For my project, I’d like to explore a topic we’ve been debating regularly in class. We’ve had frequent discussions about the eligibility of user contributions to history, especially in the digital realm. Our discussions have largely focused on written contributions to socially curated sites like Wikipedia, but I’d like to focus instead on what’s unwritten.
While textual data is subject to opinion and questions of validity arise, visual data isn’t subject to the same questionability. We have an abundance of it, too. Look on Flickr, Facebook, anywhere — there’s an abundance of factual visual data stored online. Projects like Microsoft Photosynth are a progression of this static data into the realm of spatial awareness.
What the point here really is is that we can do things with the social environment. This is now taking data from everybody — from the entire collective memory of, visually, of what the Earth looks like — and link all of that together. All of those photos become linked together, and they make something emergent that’s greater than the sum of the parts.
— Blaise Aguera y Arcas / Architect, Bing Maps
Photosynth takes photographs from around the web and compiles them into interactive models of images. If you’ve read this far and haven’t watched the TED Talk posted above, take a few minutes to see why this is a significant project from a historical perspective. Users already devote time independently to curating imagery online — on social networks and off — and Photosynth attaches meaning to it.
I’d like to explore use cases in several image databases and report on their implications for public historical knowledge. The Library of Congress hosts an extremely detailed, professionally curated image collection online, for example. We looked the other week at projects that crowdsource curation and transcription to the public. We have a wealth of publicly curated data associated with images, and I’d like to know more about how we use it, namely:
- How do users interact with online image databases?
- What can metadata tell us about history?
- How can projects like Photosynth make our understanding of visual history more complete?