Social Media Finally Turns on Itself

The creators of the “Avoid Humans” app use social data in a decidedly anti-social way.

By Chris Abshire November 30, 2014 Published in the December 2014 issue of Houstonia Magazine


Fed up with all those U-Hauls arriving daily, unloading throngs of new residents, those upstarts hijacking our freeways, seizing our parks, overrunning our brunch spots? It’s okay. There’s an app for that now.

Rushing to our aid and promising a “temporary respite from the masses” is something called Avoid Humans, part of the latest trend in social media applications, which is to say antisocial media. Scott Brewer, creative director of Austin’s GSD&M ad agency, explains: 

“It’s kind of our annual project to do something tech-related for South by Southwest to welcome the masses,” he says of the Avoid Humans app, which his firm created for the Austin festival, then expanded to Houston and other major cities. “This year’s theme was overcrowded-ness. The running joke was, no one could find a place to go out.”

The idea is simple. The app compiles data from Foursquare and Instagram check-ins so as to warn users about the crowd levels at restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and parks, labeling them either green (agoraphobics welcome), yellow (judgment call), or red (run!).

Of course, Houston isn’t as dense as Austin, so location data isn’t as reliable as it might be elsewhere. Still, a trial run suggests that Avoid Humans has its virtues. It helped us grab a quick lunch at the usually-hectic-but-not-that-day Chipotle near our Heights office (green); pointed us in the direction of a not-empty-not-packed happy hour at Pastry War (yellow); and steered us away from the post-work rush on the Buffalo Bayou Bike Trail (red). And yes, we know that some of this stuff is obvious. We didn’t need to be told that the MFAH is sparsely populated at 2 on a Tuesday or that every bar within 10 miles of downtown will flash red on a Saturday night. Still, Avoid Humans has its potential.

 “It’s only flawed in that it relies heavily on the user check-in data, but we’ve found the Foursquare data is particularly strong,” Brewer says. In the loop, that is. “The center of any city is better. I wouldn’t take it out to Spring and expect it to work as strongly.”

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