Spot Check is a new application that lets you discover geotagged Flickr photos across an area. It divides a place into a grid and returns the top result for each square on the grid.

I was curious if I’d discover differences between neighborhoods. How different would a search be between adjacent areas?

Configuring your search starts at the Spot Check Panel. First of course you have to specify the area to search. The first method is the most precise: entering latitude and longitude coordinates for the corners of a rectangle. But this isn’t very user-friendly. The best trick I know for getting coordinates is to go to Google Maps and right-click a spot on the map; when you select the “What’s here?” option, it will put the latitude and longitude in the search box, which you can then copy and paste.

You can also use WOE codes to get your coordinates, though it’s hard to find one for the area you’re interested in.

A easier method is to simply describe the location with words. The “place” field goes into the Google Geocoder API. You’ll have a chance at the next step to adjust it if it isn’t quite accurate (but it usually works well).

Before verifying the location, you can modify the default settings for how to display the photos, picking the number of rows and columns, and how much space to put between photos. The more space, the easier it is to still read the map in the background, but then the smaller the photos will appear.

By default, the program will show the most “interesting” photos in each square, but you can change that to show the most recent instead.

And finally, you must select some search parameters to narrow the search. (For now, I add a “minimum upload date” criteria of 2000-01-01.) You won’t see these options on the next page, but they are saved in the URL.

Hitting “create map” will bring you to a new page. A blue rectangle is drawn over your current selection. You can modify this by entering a new place description in the upper-left-hand search box, or click-and-drag the rectangle’s edges and corners. When satisfied, the “Spot Check” button will call the app, or click “Control Panel” to go back, saving the rectangle’s new coordinates in the “NE” and “SW” inputs.

If you used the WOE method, you might have noticed a red polygon inside the blue rectangle. The program feeds WOE codes into the Flickr places getInfo API. If it returns a shapefile in addition to the bounding box, the shapefile is displayed.

The blue rectangle’s coordinates are sent as a bounding box criteria to the Flickr photos search API, along with your other criteria. Note that the WOE code, if used at all, is used only to find a bounding box. Flickr’s API doesn’t allow it to be combined with a bounding box in its queries.

Be patient while waiting for the results, since the server has to fire off a separate API call for each square on the grid.

The search results page has a full-window map, with any matching photos displayed in the center of its square in the grid. Keep in mind that each square’s search returns only 1 result.

Hitting the space bar will enlarge the photos if there is unused space on the border, though of course this also moves them away from the squares they represent.

When you hover over a photo, you’ll see the total number of matching photos that were found in that spot, below the title and owner. Clicking the photo will bring up the original page on Flickr, in a new window.

The “T” button will replace the photos with a count of the total number of matching photos. Hit T again to toggle back to the photos.

The “totals” display resembles a heat map, with the areas with the most photos shown in red, and other areas in grey. Clicking on the number will bring up the Mappr application in a new window, with the coordinates from that particular square already fed into the inputs.

This is definitely still in the beta stage, as there remain a few fixes and improvements, but it’s ready to help you explore new places and discover great photos.

Searching Flickr Photos with a Grid

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