Mapping what is where on the earth’s surface is currently done primarily through overhead aerial and satellite images. This is useful in many ways but is limited in terms of portraying things like land-use classifications or public sentiment about a given location or landmark.
UC Merced computer scientist Shawn Newsam is aiming to enhance that mapping using georeferenced multimedia — specifically, photos and videos provided voluntarily by users of social media websites like Flickr.
The idea recently earned Newsam the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award, which will provide him research funding of $497,208 over five years to pursue the viability of using these multimedia collections as volunteered geographic information (VGI) for mapping purposes.
VGI is a field in which geographically relevant information is provided voluntarily by individuals. One example is the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, which for more than 100 years has used “citizen scientists” to gather data and create a census that aids in knowledge about bird populations and conservation efforts.
To date, though, researchers have not yet examined the possibility of using the millions of geotagged ground-level images and video provided by users of social media sites as VGI, nor have they looked into the potential benefits of using such data for purposes other than things like the automated text tagging of submitted images.
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