Few sentences in the English language are more dreaded than this seemingly innocent offer: “Oh, I must show you the pictures from my vacation.” Who wants to see endless shots of a friend lounging by a pool or in front of a monument or—worse yet—their kids doing the very same things.
But, of course, those very same shots can be extremely useful when researching your own trip. How big is that pool? What, exactly, does the room at that five-star hotel you’re thinking of booking look like? It’s good to have documented evidence from someone who has been there.
And recently, photo-sharing sites such as Yahoo’s Flickr.com and SmugMug.com have begun to let users add another dimension to their travel photos. Through a technology called geotagging, users can add GPS data to their pictures, which can then be plotted on a digital map. This not only allows users to see exactly where a photo was taken but, when uploaded to an Internet map, users can also quickly browse a trove of photos that were taken nearby, providing a kind of scattershot
collage of a place.
New, new thing: Geotag the snaps and travel sites will lap them up
For example, people planning a trip to Cancun can use Google Earth, a free mapping software, to zoom in on Cancun’s crowded hotel zone and click on dozens of candid photographs, from the lounge chairs at the Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach hotel to snapshots of less-crowded beaches and the nearest mall.
Plotting photos on maps also allows trip planners to “see” the terrain before booking a trip. On Everytrail.com—which lets users upload geocoded photos from their favourite hiking trails, biking routes and sailing trips—visitors can check out sights along a specific driving route in Namibia, or examine trail conditions on a hilly bike route near Palo Alto, California.
But it’s the odd juxtapositions of randomly plotted photos that may be the most surprising—and useful—to travellers with more obscure interests. For example, fans of graffiti can search the word “graffiti” and “New York City” at Flickr.com/map, and pull up photos of freshly painted tags, all plotted with pushpins on a clickable Yahoo map.
The steps needed to geotag photos are admittedly somewhat geeky. At photo-sharing sites such as Flickr and SmugMug, most users must first upload their photos and then plug in the address or manually plot each image on a map, which can require lots of zooming in, recentring and dragging, before a photo is placed on the desired coordinates.
To streamline the process, several camera makers have released models that are GPS-ready, with either a built-in device or a special accessory. But they tend to be geared towards professionals and are expensive. The Nikon D2X, the company’s current top-of-the-line SLR model ($5,100, or about Rs2 lakh), works with an optional MC-35 GPS Adapter cord ($139) that connects with a standard GPS receiver (which you must also buy) to automatically save location coordinates with each photograph.
But GPS is starting to show up among lower-priced cameras. The new Ricoh 500SE (about $1,000), a point-and-shoot model aimed at outdoor enthusiasts, has a built-in GPS device. It’s even showing up on camera phones, including the Nokia N95, though the $749 price is still a bit steep.
As photo-sharing continues to evolve, travel websites are recognizing how valuable images can be when users essentially act as free contributors and submit their own pictures.
Zoomandgo.com, a travel review site, recently redesigned its site around photos and videos submitted by travellers. A new socialnetworking feature also allows users to create their own travel profiles, connect with like-minded travellers, and swap tips through photos.
“Facebook meets Frommers” is how Jonathan Haldane, the founder of Zoomandgo.com, described it. Before the socialnetworking feature went up, he said, users spent about eight minutes on the site. Now, he said, users spend an average of 18 to 19 minutes, sending messages to each other and browsing through photos and videos.
But though travel sites are embracing the flood of user-generated photos, the quality can vary. A Flickr search for the W hotel in New York City, for example, turns up a mix of candid room photos and pictures of friends eating pizza. To wade through the clutter, Stewart Butterfield, general manager for Flickr, suggests adding the words “not portrait” or “not family” in your search to weed out cheesy tourist snapshots.
Zoomandgo.com, which pays users a nominal fee for relevant photos, says it vets every submission. The site says: “As a result, you won’t see any pictures of your Aunt Sally posing outside her house (Sorry, Aunt Sally), or any videos of your neighbour’s dog Yoda peeing on a tree (Sorry, Yoda).”
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