Some computer scientists at Cornell, on their way to figuring out how to automate classification of large visual collections, stumbled upon interesting information about "what the world is paying attention to" reports the New Scientist.
Using a sampling of 35 million images uploaded to Flickr.com, they extracted the existing information from them (the geographic coordinates embedded into some digital photos, the text tags that photographers assigned to them, and a kind of formulaic visual scan) and, as a project by-product, used that data to create some fascinating maps of the most photographed cities and landmarks in the world:
- A world map shows continental coastlines delicately fringed with light (the visual result of all those photos snapped at the beach!); the U.S. and Western Europe gaudily lit up and spangly; and Siberia and the vast interiors of the South American, Australian, and African continents visible only as broad, dark swaths between coastal cities.
- Continental maps show flares of activity around non-urban landmarks like Mont Blanc, Mount Rushmore, Angkor Wat, and Burning Man.
- Metropolitan-level maps, like New York City pictured above, show swarms of activity around heavily photographed landmarks. (The scientists generated the maps—including representative shots of the landmarks—automatically, with no editorial selection.) My favorite revelation from the study? The 5th most photographed landmark in NYC, and #28 in the world, is the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue. So weird!
Using timestamps and geo-tags from the images, the scientists plotted photographer movement through urban areas, as though mapping wildlife migratory routes.
The study's authors conclude that the maps offer the "intriguing possibility of an online travel guidebook that could automatically identify the best sites to visit on your next vacations, as judged by the collective wisdom of the world's photographers."
Oh, dear. They're after our audience.
Top 10 Cities Most Photographed Cities:
1. New York City
3. San Francisco
5. Los Angeles
7. Washington, D.C.
Top 7 Most Photographed Landmarks:
1. Eiffel Tower
2. Trafalgar Square
3. Tate Modern
4. Big Ben
5. Notre Dame
6. London Eye
7. Empire State Building
Ann Shields is an online senior editor at Travel + Leisure.