Studying cultural variation around the world has always been expensive, time-consuming work. Which is why the newfound ability to mine the data from location-based social networks is revolutionizing this science.
The habits and behaviors that define a culture are complex and fascinating. But measuring them is a difficult task. What’s more, understanding the way cultures change from one part of the world to another is a task laden with challenges.
The gold standard in this area of science is known as the World Values Survey, a global network of social scientists studying values and their impact on social and political life. Between 1981 and 2008, this survey conducted over 250,000 interviews in 87 societies. That’s a significant amount of data and the work has continued since then. This work is hugely valuable but it is also challenging, time-consuming and expensive.
Today, Thiago Silva at the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais in Brazil and a few buddies reveal another way to collect data that could revolutionize the study of global culture. These guys study cultural differences around the world using data generated by check-ins on the location-based social network, Foursquare.
That allows these researchers to gather huge amounts of data, cheaply and easily in a short period of time. “Our one-week dataset has a population of users of the same order of magnitude of the number of interviews performed in [the World Values Survey] in almost three decades,” they say.