How you could be part of the contributors to recover the lost history of the world.


History is not only written by historians, it is a collective story where all kind of people around the world play their part, whether they are ordinary tourists who just took a random photo on the street, or an engineer recording for a future construction work, they could be helping everyone else to witness the changes in the world. It might sound crazy for you, but your effort could actually help recover lost history and historical heritages or inhabitants’ environment or anything that lacks an official record to witness its changes throughout time.

A huge time-lapse video

Wonder how? The researchers of the University of Washington have figured out a way to get it done: the time-lapse video.

A time-lapse video might sound like a project that could only record several minutes or hours of changes, but what if such changes could be recreated in a long yearly based time-lapse video? Photography has become the key to success in bringing the history back alive in a format of time-lapse video. It seems almost impossible to achieve this goal without acquiring a huge number of photographs.

Crowdsourcing and Time-lapse mining

With a little bit of creativity, the researchers have solved the problem in no time. The answer? –Crowdsourcing by teaming up with Google experts and harvesting millions of pictures on the internet.

Indeed, crowdsourcing is a method that consists of getting services, needs, idea or information together to achieve a common goal. The common goal of these researchers is to retrieve and organized millions of pictures taken by different photographers around the world at different time, and put it into one fascinating time-lapse video.

To achieve this, the project team have made use of the strong searching engine developed by Google. They have collected 86 million pictures of several landmarks from the internet. Imagine what they could do with such large amount of pictures. With technological support from Google, they have filtered and edited these 86 million pictures so that each photo shares similar viewpoints and different lighting settings. They then integrated the photos into a long time-lapse video. This video has recreated the changes of the landmarks overtime. The team said they built 10,728 time-lapses of 2,942 landmarks.

They call this process “time-lapse mining”, and the video below shows it applied to glaciers, gardens, and the Goldman Sachs headquarters tower in New York.

The future

In the age of information, the internet has already filled with millions of seemingly useless information, but with a bit of creativity, you could probably be part of the team who digs up photography hidden in the large pool of information, reorganizes them into meaningful historical records. Crowdsourcing has officially made every one of us a part-time historian.

Soon, you’ll be able to use the software they have developed to create your very own time-lapse video for your favorite landmark as well. Indeed, the team will publish the code on their page.


If you want to learn more about this fantastic project go and visit the dedicated page of the University of Washington. You can find below a point paper written by Ricardo Martin-Brualla, David Gallup, Steve M. Seitz, “Time-lapse Mining from Internet Photos”, to appear in ACM SIGGRAPH 2015


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Photo Credits

Reproduced photos under Creative Commons License Attribution 2.0 Generic from Flickr users: Aliento Más Allá, jirihnidek, mcxurxo, elka_cz, Daikrieg and Free the Image.

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