Etch, a new data visualisation company, is attempting to turn that data into something beautiful. Using the location information culled from Foursquare’s API, the service plots and prints our past check-ins onto a stylish map.
“This is our first attempt to enter into the conversation of ‘what do we do with this invisible inventory of data that we ourselves are tracking or that is being collected about us,’” Jeremy Weikel, co-founder of Etch, tells Wired. “We’re trying to find ways to unlock that value.”
Weikel and his fellow founder, Michael Yap, were partly inspired by the work of Facebook’s former data-viz guru, Nicholas Felton, who each year creates his impressive Feltron Report. No surprise there, considering Yap studied information visualization with Feltron for a semester at SVA.
“Nicholas is an exceptionally generous teacher,” Yap told Co. Design. “He shared many, if not all, of the methods he developed over the years and years of creating his annual reports with my class.”
Much like Felton’s work, Etch is cleanly designed and cleverly detailed, but it relies on a simple data collection process, making it easy for just about anyone to use the service. Once on Etch, users log into their Foursquare account. From there you can choose your city and color scheme and add place markers for any special occasions that might have occurred during your check-ins.
Launched earlier this week, Etch’s offerings are still pretty basic. Currently the service is only available for people living (or checking into places) in San Francisco, Portland and Manhattan, but it has big plans to expand its reach. And not just locationally.
As Etch grows, it’s looking to integrate other sources of location-based data. Weikel sites Moves for iPhone (the app that tracks walking, running and biking data) as an exciting possibility, noting that the app’s method of passive data collection could make for some great data-viz opportunities. Think: a map showing your New York Marathon path or a snapshot of your daily commute (should you happen to want something like that). For now, though, Weikel says Etch plans to keep things simple.
“We have a lot of enthusiasm about the possibilities of this,” he says, “But we tried not to dump all of that into the first iteration.”