One test presented each participant (known as a “turker”) with two itineraries: one generated from the Flickr photos, and one sourced from a professional tour operator based in the same city. “Most people actually found our itineraries better than the professional ones,” says De Choudhury. “Seventy percent said that ours were significantly or somewhat better.”
A second test presented a single automatically generated itinerary alongside a professional one and asked a series of questions about the appropriateness of the suggested attractions, the time to be spent at each, and transit times between them. People scored both itineraries roughly the same.
Fabien Girardin, cofounder of Lift Lab, a technology research agency based in Switzerland, has also worked on extracting the movements of people from Flickr photos, using the results to evaluate the popularity of public artworks in New York. “They formalize this approach a little better and go full circle by actually starting to build what can be extracted into information that people can use,” he says of the Yahoo researchers’ work.
It should be possible to go further still, Girardin adds, by generating more interest-specific itineraries. “They talk about the general tourist, but there are many ways to see a city.”
De Choudhury says that adding personalization is a logical next step. “The current itineraries might be good if this is the first time you’re going somewhere, but of course some people might want to stay in galleries all day, or concentrate on historical sites,” she says. “Those kinds of personalizations are possible.”
Ultimately, though, says Girardin, not many people are likely ever to follow such directions to the letter. But that doesn’t mean they are not useful. “It’s like a weather report,” he says. “You combine the information with other things you see around you.”