How Flickr uploads perfectly matched Hurricane Sandy
posted Wednesday, November 6, 2013 at 3:45 PM EDT
More and more, social media sites are becoming the best way to keep track of major events — especially disasters. People are able to quickly and easily upload images in affected areas, beating news reporters to the punch. It's something we saw very vividly with the Colorado floods earlier this year. And just over a year ago, when Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey, you could track it perfectly based on how people were putting images up on Flickr.
At least, that's according to researcher Tobias Preis, and a paper he published in Scientific Reports. Preis and his team tracked "the number of photos taken and subsequently uploaded to Flickr with titles, descriptions or tags related to Hurricane Sandy", and compared it to atmospheric readings taken at the same time. What they found was a near perfect inverse correlation. As the pressure dropped, postings increased, and they reached a peak just as Sandy made landfall.
The team offers two possible ways of interpreting this effect. Either people simply took more photos as the weather worsened, become increasingly interested in the storm as it arose, and peaking as it was at its worse. Or else the extensive media coverage meant photographers new exactly when the storm was pegged to land, and starting taking more photos to catch it.
But what it does mean is that Flickr can be seen as something of an attention barometer. As an event is more interesting to more people, more things get uploaded. And we're sure that holds true to other social media services, like Instagram or Twitter.