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The recently presented academic paper at the WWW 2009 Conference from a group of computer science academics from Cornell University investigates the collection of roughly 35 million geotagged photos collected from Flickr, uploaded by more than 300,000 users. Their approach used in Mapping the World's Photos [, PDF] combines content analysis based on text tags and image data with structural analysis based on geospatial data. While individual users of Flickr are simply using the site to store and share photos, their collective activity reveals a striking amount of geographic and visual information about the world.

For instance, their findings show that the Fifth Avenue Apple Store, which opened in May 2006, is more popular than many other well-known tourist sites such as St Paul's Cathedral in London, the Reichstag in Berlin and the Washington Monument in the US capital.

Interesting visualizations include diagrams for Manhattan and the San Francisco Bay area that illustrate the movement of photographers by plotting the geolocated coordinates of sequences of images taken by the same user, sorted by time, for which consecutive photos were no more than 30 minutes apart. "The figures are striking in the amount of detail they reveal about these cities. For example, one can clearly see the grid structure of the Manhattan streets, caused by users traveling and taking photos along them. The Brooklyn Bridge, in the lower center of the figure, is clearly visible, as are the Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges just to the north. One can even see the route of the ferries that take tourists from Lower Manhattan to the Statue of Liberty".

Another figure shows maps of representative images for the top landmarks in each of the top 20 North American and European cities. It raises the intriguing possibility of an online travel guidebook that could automatically identify the best sites to visit on one's next vacation, as judged by the collective wisdom of the world's photographers.

See also World's Eyes. Via Sydney Morning Herald.




then again, relatively few people manually geo-tag their pictures. Most photos with geographic information are tagged automatically by gps-enabled devices...
if iphone pics were removed I doubt the apple store would be so high in the rankings

Tue 28 Apr 2009 at 8:32 PM
jerome cukier

I personally agree with Jerome...and let's say that who take pictures of the apple store is more likely to have interest in uploading and geotagging his/her photos than my old aunt visiting the empire state building?

Wed 29 Apr 2009 at 2:02 AM

I don’t think geotagged photos are an accurate metric of visitors.If I’d taken a picture of the Washington Monument and NOT geotagged it, it would not have appeared in this study, right? What if there are indeed more visitors to these places than the 5th Ave Apple Store and the nerds who took pictures at the Apple Store simply have their geotagging feature set to On and/or post their pictures to Flickr more than the others do?

Wed 29 Apr 2009 at 8:35 AM

I haven't read the PDf but I wonder if the pics of the Apple store are actually from personal cameras or from cameras/iphones being demoed in that Apple store.

It the store's demo cameras are set to upload and tag automatically, then when I go and play with it in the store and take a photo, it adds to the tally.

I don't have a fancy camera and I don't tag my photos, so I know of a couple hundred (and thousands otherwise) that were not included in this study.

Wed 29 Apr 2009 at 9:21 AM

It should be interesting in having some filters to read the visualizations in a broad and comprhensive directions.

Filters about cultural (what do the US people take picture to?), technical (which cameras have been used to take pictures?) and geographical (are they GPS data or "hand-made" geo tag?) aspects I think could help to better understand the data-set.


Thu 30 Apr 2009 at 10:36 PM
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