How Foursquare Could Tell You Where To Find Happiness

Using the "hedonometer," researchers have discovered a correlation between your location and your happiness. App makers ought to take note.

Foursquare introduced an updated version of its iPhone app last night that emphasizes discovery and learns what you like in order to make better recommendations about what you should do next. But what if Foursquare could also make recommendations based on what would make you happy?

Researchers at the University of Vermont used a simple instrument they’ve built—dubbed the "hedonometer"—to check 35 million tweets for the frequency of positive expressions like "LOL," "beach," and "party" against negative words like "damn," "angry," and "traffic." This sentiment analysis was then correlated with the location of those tweets, and the resulting data exposed some surprising patterns that could be of use to individuals, app developers, and marketers alike.

One of the findings is that happiness goes up logarithmically with distance from "average location." The farther off your daily beaten track you get, the more likely your tweets are to contain happy words like "new," "great," and "cafe." By the same token, people who travel farther, on average, in the course of a day—which characterizes most urbanites—are generally happier than people stuck out in the suburbs, who typically have a smaller radius of motion during the day.

People are fairly happy right at home, it turns out. And they’re at their unhappiest when within about 1 kilometer from home (probably on their way to work, or the soul-crushing daily routine).

There are some potentially great insights for mobile marketers and app designers to be gained by using location awareness to forecast a user’s likely mood and openness to new experiences. If someone is using their phone while near home to look up the traffic at rush hour, they might have less patience for a pop-up ad, but maybe they’re open to being cheered up with a special offer on dinner delivery. Conversely, if a user is uploading a photo to Instagram miles off the beaten track at a park, it could just be the perfect time to introduce them to your new viral video.

[Image: Flickr user Horia Varlan]

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