Oct 10, 2017

I Built a Machine that Knows my Hometown Better than I Do

As someone born in Cincinnati who has lived here for the first 18 years of my life, I thought I knew this place well. Since I left to study at Ohio State, I’ve had every opportunity to come back to Cincinnati to see its cultural growth, and even experience it myself. It’s changed so much.

When I come back, I visit high school friends that studied here; they take me to these incredible places and events I’d never heard of before. FC Cincy games? What? I’ve come back enough at this point, however, that I felt like I got it. I understood the rapid growth of art and life pulsing through the city. I was excited about it.
Except for one tiny problem: I was dead wrong. I had no grasp of the scope of culture in Cincinnati.

While I’ve been wildly impressed at the growth I’ve seen in this city, I recently gained access to a whole new view of the Queen City.

In my previous view, I heard the exclamations and recommendations of my personal, local network (high school friends, relatives, the occasional stranger, what I could search on the internet). Now, I hear and see Cincinnati through a fresher, modern medium: social media conversations between thousands of anonymous people. For me, it’s changed the scale of this city.

I’ve been working at Spatial.ai for just over a month as of writing this, working on something we call Neighborhood Social Score. We’ve created a system that’s capable of telling you what an area is like; we aim to do that as well as any local could (or in my case, as I am finding out, better than a local could!).

As an example of what it can do, let’s try Rhinegeist. To be clear, this does not score Rhinegeist itself. The score represents what the area around a point (that could be an address or a latitude/longitude pair) is like. I use Rhinegeist because it is a place many of us are familiar with, though the scores we will see are to describe what the entire area is like.

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Enter any location or address into Spatial.ai’s Neighborhood Social Score CalculatorAnd the scores…

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The neighborhood social scores for the area around Rhinegeist Brewery in CincinnatiHey, not bad! These look pretty accurate. But, to be honest, I kinda thought I’d see a higher score for hipster, artsy, and nightlife. What’s going on here? I mean, Rhinegeist is in OTR, one of the most active places in Cincinnati!

Well, I took a closer look. Here’s a visualization of the area around Rhinegeist and something we call vibe points. We use machine learning and natural language processing to process data from social media sources and identify points that have a certain vibe. Specifically, I am showing what we’ve identified as hipster vibe points (I looked at artsy and nightlife too, the story is similar).

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Look at that! Rhinegeist itself is clearly a huge center for the hipster behavior… it makes sense that there would be high hipster scores in that spot. But there isn’t much other activity outside of it. Let’s zoom out.

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And now it’s clear… Rhinegeist isn’t necessarily in that main proper of hipster spots that OTR is full of.

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The places lighting up the main hipster strip? Liberty’s Bar and Bottle Shop, Crying Heart Tattoo, Cincinnati Art Underground, 1305 Gallery, The Woodward Theater, MOTR Pub, Iris Book Cafe and more. These are all places that we might expect hipster vibes to come from, and that appears to be the case. This may illuminate the issue at hand. Let’s try one of these more central Hipster locations.

I took the score of a point centered in Iris Book Café and here’s what I got:

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And there you go! Mystery solved, the scores for hipster, nightlife, and artsy have all increased (the maps for artsy and nightlife look similar). Honestly, it’s impressive that the point centered at Rhinegeist scores so well when it doesn’t have nearly the number of complementary places that are found in the more southern parts of OTR.
I never knew it, but geographically, Rhinegeist stands on its own. It does so with style.

This begs the question, what else have I missed? There are clearly gaps in my local understanding. When I looked at the map, I saw vibe points in places that I never would have expected.

In the first half of this post, I gave an example showing how my local understanding of Cincinnati hasn’t scaled and demonstrated that lack of understanding through the area around Rhinegeist Brewery and our neighborhood social score product. In the rest of this post, I am going to give one finding for each vibe we currently analyze using our social score methodology. If you think this stuff is really cool or have questions about what we do, feel free to reach out. Try inputting your own address or ask about getting access to our data!

A Learning for each of Spatial’s Vibes
I’ve looked at a lot of maps of vibes across Cincinnati this month. Often, I would see a vibe showing up in a place I didn’t expect. Here are just a few of the top surprises and finds I made that I will be checking out while here in Cincinnati. Many of these findings came from seeing a spike in vibes in unexpected or “remote” places. Each of these is either an observation or a place that I never would have come across had I never worked on this project.

Nightlife Hotspot
Bobby Mackey’s Music World. I’d never heard of this place, whose tagline is “Come for the ghosts and stay for the music!. It boasts a history of supernatural occurrences, murder, and line dancing. Regardless of whether the legends are true, tours and live music are offered every Friday and Saturday night. Country music and Horror? Why not.

Family Fun
The American Sign Museum. This places looks sweet. Had no idea it was in Cincinnati. Started in 1999, has ~100 years of signage. This place lit up our scores for family fun. You can even see people make and repair neon signs.

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Artsy
It’s hard to pick one place… there are hundreds of studios, theaters, and makers showing art vibes in Cincy. Essex Studios (houses the work space of several local artists, hosts art walks), Raymond Thundersky (gallery for Raymond Thundersky, one of the most famous Cincinnati artists), and Aquarium Artisans (custom designed and crafted aquariums) stood out to me for the amount of “vibe” we detected and the interest they inspire.

Access to Nature
Everybody’s Tree House in Mt. Airy Forest. I literally can’t believe I’ve never heard of this place or for that matter even been to Mt. Airy Forest. City Beat said, “Hidden in the largest city park in Cincinnati is a magic treehouse. Few know about it, but those who do come from all over to live out childhood dreams.”

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Besides the treehouse, Mt. Airy forest boasts 1,459 acres, a dog park, an 18-hole disc golf course, and more.

Hipster
The Folk School Coffee Parlor. Definitely one of the coolest coffee houses I’ve come across. From their website: “In conjunction with daily retail business, workshops and classes are offered regularly in traditional instruments and art/folk history, ranging from novices to master classes available to advanced players”. The Jerry Springer podcast is hosted live in the coffee house and never be surprised to find live music at anytime in this hipster hotspot.

Foodie
Kinneret Cafe. I’m looking forward to checking out this Mediterranean & Israeli food joint just off East Galbraith. It features a very vegan & vegetarian friendly menu, but really can cater to any taste.

Healthy Lifestyle
Vision MMA & Training Center and Cincinnati Fitness Boxing. These two spots heavily showed up with healthy vibes. They both offer nonstandard training at reasonable prices. These are functional and fun places to get your sweat on that you may have never heard about before (I hadn’t!).

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Here at Spatial.ai, we build tech that makes it easier to know what places and areas are like. As I mentioned above, type in your address to learn what the area around your home is like. Or, if you want to see what specific points of interest are like, check out Hobbes, our omniscient local cat that’s good at giving restaurant and bar recommendations. Finally, if you are interested in getting access to our data, you can contact us on our website.

These recommendations above are a tiny percentage of the places our technology finds. For me, it’s time to stop writing and go urban exploring! Clearly, my local knowledge has some room for improvement.