Visualization of the Week: Mobile data redraws the map

SMS and mobile data reveal communication communities — some new, some old.

New technologies may blur boundaries, but in many ways geography still dominates how our relationships are formed. Researchers at AT&T Labs Research, IBM Research, and MIT SENSEable City Laborator have analyzed mobile phone and SMS data to demonstrate how place continues to play an important role in our relationships.

Here’s how the “The Connected States of America” project put mobile data to use:

Using millions of anonymized records of cell phone data, researchers were able to map the communities that people form themselves through personal interactions. The cell phone data included both calls and texts and was collected over a single month from residential and business users.

The analysis and accompanying visualization highlight the communities that are regional but that also stretch beyond official borders and across county and state lines. Some of the findings:

  • California, Illinois, and New Jersey are split on a north-south basis.
  • Pennsylvania is divided east-west.
  • Some communities merge several states: Louisiana-Mississippi, Alabama-Georgia, New England.
  • Some communication communities, such as Texas, actually match state borders quite closely.

The Connected States of America
Click to see the original graphic from “The Connected States of America” project. You can also check out more visuals and an interactive map.

Found a great visualization? Tell us about it

This post is part of an ongoing series exploring visualizations. We’re always looking for leads, so please drop a line if there’s a visualization you think we should know about.


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  • > please drop a line

    Somehow that link wasn’t working for me. Do you know

  • Pieter D.

    sad to see Radar not mentionning the original research this visualization comes from

  • It would be interesting to add the layer of colleges and universities to this analysis. I believe that much of these ‘links’ would be based on attendance at nearby ‘institutes of higher learning’. Then the communities continue from the relationships formed there. In other words, 1st students calling home to parents and friends still in the hometown, and then expanding to new friends formed at school as they return to hometowns in the ‘area’. It would also be interesting to overlay other cultural triggers such as ‘newspaper’ areas, dominant church denominations, sports teams (IE Green Bay Packers vs. Detroit Lions), TV reception (especially pre-cable/HD), radio reception (before and after corporate consolidation), and certainly as Matthew C suggests area codes and LATA delineations.