Ever wish you could relive a past trip or retrace your favorite places from years past? With its just-released new Time Machine feature, Foursquare allows you to do just that — in a fun, visual way. The new feature generates a custom map out of all your Foursquare check-ins, then allows you to replay them over time. Each check-in is defined by several features, including a color to indicate its category (arts, college, nightlife, etc.) and a number for how many times you checked in total. When played like a video, Time Machine is visually mesmerizing. Each location and path quickly flashes as it passes through the timeline, while the place stats flip by on the edges of the screen. The screen stays statically placed in each location, but every time there’s a large geographical leap, Time Machine flies you via airplane (or sometimes UFO) to your next map. The loading time of the “airplane” is nice for getting readjusted to each new map, but it also takes long enough that it makes the feature impractical for following things like check-ins along road trips, or short vacations. Because of the rapid speed at which the Time Machine video feature plays, it’s best thought of as a form of data art. It’s fun to watch and provides an easy way to spot patterns in your check-in history, but it is nearly impossible to determine any individual locations or times while the play button is pushed. To that end, there’s a pause feature with arrows that allow you to scroll through check-ins one by one, while displaying the exact latitude and longitude, time and date of each check in. When paused, there’s also the option to manually play your check-ins forwards and backwards at whatever speed you choose. Unfortunately, with greater zoom to look at individual check-ins come more screen jumps. Sometimes, Time Machine handled these with ease, but other times the airplane (or UFO) could fly you between places that are just a few miles apart, making scrolling through certain parts of the timeline tedious. It is also not possible to alter the positioning of the map at this time, a feature that would definitely improve the user experience. So what’s the end goal, other than to have some visual fun with your own past? Foursquare has something in mind, in fact: Using these data, it recommends places in your geographical area that you haven’t checked into. The recommendations must be based on past, but not too recent check-ins, however: all of mine were in St. Louis, where the bulk of my check-ins are, but not my current city. Besides turning check-ins into a cool video, Time Machine can create a shareable static infographic out of a user’s data that features most frequented places, number of miles traveled and a categorical breakdown of visited places. With Time Machine I found myself scrolling through my check-ins looking for particularly significant and memorable stops. With its ease of use, it’s a a good way to relive the major events in your past, or just retrace your footsteps from the last few days.
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