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Erin Jo Richey

Visualize your Known check-ins

6 min read

I've had my Known site for over a year, and I like to use it to record places that I've visited on travels. I also like having a record of my favorite shops, restaurants, and activities. Recently, I spent some time looking at visualization options for my location data saved from check-ins.

Get your data out

You probably already knew that you can get an RSS feed of your data from Known. All of your locations live at and you can get a feed of your check-ins at (If you need help getting here, filter your content by check-ins, then view source on that page and search for RSS.

Ben just added a KML option, so now you can get a KML option for your locations as well. KML is Keyhole Markup Language and was developed to use with mapping platforms like Google Earth.

For my location data, I wanted to grab a big file with a lot of history. I went into my site configuration and set "Items per page" to 500. This means that 500 updates are going to show up on each page. Then I went to a filtered view of my location check-ins and grabbed the RSS feed. (If you're grabbing a lot of data, some of the pages and files might take awhile to load).

To get the KML data, replace RSS in your feed URL with KML, so you want With this URL, your browser will then download your KML file. Once my file was downloaded, I added .kml as an extension to make it open. So I ended up with download.kml. I opened the file in Coda to view the data and make sure everything looked alright. By setting the feed to display 500 check-ins, I got over a year's worth of data in my file.

I wanted to split some of my data up, so I left the master file as-is and then created several other files that contained my location data for specific data ranges. My data went back to July 2013, and from that I created 5 files with my check-ins by quarter for July 2013 - September 2013, October 2013 - December 2013, January 2014 - March 2014, April 2014 - June 2014, July 2014 - September 2014, and October 2014 to date.

See your data in Google Maps

You can get a quick view of your data by importing the KML file into Google Maps' My Maps.

Go to My Maps and choose Create a new map. Under Untitled layer choose Import. Then under Upload, browse for your KML file. Once the uploading is down, you should have a map with all of your locations as red map points. This will give you some idea of what location points are in your file. If you click on a point, you can see the date, the permalink to the check-in on your site, and any notes if you added a comment with your location.

Map your data with Fusion Tables

Originally, I started looking into the geodata visualization options for my Known data after reading this post from Sean Daniel on mapping Foursquare data. Following similar steps in his post, here's how to create maps with Fusion Tables.

Log into your Google Drive account. Choose the Settings gear icon in the upper right and choose "Manage apps." Unless you've already done something with Fusion, it won't be listed so you'll want to click the link for "Connect more apps." Search for "fusion" to find Fusion Tables and add it. Once Fusion Tables has been added as an app, you can go to Create in Google Drive and then select Fusion Table. In the import window, browse and select your KML file. (I'm still using my master file with all of the data here.)

Once the file has imported, you'll get a modal window with the data in a table. Ignore this and hit Next. Then add in a useful title to your map (and a description if you'd like). Once you hit Finish, it will spend a little time updating, and then you'll be dropped on a rows screen.

If you go to the "Map of geometry" tab, you'll find options for a heat map and a feature map. My heat map isn't very interesting because I've been spending most of my time in San Francisco during the last year. Even the city view of my San Francisco check-ins isn't very dense.

Under the feature map option, you can change the data markers to dots or map points and adjust the color.

Map your data in Mapbox

I hadn't played with Mapbox before this. It looks like a nice platform if you want to customize the map tiles and the look of your map. I didn't spend much time playing with it, but I'd like to come back to it later and focus more on the customizations.

With a free account, you can upload your location file (or files) under the data option. When you upload a file, you can choose the appropriate field for your data's title and description, and you can set color and symbol for your points. For Mapbox, I uploaded each of my different KML files to the same map, and I set a unique color for the map marker for the different data sets. You can also tweak some of the color settings for the base map.

Map your data with CartoDB

I finished off playing around with CartoDB. You can also create a free CartDB account to use with one map. Choose the "Create your first table" option to import your KML data for a map. When you have a map, you can change the tiles from a number of different options. CartoDB has basemap options from Stamen, Nokia, and CartoDB, as well as options to add your own tiles.

I started out adding different layers to my map, using one layer per time period KML file, but I was only able to add four layers of data. I assigned a different color to each time period.

Then I went back and built a different table with my master KML file. I chose a CartoDB basemap and then fiddled with the visualization wizard. I ended up setting my location data with the hexagons in the density option.

I like CartoDB because I can take the resulting map and embed it into a post on Known. To do this, save it as a visualization, then click the "share" option and choose the code to embed it. You can then embed the iframe in the code view of your post on Known. (I did this above for this post.)

That's it for my initial dive into map visualization today. Thanks go to Ben for adding the KML options in. Next time I travel or go on vacation, I'm interested in tracking the locations for all of the sights I visit and setting up a little interactive journey map to accompany the story of my trip.