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A Flickr Approach to Making Sense of the World

Location: 2006 Level: Intermediate
Presentation: external link

Sure geotagging is easy, it’s all latitude, longitude, geoRSS, KML, maps, and what-not. But what do you do when you have well over 50 million geotagged objects? How do you actually do anything constructive with that? With emphasis on the How and constructive parts.

To start with we’ll take a quick(ish) look at the current state of reverse geo-coding; mapping latitude and longitude to an actual place. And what to do when that place is the wrong place or technically the right place but not what anyone calls it. Why it seems as though it should be simple but in reality it’s all terribly hard and we’re still just at the very start of that one. Geocoding != Maps.

With that out of the way, Dan Catt will briefly talk about the database structure at Flickr and how this effects the way we store all the location data for millions upon millions of objects. Then watch in amazement as a fractal curve from 1891 is introduced and marvel at how it can help us optimize spatial searches over 100 years later.

We’ll then look at the original implementation of the Places project and why it had to be done as offline tasks, what we stored, how and why, and then what we did with it.

After the entertaining elegance of the Places pages we’ll move on to our research into applying clustering strategies based on the fractal curve mentioned above, to pull all sorts of fancy tricks such as working out the geo-clustering of tags and using those as a basis for finding stuff for the Places pages in real-time—turning our 100,000 pre-crunched Places pages into Any Place, Any Time.

Looking beyond the Places page and back to the map, discussing how we are attempting to show the distribution of millions of objects on the map: how you have to pay attention to backend clustering limitations, exactly how much data you can get away with sending to a client’s browser, and the interface and user interactions you need to consider before presenting it all.

Then it’ll all be wrapped up with a look into the future of how we can cut up the Time and Space Cake in various ways to make it easily digestible. An intentionally ambiguous (and terrible) metaphor allowing the sneaking in of any last minute fun and cool stuff.

Photo of Dan Catt

Dan Catt

The Great Outdoors

Dan Catt, Senior Engineer for Flickr, has been interested in maps since the mid nineties, when he worked on a number of Kiosks and CD-ROMS for the National Parks of England and Wales. Mapping was put on the back burner for being too expensive in the UK, until Google launched their UK maps data early in 2005. Geobloggers.com was created with the aim of letting people share walks and experiences by placing Flickr photos onto the map using geotagging. Daniel created the first geotagged photo in March of 2005, by the end of the year there were over 100,000 geotagged images. He has worked with both pre and post official API Google Maps, Virtual Earth and pre beta Yahoo Maps, and can generally be found pushing the virtues of geoRSS as a way to share geo-data. Most recently, Dan helped create Flickr’s Places.