Sunday, September 19, 2010

Are libraries popular venues? What location based services say.

Location based services like FourSquare, Gowalla , Loopt enable users to check-in at different venues. For those unfamiliar with the concept, people basically "announce" online that they are currently at a certain location.

They are still not quite main-stream yet, though with Facebook adding Facebook places this might change.

Still the amount of check-ins at each venue does give you a rough snapshot of how popular each place is, so I was curious and checked the different venues on the current location based leader, FourSquare. How does our library compare with other venues in campus (National University of Singapore) in terms of checkins?

Not bad. 234 people checked in 692 times at Central Library (Main library of the 7 NUS Libraries). Do note that the library has not claimed the site, and does not do any promotion unlike some other libraries. There is some evidence from MacDonalds that doing special promotions with FourSquare will boost check-ins 

But that's just a figure, how does this compare to other venues in the University?

Let's look at a couple of canteens on campus

The Central Library comes up on top. Here's the stadium

Nope. I also checked other NUS venues including LTs, labs etc, none are as popular as NUS Central Library, the most popular venues usually have at most half the number of checkins. There was only one venue I could find that came close.....

NUS Cultural Centre has at the time of writing slightly more people (5 more) doing checkins, but almost 150 less checkins. This probably reflects the fact that NUSCC draws in visitors from outside the campus, but are mostly one-off visits.

Here's the check-in for "National University of Singapore" as a whole

Interestingly enough the number of check-ins are lower than a specific venue (NUS central library). Similarly checkins to "larger locations" like NUS Faculty of Science are also relatively low.

Thoughts and conclusion

At this stage though we don't know enough about check-in habits of users to know whether they prefer to check-in to a venue as large as "National University of Singapore". In other words, if you visit a place with various venues that are applicable, do you check-in to the most specific venue or to all that apply?

It also occurs to me check-ins also depend on whether there are duplicate venues, i.e occasionally you may see duplicates, or more than one FourSquare venue for each location. This could be deliberate for example your library might have a FourSquare venue for the library as whole as well as specific locations (reading rooms etc) or it could be a duplicate location created by someone who did not know an existing venue existed, so if you knew they existed you should account for that.

Also I suppose, check-ins might be a function of the way we want to represent ourselves to friends. So if most geeky and nerdy people like to "boast" they are at a library studying, check-ins there will have a inherent advantage.

Many other interesting questions and research issues here....

When I did this, I manually searched for FourSquare locations by my university name to pick up venues within the University. This won't work so well if you work for a public library say the National Library Board (see the Foursquare page of the main library here) .

Of course the correct way to do this is to do a systematic search using the FourSquare API  to find locations that are most popular within a certain spot. I'm not techy enough to make the effort to do this, but someone really should.

There are web services that sort of do this , like Mappr and Miso Trendy where you can specify a spot and it will show you the most popular venues within a certain radius. I'm not able to get it to work consistently though. I think the later only shows users who have checked-in currently.

I have no doubt as location based services become more popular, the data you can draw from there will become very useful and I can think of multiple ways you could use the data, though there are obvious privacy implications even for data at the aggregate level.

Let me repeat again, at this stage the data is just suggestive, only early adopters are on Foursquare, there are various issues to consider about the reliability of such checkin statistics etc.

Still, libraries can probably exploit this data in the future to show to university administrators or government officials, how popular and well used the libraries are since it allows you to compare with other locations using a standardised metric (check-ins) as opposed to just saying we have 10,000 visitors.

I did a quick check of other libraries both academic and public in Singapore and was floored by how high the figures were, I'll be surprised if this is unique to just Singapore.

So dear readers, how popular is your library according to FourSquare? How does it compare to other venues in the area?


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