Yahoo’s Studies on Mobile Camera Phones and Geo-Referencing Images

In these days of increasing mobile phone usage, including phones that have cameras and can connect to the web, I found myself enthralled by a paper which described the path to Yahoo’s Zonetag.

Imagine if you take a researcher who has been studying how people use mobile phones (and mobile camera phones) and team her up with a researcher who has been studying assigning geographic locations to pictures. You’d probably end up with a paper like:

Location and Photos – A Match Made in Heaven… or Hell? (pdf)

We have previously studied social and personal uses of camera phones, and the opportunities that location based image collections afford. We are currently building and evaluating a system that brings these aspects together. This system utilizes and exposes in various ways location data for camera-phone photos.

One of the researchers is Mor Naaman, and you can see from his list of Papers and Publications that he takes the topics of contextual metadata (pdf), tagging (pdf) and geo-referenced photos pretty seriously. He even wrote his doctoral thesis on Leveraging Geo-Referenced Digital Photographs (pdf).

The other author of that paper researched uses of mobile phones with Hewlett-Packard, and brought some of that expertise to Yahoo. Mirjana Spasojevic is was a Senior Design Researcher at the Yahoo! Mobile Business Unit.

In addition to looking at design and deployments of mobile phones, she’s also studied ubiquitous computing technologies. One of her efforts at Yahoo! involves a global mobile study evaluating needs of mobile phone users. At the latest PICS 2006: Workshop on Pervasive Image Capture and Sharing (she was one of the organizers of the conference), an indepth look at ZoneTag was presented:

ZoneTag: Designing Context-Aware Mobile Media Capture to Increase Participation

ZoneTag is a rich mobile client that enables context-aware upload of photographs from cameraphones. In addition to automatically supplying location metadata for each photograph, ZoneTag supports media annotation via context-based tag suggestions. Sources for tag suggestions include past tags from the user, the user’s social network, and the public, as well as names of real world entities such as restaurants, events, and venues near the user’s location. A seamless interface makes it easy to assign tags to a photo, forming the basis for a richer personal media retrieval and organization system. We believe that lowering the barriers to tagging has great potential for effective retrieval.

She’s also written (or co-authored) a number of articles and papers on camera phone use (pdf) and the implications of camera phone use (Word Doc)

The research that these two have conducted (along with other researchers) provides some interesting insights for people who are looking at the future of mobile search, local search, and visual search. Getting a better understanding of how people are using mobile phones with cameras, and some insight into how images they create might be captured and organized and searched is helpful. Zonetag is just one possible use of that kind of knowledge.

ps. Funny stuff, Yuri. Thanks. I’m honored.


Author: Bill Slawski

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