The Null Device

Locals and Tourists, or data-mining for hipsters

Data visualisation of the day: Locals and Tourists. Location data was harvested from geotagged photos on Flickr and plotted on maps; the points were colour-coded: blue if the poster was a local (i.e., had been in the city for more than a period of time), red if they were tourists (recent visitors with no prior history), and yellow if it was ambiguous. Here, for example, is London, with the Thames and the West End ablaze with red and the East End blue (which means that there are fewer tourists but still plenty of photographers, think Hackney art hipsters and/or kids with iPhones):
And here are Paris; tourists flock to the obvious parts (the Eiffel Tower, the Champs-Elysees, the Seine and the Île-de-Cité), whereas the locals who tend to post photos gravitate to the east, around the Bastille and such; the affluent, conservative southern arrondisements are largely a wasteland, photographically at least. In Berlin, meanwhile, tourists fill the city's broad central boulevards, the Tiergarten and Alexanderplatz and Karl-Marx-Allee, and visit the East Side Gallery, but there's a lot of local photography happening around Kreuzberg/Neukolln.

In fact, one could use the frequency of non-tourist photography for an area as a predictor of cultural vibrancy. Areas where a lot of photos are taken by people who live in the same city and not by tourists could be the kinds of broad areas where local scenes form, and the kinds of people who engage in cultural activity beyond passive consumption (sometimes referred to as "hipsters") are more likely to be found. This is borne out by other maps: Melbourne (there are specks of blue around the inner north, while the sprawling suburbs are largely empty). In New York, meanwhile, Manhattan glows with tourist activity but Brooklyn is veined with blue.

Of course, the amount of blue space on these maps is considerably larger than any nexus of cultural activity would be; it'd cover the areas where events take place, where the participants live and work, and spaces in between. However, it does make one wonder whether one could data-mine the buzz of a city by correlating Flickr photo geodata or other indices of participation with other data; possibly transport routes?

There are 2 comments on "Locals and Tourists, or data-mining for hipsters":

Posted by: Greg Mon Jun 14 11:16:08 2010

This is a great idea. A new slant on psychogeography? The key question of course is: why do people take those 'blue' photos? We can guess why tourists do it, but what motivates a local to take a photo, and what do they take photos of?

A caveat with this line of reasoning though: Geo-tagged photos placed on Flickr represent only a subset of the photos taken within a city. I'd bet that only a small proportion of photographers geotag, and only a small proportion put their snaps on Flickr. These subsets may not be representative of the city's whole population of photographers. The former group at least would largely consist of early-adopters of iPhones and other auto-tagging cameras. This might explain the bias around 'creative zones' in cities.

Posted by: acb Mon Jun 14 11:49:27 2010

IMHO, Flickr could also be said to occupy a public and social niche. The photos aren't as exclusively personal as those on Facebook or in private photo albums, and yet are tied to one's social identity. Posting to Flickr is an act of sharing with people who don't necessarily know you or care about the minutiae of your life. Hence it's an act for that minority who have things to share that are once removed from themselves, relating not to them, their families or their friends but to their interests or sense of aesthetics. (Blogging not of the personal-diary variety fills a similar niche.)

(The word "hipster" in the post title is looking increasingly unfortunate; one word meaning "one who has interests" and "participant in fashion-centred social-status leks" is difficult to use without collateral damage.)