Protect your favorite hiking trail with the power of an Instagram post

social media landscape map
North Carolina State's Center for Geospatial Analytics
Go ahead and post the picture — geotagged nature photos may help policymakers decide which outdoor areas to protect, according to a recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

To value landscapes in the past, researchers were confined to the old-school method of surveying, which helped them gauge how different people felt about various environments and could help inform policy decisions on preservation. But these surveys proved limited. Self-selection bias — people’s propensity to place themselves into a particular group — meant surveys such as these failed to capture the opinions of many people.

“I felt that we needed measures that would be more representative of the diversity of society across larger areas,” North Carolina State University postdoctoral researcher and co-lead author Derek Van Berkel told Digital Trends. “Social media seemed like a logical data source as people are readily volunteering information by uploading photos and commenting on the places around them.”

Berkel and his team set out to crowdsource their study. They developed algorithms to skim and filter social media data of European landscape images, including the content of comments and hashtags. Of main interest was how these regions should be used — for example, whether designated as agricultural, mining, and forestry, or saved for recreation.

“One of the goals of our work is to better communicate the importance of special places to policymakers so that they can make more effective and informed decisions about landscape planning,” Berkel said. “We believe that creating clear maps to show the locations of highly valued landscapes can help policymakers and other stakeholders realize their own personal connections with these places, and ultimately better understand how meaningful they are for people’s enjoyment and well-being.”

The researchers have since turned their gaze to the United States, using applications like Instagram and Flickr to reveal how Americans value their surroundings. Berkel said he is curious to compare American values with those in Europe. By investigating some of the socio-demographic influences on these posts, he hopes the system could inform policies that support impoverished neighborhoods with better landscapes and greener spaces.

Photography

MIT science photographer isn’t an artist, but her work could fill galleries

Felice Frankel is an award-winning photographer, but she doesn't consider herself an artist. As a science photographer, she has been helping researchers better communicate their ideas for nearly three decades with eye-catching imagery.
Web

Can Microsoft’s Airband Initiative close broadband gap for 25M Americans?

A new report from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says that 25 million Americans do not have access to broadband internet. Of these, more than 19 million are living in rural communities. Can Microsoft help out?
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘Twilight Zone’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Emerging Tech

Feast your eyes on the wildest, most elaborate Rube Goldberg machines ever built

Want to see something totally mesmerizing? Check out several of the best Rube Goldberg machines from across the internet, including one that serves cake and other that do ... nothing particularly useful.
Social Media

Tumblr bans nudity to create ‘a safe place for creative expression’

Tumblr will soon no longer allow images with adult content. The company says the change is one that's designed to help more creators feel comfortable sharing on the platform, but admits the change won't happen overnight.
Social Media

Members can share the same Story with Facebook’s new Group Stories

Facebook Group members can now view and share Group Stories. Unlike the Stories for an individual user, the new tool allows members to contribute to the same Group Story, if the feature isn't turned off by an admin.
Social Media

You can now share saved Facebook posts with a Pinterest-like collection tool

Facebook collections can now be shared with friends if you also want to allow them to contribute to the list. Facebook is rolling out an update that allows users to add a contributor to their collections, or lists of saved Facebook posts.
Mobile

Broadway actor tells Kanye West to get off his phone during opening night

Theater actors can get understandably upset when they spot someone in the audience fiddling with their phone instead of watching the show. The other night that audience member was Kanye West, and he got called out for it.
Social Media

This event topped Facebook’s biggest moments of the year — again

As the year comes to a close, Facebook is looking back on what users discussed most over the last year. For two years in a row, International Women's Day topped the list. So what else is on the list?
Social Media

This band owns Twitter, according to list of top accounts and tweets for 2018

What was the biggest buzz on Twitter in 2018? Twitter's 2018 Year in Review highlights the biggest tweets, accounts, and hashtags. The most-tweeted celebrities, movies, TV shows, athletes, politicians and more in Twitter's 2018 trends.
Social Media

What do yodeling and Kylie Jenner have in common? YouTube’s top 2018 videos

In a true nod to the variety found on YouTube, the platform's top 10 list of videos from 2018 range from celebrities to sports, from perfectly tossing a picture frame on the wall to a kid yodeling in aisle 12 at Walmart.
Home Theater

It took Tom Cruise to raise awareness of this troublesome TV setting

Tom Cruise, in an unexpected PSA tweet, asks you to turn off motion interpolation on your TV, but stops short of how to do it. Here's more on the topic, along with links to a guide on how to rid your TV of the dreaded "soap opera effect."
Computing

Make a GIF of your favorite YouTube video with these great tools

Making a GIF from a YouTube video is easier today than ever, but choosing the right tool for the job isn't always so simple. In this guide, we'll teach you how to make a GIF from a YouTube video with our two favorite online tools.
Business

Amazon scouted airport locations for its cashier-free Amazon Go stores

Representatives of Amazon Go checkout-free retail stores connected with officials at Los Angeles and San Jose airports in June to discuss the possibility of cashier-free grab-and-go locations in busy terminals.