Sunday, March 1, 2009
Gigapan and the Global Connection Project
Gigapan.org is part of the Global Connection Project, a joint effort of Carnegie Mellon University, NASA, Google, and National Geographic. The Project has different initiatives, such as combining the narratives and images of National Geographic with Google Earth, using aerial images in Google Earth to promote disaster relief awareness including Middle Eastern earthquakes and Hurricane Katrina. There was no information about the site's beginnings, but it first got press in September of 2005 after Katrina. Gigapan.org is a little more commercial in promotion of GigaPan System products, but membership to the site is free and it is designed as a network to explore and share different parts of the world. The technology began with the imaging system designed by NASA for the Mars rover, and is now available for about $400 and can be used with many digital cameras.
Though it is not a formal digital collection and not yet being used as a scholarly resource, but I think it has the potential to be very useful for scholarship. This is evident in the photo of Obama's Inaugural Address or the image of a Croton leaf. Members are able to create their own collection, contact the photographer, and publicly discuss images. This site is still relatively new, informal, and focused on the social. As the technology becomes more accessible and cheaper, it has the potential to be used as a reliable resource for scholarly research, especially with the resources available to the group of institutions behind this initiative.
Few structured metadata standards are enforced through the site, including only author, date added, tags, and number of comments. Many of the entries I saw were self-motivated metadata including the date taken, location, camera and GigiPan product type, size of the file, and anecdotal or contextual information if applicable. User tagging and comments are encouraged and tracked. Each picture is rated by the "Explore Score" which measures not only user tags but the amount of time spent on a particular picture. There are three browsing options: Most popular, Most recent, Tags, and Conversations. The latter allows a user to search by the pictures with comments. The Tags tab is somewhat useful, with a list of the most popular tags. It is obviously not curated, however, because of the inclusion of the word "of" or "panorama" which every image on the site is. Within the images, however, the user tags reveal close-up images that others have found of objects such as ducks flying on the horizon, themselves at the Presidential Inauguration, or details of the statues on top of Italian cathedrals.
The Terms of Embedding and Terms of Service are explicit and state simply that GigiPan.org claims no ownership of any image on the site. It is a free, membership-optional site for networking and "active exploration." Though GigiPan.org strongly promotes GigiPan System products, they do not attempt to keep control over their information. As stated in one of the FAQs, "if you are adventurous and have some basic knowledge of mechanisms you can build [your own] Gigapan camera mount" and "will be publishing an open-source reference design soon."