This Is the World on Flickr

A map from the Oxford Internet Institute reveals the geographical distribution of billions of photos uploaded to the popular image-sharing site.
Click for a bigger version (Oxford Internet Institute)

Most of the time, when any of us use Flickr, we use it to browse our friends' photos, or, perhaps, to search for an image of a particular place or person. We click around, seeing a tiny, tiny slice of the more than six billion photos that reside on that site.

Individually, each of those photos shows us something, some flash of a moment on this Earth. All together, they show us something else, a planet pulsing—unevenly—with photo documentation.

A map from the Oxford Internet Institute draws on Flickr's application programming interface (API) to show which parts of the globe are visually represented online—and which remain invisible.

On the map, each point indicates the number of geotagged photos uploaded for that location, revealing, the map's creators write, "the global geographic distribution of geotagged images on the platform, and thus ... the density of visual representations and locally depicted knowledge of all places on our planet." The data was collected in April of 2011.

Unsurprisingly, densely populated, more developed parts of the globe are better represented on Flickr. But wealth and people aren't all that shape the map. Additionally, the authors write, governments have done their share as well, and countries that have at times censored Flickr (e.g. Iran and China), make fewer appearances than would otherwise be expected in this collective scrapbook of life on our planet.

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Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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