Guest Lecture: Yahoo Research Labs

This was really an intriguing session as presented by a representative of Yahoo! Research Labs who was visiting Singapore. As opposed to SMART (Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology) last week with video and 3-D interactive visualisations and presentations, Yahoo! has got its staff to take a more traditional approach in analysing the data.

What data?

“Visualising 12 million photos”

With the acquisition of flickr by Yahoo, the research labs team have been finding ways, methods and algorithms to try and make trends, notable or observable peculiarities and other significant findings with the user uploaded photos.

The first takeaway I’d gotten was that social media and geotagged data are REVOLUTIONARY. I really mean REVOLUTIONARY. It bypasses state and computer logic to create what people are used to calling – crowdsourced data. The example he quoted was the ‘town’ La Lengua. The story begins with a masked-burrito and resulted in a new town being created out of nowhere through the manual editing of geolocation data which was then uploaded onto flickr and crawled to improve maps such as foursquare and Google Maps. It’s like saying “hey guys, let’s rename the centre of Singapore to something cooler”.

I feel that the possibilities are endless but at the same time, highly exploitable if members of the public were to know how to coordinate such a thing.

It was also mentioned about the different ways people take photos of landmarks around the world which coincidentally support the Rule of Thirds known in photography. Who would’ve known?

Another point he drove home is that technology generates a WHOLE LOT OF DATA. We have to come up with ways and think out of the box in order to harness it. A single photo taken with a camera phone, digital camera or a DSLR generates tons of data (i.e. Histogram, geolocation, model number, shutter speed, flash information, … the list goes on).

An interesting thing I discussed with him was what were they going to do with Tumblr now that they’ve acquired it as well? That is to be left for another day, perhaps, as they are still running tests, algorithms to find out links between re-blogging, liking and creating – CREATION vs CURATION – which is another phenomenon that piques my interest.


In-class Thought Experiment

The question posed was “If you were to be hypothetically provided with photos and all its data, what kind of ‘question’ would you come up with and how would the visualisation look like?”

5 out of the 7 groups in class decided to use a map to come up with interesting visualisations. The groups questions included

“What are the food habits of Singaporeans?”,

My Group

My Group

“Human-geography trends in Singapore over time”,

“Time difference between photo taken and upload time”,

“Where can you find good places for Light Art?”,

“What are Singapore’s most photographed colours?”,

“What do Singaporeans do over the weekends?”.

The group that did ‘most photographed colours’ really caught my attention because finding trends with colour is really unique and it is something I fundamentally enjoy engaging with! The world of colours is infinitely complex, bizarre and mysterious…

I felt that all groups had one thing in common: although given an abundance of data (hypothetically) we were bounded and restrained by the effectiveness in visualising it in which everyone had reduced the number of variables to an average of 3. This further reinforces what we have learnt in the past weeks, where it is important to show relevant, not redundant data; or to put it simply – data that can be made sense of.

After these two guest lectures, I feel really excited for the industry of data visualisation and more so in knowing that in this Age of Information, there are now ways to sift, filter and understand data from all the scattered ‘information’.


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