Mike Isaac

Recent Posts by Mike Isaac

Mapping Silicon Valley’s Own Private “iWay”

It’s wonderful to be wanted.

Such is the case for so many young, talented engineers being recruited by the Valley’s top tech companies, like Facebook, Google and Apple. Thing is, while these may be some of the hottest spots to work in the country, they’re situated smack in the middle of cities like Palo Alto, Mountain View and Menlo Park — a.k.a., Dullsville, USA, for any twentysomething with a pocketful of cash.

That’s why many engineers live in the much more hip San Francisco, relying on the private network of shuttle services provided by each of the major tech outfits, which have no issue carting their young, valuable staff back and forth through the 40-mile stretch between the Valley and the City by the Bay.

Stamen, the brilliant San Francisco-based design firm responsible for some of the most compelling data-visualization projects of the past decade, has focused its attention on this private network of tech employee transit. The firm created “The City From the Valley,” a diagrammatical map of the movements of the Valley’s commuting knowledge workers.

The map tracks the movements of six companies with the most active tech shuttle routes: Facebook, Google, Apple, eBay, Electronic Arts and Yahoo.

The group began with a dotted matrix of all the stops on each route, using data points collected from casual observation as well as check-in data from location services like Foursquare. From there, Stamen recruited the help of others to observe the number of employees getting on and off the shuttles, at what times, and the frequency of shuttle buses passing through each stop. The firm also recruited bike messengers to follow the buses in their routes.

A marker painted on the pavement for a Google shuttle stop.

“At a rough estimate, these shuttles transport about 40% of the amount of passengers Caltrain moves each day,” according to Stamen’s statement on the project. “Google alone runs about 125 trips daily, all over the city.” (Emphasis theirs.)

The end result is not an exact map, but a system which shows a rough outline of each transit route, with the relative volume of each company’s bus system in terms of how many different shuttles pass through them. “You get a sense for just how much traffic the highways get, and how the routes branch out from there to cover the city,” Stamen says.

While I’ve heard anecdotal accounts of the many different buses that cart engineers to and fro, I had no idea of the scale at which it occurred. Leave it to a tech-savvy design group like Stamen to put it out there for all to see.

The project is currently on display at “Seeking Silicon Valley,” the theme for this year’s ZERO1 Biennial exhibition. Naturally, portions of the exhibition are on display in both Silicon Valley and the city of San Francisco.

No word on whether you can hitch a ride on a passing Google bus.


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I’m a giant vat of creative juices.

— David Pogue on why he’s joining Yahoo