Foursquare today is launching what it calls Hex Tiles. These are a new way to visualize and contextualize its location data. In short, they unify location signals and other related data into color-coded tiles that are overlaid on a map to help visualize patterns that can inform business decisions.
For example, Hex Tiles could be used in franchise development. This is when multi-location businesses strategically choose their next locations. It involves balancing where demand over-indexes to supply, and myriad other signals like traffic patterns and population demographics.
Hex Tiles can be used in this “suitability analysis” by revealing ideal sites based on pre-determined variables. Decision-makers can then see key patterns – again color-coded to value signals – over large geographic areas. This can unearth insights otherwise buried in spreadsheets.
“Not only [is] the process and ease of visualizing the data greater, but the potential for data enrichment and scale of what users can look at is incredible,” Foursquare SVP Sina Kashuk told Localogy. “Users in essence can have all our Places data accessible in one map for visualization and on-the-fly analytics.”
So how does this all work? Hex Tiles utilize the open-source H3 standard, which is a global grid system that organizes the planet into hexagonal cells. Foursquare’s location data – including things like place data and foot traffic patterns – can then be integrated to reveal key patterns spatially.
For example, in the above franchise development example, companies can replicate the success of an existing store by identifying other locations with similar variables. Those criteria can be identified and revealed through Hex Tiles and output in a visually-intuitive format on a global scale.
Not only does this array data in ways that are more intuitive and conducive to macro-analysis, but it’s browser-based. This makes it easier to conduct large-scale geospatial data visualization on the fly. Again, it’s about revealing insights otherwise buried in spreadsheets, and doing so faster.
According to Foursquare, one common pain point this alleviates is data unification. Location Intelligence comes in many flavors and it’s often time-consuming to process and integrate it. Hex Tiles ingest and process disparate data sets in ways that convey immediate meaning and insights.
So what’s the comparison? We’ve mentioned spreadsheets a few times. Common practice also involves vector or raster tiles, which can’t be encoded with spatiotemporal analytics. That’s a fancy term for object-oriented attributes like colored tiles that can be understood easily.
Besides reducing cognitive load for human understanding, this format is also optimal for machine learning, says Foursquare. This is because it’s organized in tabular form, which is the commonly-used data format for machine learning systems such as Google’s TensorFlow.
Stepping back, Hex Tiles also advance a key trend in location data: broadened use cases. Once applied primarily to marketing (think: ad targeting and attribution), it has branched into several operational functions over the past decade. It’s all about optimizing business operations.
In addition to franchise development, this can include everything from supply-chain management and logistics to planning a restaurant menu. Hedge funds have even begun to use location data to gain an intelligence edge by estimating companies’ sales ahead of quarterly earnings.
Hex Tiles appear to be applicable across the board for these user personas. More importantly, it could extend use cases, thereby growing Foursquare’s addressable market. It could also deepen existing use cases, pursuant to demonstrating ROI and thus customer retention.
Here, it’s all about Hex Tiles’ no-code approach. Following the no-code movement, it applies an object-oriented UX that can be used and understood by everyone from marketing execs to the non-technical C-suite. This makes Hex Tiles a strong business move for Foursquare.
“Prepping and juggling large, disparate datasets is complicated, time-consuming, and typically requires lots of additional coding and technology.” says Kashuk. “Hex Tiles makes preparing and processing data faster and easier, without the need for coding, turning days of work into minutes.”