How CitySense could change the face of social media

Crowded Vienna Metro station in Northern Virginia. (Wikimedia Commons)

WASHINGTON, February 9, 2014 – You’re out club-hopping with your friends, but tonight just doesn’t seem to be your night. You’ve gone to three different places and none of them has a big crowd. It’s like everyone decided to hang out somewhere else tonight and your clique didn’t get the memo. How are you supposed to find the hot place to dance?

Enter CitySense. This app can answer that question and more through a unique program that lets it anonymously track where people are congregating. But CitySense doesn’t only have the power to change your nights out for the better. It has the potential to make a huge impact on all of social media. Read on to find out how.

The CitySense Promise

The alpha version of CitySense launched in 2008 with a unique concept. It tracks the activity level in a city, using tiny dots to represent people on a city map. The dots show where people are congregating. The program also hooks up with Google and Yelp to show you what those dots are. That is, if you see a huge number of dots amassing in a particular location, you can use Google to find out what is located there and move along to Yelp to see what people are saying about it.

In order to avoid any privacy kerfuffles, CitySense tracks all data anonymously. You can’t just track a friend and see where he or she is going. The program analyzes data at the individual and macro level, allowing it to give users insights not only into where people are going but what types of people are going there.

For instance, if someone who has visited some of the same places you’ve frequented in the past goes to a new coffee shop, CitySense might recommend you check that coffee shop out too.

Crowd or No Crowd?

CitySense is complementary to social media in that it provides aggregation you can’t find on sites like Twitter and Facebook. You may notice, for example, that a bunch of your friends are going to a new restaurant in the west end of town. But CitySense will tell you whether it’s just your crowd that’s going there or if the restaurant is attracting people from outside your circle, an indication of higher quality.

Essentially, CitySense heightens all the things people like about social media. People make judgments about movies, food and new products based on social media reviews all the time. But since we tend to be friends with people who are like us, that’s not always a true representation of quality. CitySense can confirm or disprove theories on what actually is resonating with a broader audience by showing how many people are going to a particular place.

Avoiding a Crowd

CitySense may also do the one thing that social media has not been able to accomplish by erasing the “lemming” mentality. So much of social media is about “following,” whether you’re following a person or following someone’s suggestion to try this recipe or that. At times it feels like there’s very little individual thinking on social media.

(Below: A CitySense demo video.)


Though CitySense is a crowd tracker, it actually offers you the chance to think for yourself. You can use the program to avoid crowds altogether. Simply look at where people are going and stay far away from those places. You also can enjoy a secret sense of superiority when you notice that your favorite Chinese restaurant isn’t attracting much interest — you’re so much smarter than the masses going to the awful China Garden down the road!

Knocking Down Assumptions

Social media can also give incorrect impressions of people, places or things that are not based on hard data. CitySense might end that frustrating process. If you see five or six people mention a place they’re going to gather for lunch, you might assume that it’s hopping and will be too busy for you to hit on your own lunch break. But CitySense may show that in fact those are the only five or six people in total going to the restaurant, persuading you to try your luck.

In essence, CitySense removes the shell around social media users, who frequently tend to think that their glass bubble of friends and followers is the only thing that exists. CitySense broadens awareness beyond that bubble, and it’s a very welcome development.

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