Taxi drivers are the journeymen of New York City. There’s a mystique to the taxi driver, they possess a certain intimacy with the city that few others do. New Yorkers interact with them on a daily basis, but only for a brief moment of a taxi’s day. No wonder that a story about a day in the life of a New York taxi went viral in July.
It was not a story told with words or pictures, though. Rather, it was told with data and maps, a visualization of what it’s like to scamper from fare to fare around the United States’ biggest city. NYC Taxis: A Day in the Life captured imaginations worldwide. In the words of its creator, Chris Whong:
The visualization was published in the early hours of Monday, July 14th, after I spent just about the whole day Sunday putting finishing touches on it and getting it to run on Heroku. I’d been working on it for over a month, sneaking in a few hours here and there on nights and weekends, and just wanted to get a minimum viable product launched so I could stop thinking about it (that backfired :p ). By Monday evening it had seen over 80,000 unique visitors, had around 900 to 1000 concurrent users, and had racked up a whopping 600,000 map views on Mapbox. It was picked up byFiveThirtyEight, The New York Times, Technically Brooklyn, Gizmodo, The New York Observer,Gothamist, TechPresident, Fast Company, Bloomberg, The Washington Post, Huffington Post,AM New York, New York Magazine, Quartz, Bustle, mashable, and, most unexpectedly (but so awesome), BuzzFeed. It even got coverage in the UK, The Netherlands and France.
The visualization captivated so many people because it eloquently unfurls a taxi’s mystique into an easily understood interface that people can play around with and explore.
We’re seeing a proliferation of data visualizations like this as a way of telling stories, explaining how different facets of city life work. One reason why is because only in the past few years have the tools needed to make useful data visualizations become available to the masses. Here’s a roundup of the different organizations, entities, and tools that made NYC Taxis: A Day in the Life possible, culled from Chris’ blog posts and attribution on the app: