Place Pulse at MIT


Written by Tshepo Mokoena
21 Sunday 21st August 2011

Although we're so used to having that quick inner monologue that helps us decide whether to live in a particular neighbourhood, aspire to live in it or avoid it late at night, Phil Salesses and his professor Dr Cesar Hidalgo are trying to quantify that process. And on a massive scale. We found out more from Selasses about the project's background, and what it's like to get a cease & desist order from Google.

'Which place looks safer? Which place appears looks upperclass? Which places looks more unique?' These are the three building blocks of the Place Pulse project. By asking these questions beneath Google street view-style snapshots of urban spaces, the researchers are trying to understand the collective processes that might shape our perceptions of cities. In Selasses' view our current information age is the first time humans have held so much potential data on just about everything, all at once, and not necessarily known what to do with it. By compiling loads of public data on this project he and the rest of the team hope to be able to give councils, governments and individuals a stronger grasp on just what it is that we all seem to want from the aesthetics and 'feel' of our neighbourhoods.

With almost 300,000 votes collected, the project is now about to launch an exhibition at Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria. The 'visual symphony' of data will be unveiled there, and although Selasses can't say too much we figure it's going to be another step towards developing the algorithm even further. According to Cesar Hidalgo, a new website is due to be launched that puts the comparison questions in the hands of the public: contributors can get to pose the 'this or that' questions that they feel will help pool knowledge on how to make our various cities around the world better places to live in. So far Place Pulse has mostly been focused on America, Austria, Germany, Spain, Australia and here in the UK. Together with designers Tony DeVincenzi and Mauro Martino, Place Pulse has gone from inspired bbq chat to a project getting enough attention for Google to smack down a cease and desist order on some of their content.

Selasses tells us that only a few days ago Google got in touch with the Place Pulse team asking them to take down some images on the site that violated one of their minor clauses. The guys have taken off the offending material now, and are still hoping to solidify a collaboration with Street View that can turn it into more of a positive force in communities. With the Google vans trawling through neighbourhoods all over the world in a way that some people feel seriously compromises their individual freedoms, Place Pulse are trying to pool the visual data available on the site in a way that people can use to harness greatness in their community again.


The full site will be out later this year, so we suggest taking Selasses' advice and thinking up some questions of your own that could be used for the study. And if the whole thing just freaks you out and makes you feel a little uneasy, why not share that too? This kind of project is all about the dialogue crowdsourcing generates, so the more input, the better.

Thanks to Selasses & his team for giving us the inside scoop before the full site and details launch.


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