Slovenian business activity by city as animated heatmaps

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A few months ago, while researching business times of various categories of establishments in Slovenia,  I thought it would be nice to somehow visualize a map with a graphical representation of density of open establishments. I decided on heatmap style, although I later discover that my chosen implementation had some drawbacks.

Getting the data

Data with business hours of commercial establishments is traditionally not open for many reasons, two of them being that (1) this information can be commercially exploited, and (2) the opening hours can be subject to frequent changes, which can tax the database owner with considerable effort should the database stay current and reliable.

First I toyed with the idea of crawling entire¬† directory of odpiralnicasi.com, then I actually thought about making a version for London, Amsterdam or San Francisco with Yelp data, for which I would have to crawl an entire Yelp city directory, a task I’m not sure it would succeed. Yelp would probably block my IP before I could harvest a significant portion of what interested me.

So I decided I would use the Najdi.si maps business directory. Disclosure: I work there, so I have access to the database with various business data, which is being kept current.

For every company, I took out only the name, geo coordinates, business hours and business category, then I constructed the animated maps. Before I delve into that, a short video of economic activity in Slovenia in course of a typical Monday.

Economic activity in Slovenia from Marko O’Hara on Vimeo.

The animated chart you see on the bottom shows the number of active establishments in various economic categories, such as Restaurants and catering, Industry, Shopping, etc. The full list is:

  • blue: Computers and IT,
  • red: Restaurants and catering,
  • green: Home and garden,
  • yellow: Beauty and health,
  • pink: General business,
  • orange: Free time,
  • violet: Industry,
  • magenta: Culture and schooling

Rendering the maps and constructing the visualization

Rendering one frame in one city at a specific time is just a matter of setting appropriate latitude, longitude and zoom level on the map, selecting the desired time and plotting on the map all establishments  that are open at that time. I used Processing to do that, and for the heat map part I used this excellent example by Philipp Seifried. As a finishing touch, I made maps to switch between day and night styles at appropriate times.

To do entire video, I had to write a parallel rendering queue lest the rendering of a single video took an eternity – Eclipse project available by email request.

To complicate things a bit I decided to include up to four different places on the same map, so the viewer could compare opening hours in Ljubljana in different economic categories, or see how different cities woke up and went to sleep at different times.

A typical frame looks like this:

Video frame / comparison of business activity in Nova Gorica, Koper, Celje and Novo Mesto at noon
Video frame / comparison of business activity in Nova Gorica, Koper, Celje and Novo Mesto at noon

Here’s an example for different economic activities in Ljubljana:

Economic activity in Ljubljana – four categories from Marko O’Hara on Vimeo.

  • top left: General business
  • top right: Restaurants and catering
  • bottom left: Industry,
  • bottom right:Beauty and health

Here’s a comparison between Ljubljana and the city of Maribor:

opentimes ljmb.mp4 from Marko O’Hara on Vimeo.

  • left: Ljubljana
  • right: Maribor

And here a comparison of business activity in Nova Gorica, Koper, Celje and Novo Mesto:

opentimes kpnmceng.mp4 from Marko O’Hara on Vimeo.

 

  • top left: Nova Gorica
  • top right: Koper
  • bottom left: Novo Mesto,
  • bottom right:Celje

 

Commentary

I mostly did this to be able to visually compare levels of business activity in Ljubljana. First of all, the heatmap technique I employed here turned out to be somewhat unreliable for video purposes, because it colors the dots relative to the highest concentration. But concentration and absolute numbers of active businesses change from frame to frame, so it seems that at night there’s more activity that during the day.

Even so it’s still clear that restaurants, bars and clubs are still pretty much open when other activity starts to die down.

This is Ljubljana at noon, again:

  • top left: General business
  • top right: Restaurants and catering
  • bottom left: Industry,
  • bottom right:Beauty and health

The big spot in the northeast is the mall region, where untold number of business operate in ten or more big malls. Business concentration there dwarfs everything else in the city, except maybe in industrial category.

lj at 11 h

Below is Ljubljana at eight o’clock in the evening. Pretty much everything has closed down except for eating and drinking, and maybe the cinema theater in the mall.

lj20h

Below: Ljubljana at ten o’clock in the evening. Some businesses don’t close down at all. I double checked the primary data source and it’s true. There are cleaning services that stay open during the night, etc.

lj22h

I’m relatively satisfied with results except for the heatmap issue. I may correct that if I get the data for a bigger city.

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