Foursquare has posted a job opening for a Data Scientist, offering hints at some of the things they may be looking to do in the future. The posting is specifically interested in someone with “experience with prediction or recommender systems, search and ranking algorithms, and classification algorithms.”
So, what is a “data scientist?” According to Nathan Yau of Flowing Data, it’s a statistician “who is able to extract information from large datasets and then present something of use to non-data experts.”
In foursquare’s case, this likely means they’re looking for someone to work on their recommendation and search engines. Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley has spoken before of what a recommendation engine might be capable of, saying that it could, for instance, buzz your phone at lunchtime with a nearby place to eat that you haven’t tried before.
The recommendation could be based on places your friends have been, similar places you’ve enjoyed in the past and what’s popular among other foursquare users. It could also be influenced by the favorite places of local “experts” in certain categories that you’ve previously expressed an interest in. Classifying those experts could be one use of the “classification algorightms” mentioned in the job posting.
It’s clear that, while foursquare is a fun game for many people, the real intent is to gather data about the places we go and the things we like. The gaming elements are a particularly effective means to that end. The real value of foursquare lies in the data they’re collecting and the ways in which they’ll be able to spit that data back to us in the form of recommendations and business analytics.