Mixing the Wall Street Journal and Foursquare Produces Mixed Results
Location, location, location makes the jump to journalism with the new partnership between The Wall Street Journal and Foursquare. The partnership is an interesting mix of old media and new with Foursquare gaining new audiences and The Wall Street Journal getting serious tech cred.
Early results of the mash-up include the Urban Adventure game (checking in at each of the 5 New York boroughs), the Banker badge (checking in at 3 financial district locations) and the Lunch Box badge (checking in at WSJ-reviewed eateries). More recently the WSJ has published A Week on Foursquare which collected and visualized data on Foursquare use in New York and San Francisco.
The eye immediately travels to the brightly colored heat maps and the intuitive timeline scrubber above it. The scrubber combines functionality with data display and acts simultaneously as a navigation item and as a bar graph of check-ins per hour. The series of heat-maps correspond to each bar on the graph and in addition to previous/next navigation can be played as an animation representing the week the data was recorded.
Further down the page we see some more basic bar graphs followed by an intelligently interactive line graph. While the side-ways locations are at first hard to read, hovering reveals that locations and their comparative check-in percentages are illuminated in a small panel.
The Wall Street Journal dives deeper into the data and looks at the distribution of venues world-wide and the number of check-ins each has on average. With some simple but smart interactivity we can quickly see that most global venues only have one or two check-ins.
Further down still we see the gender breakdown and a listing of the top venues for NY and SF. At this point in the experience I almost expected that all graphs would be interactive in some way but to my dismay there were no more.
That was until I discovered the link in the gender breakdown section to “see more detail” and found a new page waiting for me with with a complex interactive scatter plot and a line graph of Foursquare’s gendered data.
The scatter plot allows the user to filter data points, hover for details on each data point and zoom for a more detailed view. The interactivity of dragging a box to zoom is a somewhat surprising when we’re so used to Google Map's zooming interfaces but it functions well enough to reveal greater detail. It's a very deep and interesting visualization within the larger WSJ Foursquare piece but i doubt many of the viewers managed to find it.
This illuminates the area this visualization really begins to fall apart: typography. The top of the page is awash in almost 10 different type styles in three rows of a loose three column system. The situation improves slightly as the page progresses with increased standardization but the chart placement breaks up any grid that was in place and leads to a confusing and frustrating hierarchy.
The page truly feels like a mash-up between the convoluted column organization of a newspaper and the sleek graphic interface of a web app. For a publication with as much journalistic esteem as the WSJ they didn’t give much importance to the words on the page
On a deeper level, I think the graphic has some issues with focus and storytelling. The supporting text and strangely styled “Switch to San Francisco” button suggests this is a tale of two cities but the venue distribution and gender breakdown sections sample world-wide data that seems to tell us more about the Foursquare service itself than anything else.
The core interactivity is solid but for users to really engage with and be enlightened by the piece it needs serious typographic and organizational help. Even the addition of more white space would instantly help the readability. Combine that with some user interface tweaks and clarification and we’d have a solid profile of Foursquare use on both coasts.