Milgram to TagMaps like Lynch to Flickr Alpha Shapes

After we came up with Tag Maps at Yahoo! Research Berkeley, Morgan Ames (then one of our star interns) pointed out the surprising similarities to a study that was done 30 years earlier, by Stanley Milgram, the famous social psychologist. In his study, Milgram asked 30+ participants to list names of attraction in Paris. He then visualized these on a map, in a size according to the number of times each was mentioned. Here are the automatically-created, Flickr-based TagMap of Paris (based on geotagged photos taken in that area), and the same exact area as represented by Milgram’s visualization.

tagmaps paris

milgram paris

I have been showing both these images in my talk for a while now — can’t seem to get sick of them, even if my audience might just be…

I’ve also been talking for a while on how we can use the aggregate contributions on Flickr to mark boundaries of geographical objects, such as, say, neighborhoods, using all the photos tagged with a neighborhood name. Talk is cheap, but the smart people at Flickr not only figured out how to do it (with slightly different data than tags) but also released the data and the source code for anyone to use. Blame Aaron Cope and Rev Dan Catt.

Well, here’s the thing: turns our a famous scholar also beat Flickr to it, some 40 years ago. Kevin Lynch, in his groundbreaking essay/book The Image of the City, collected people’s descriptions and hand-drawn maps of three cities (Boston shown here, also Jersey City and downtown LA). In one study, he extracted the “maximum boundaries” for each neighborhood as drawn by all the interviewees, and plotted them on the map.

Here are the automatically-created, Flickr-based map of Boston Neighborhoods, visualized using the excellent Tom Taylor’s Neighborhood Boundaries, and Lynch’s maximum boundaries of neighborhoods in the same area.

Neighborhood Boundaries for Boston

Lynch's neighborhood boundaries

I have pre-ordered Milgram’s book of essays, to arrive in February. Might as well find out what’s there before we re-invent something else!

3 thoughts on “Milgram to TagMaps like Lynch to Flickr Alpha Shapes

  1. Frank

    I find it interesting that MIT gets labeled Back Bay. If this data uses cell towers, a lot of MIT connects to the Prudential Building which is in the back bay, but is visible from across the river.

    I’ve been a fan of Lynch for a long time. We read a lot of his stuff in an urban studies class about 10 years ago. I’ve always been interested in the paths and nodes that he talks about and wonder how this relates to navigation systems. Do people feel more comfortable on the major path streets? Would they prefer a path that passes familiar landmarks? Would they learn the overall city layout better if they traveled on paths that connect districts and landmarks? I’m sure there’s some stuff in the urban studies literature about this, but haven’t kept up on it.

  2. naaman Post author

    Ayman, the methodologies are surprisingly similar, I guess. Tag Maps doesn’t use sheer popularity count like Milgram used, but of course the metric is related to popularity.

    Similarly, Flickr’s alpha shapes do not use the outermost boundary of the district as present in their data, but they are not far from it (the input is slightly different in this case; Lynch used people’s drawn boundaries while Flickr uses, roughly speaking, “points identified to be in the region”.

    Frank, I would guess the answer to all your questions would be yes, based on Lynch — but maybe there is room for GPS systems to better include landmarks and path information… Maneesh Agrawala at Berkeley has been interested in these questions, I know.

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