Worth their weight in likes: Instagram posts can show the value of Utah landscapes, researchers say

Researchers say online photos can measure the worth of the West’s geographical wonders

Appeared in Salt Lake Tribune

Before he leaves this earth, Jimmy Emerson intends to visit every county in the United States — all 3,142 of them.

The Georgia veterinarian has already trod on more than 3,000, including Utah’s 29, shooting photos by the thousands as he goes. Among Emerson’s favorite subjects are food, seemingly random street corners, national parks and vintage pieces of civic architecture like churches, courthouses, Carnegie libraries and bridges.

He uploads all of it — 59,894 photographs since 2006 — to Flickr, a social media platform used by millions of photographers.

Emerson’s thousands of snaps are just a tiny percentage of the countless photos posted to social media sites. Cyberspace is filled with images of natural landscapes, which run alongside streams of political jabs, silly cat videos, selfies and other digital trumpery. But geographers now believe postings by tourists and outdoor enthusiasts like Emerson offer a vast, untapped trove of data that could help explore how heavily visited places are, and how people value them… (continue)