Idea #26: Epic timelapse of future history

I recently posted on Amazing Stuff an exhibition of photographs depicting how places around the world have changed over time.

Shanghai now and then

Putting this together I discovered that it’s surprisingly difficult to find photos of the same location, taken decades apart. Naturally, the problem is finding the older photographs – if you were one of the few people taking photos 50 years ago, the chances are slim that you’d decide to take a photo of something that wasn’t there yet!

Of course these days the web is saturated with photos of almost everything, which got me thinking that tracking changes over time will be a lot easier in years to come. Actually, maybe we can start recording the future history now…

Idea #26: Epic timelapse of future history website

Like nearly all the unutterably great ideas on this blog, the ingredients for the epic timelapse of future history website are all out there right now:

  1. Easy and widespread digital photo sharing.
  2. Geo-tagging for photos.
  3. Timelapse animation software.
  4. Image recognition software.

The idea is that everyone who takes a photo of a particular spot uploads it to the website and tags it with the location and time it was taken. (Some cameras perform both of these tagging functions automatically.) That’s it, the user’s job is done.

The website then automatically files the photo alongside other photos of the same location, which are ordered chronologically. The general shapes of the images are all checked with the image recognition software to make sure there are no anomalies and they all picture the same scene. Microsoft’s Photosynth website currently uses this kind of technology, but arranges the images in space rather than in time:

Visitors to the future history website can then search for any location and ‘play back’ the photo set as a timelapse-style video to see how the pictured scene has changed over time. As the database grows over many years, the result will be an amazing visual record of the future history of the world.

The Greenpeace campaign video below the closest approximation I can currently find. Imagine this for every street, city and famous sight in the world:

(If you don’t want the hassle of attracting photo uploaders you could also make this with some kind of Google image search API, but I’ll leave it all up to you. Just give me a mention when you become the person who creates the future history of the whole world.)

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