started snowballing.
But when you have enough people participating--which, as of yet, Foursquare does not--the critical mass starts to correct some of those issues. It's a fascinating sneak peek at what sort of value this data could have down the road.
What we can also look forward to: pretty infographics, Orwellian privacy concerns. Eek.