This project uses an inexpensive sign and some code to make a crowd-sourced time lapse image station that can go anywhere one can install a sign. We (Nerds for Nature) built this for use on Mount Diablo State Park, east of San Francisco, California. Our goal is to enlist hikers in documenting landscape changes after a wildfire in fall 2013.
Creating the signs and monitoring processes can be a bit tricky. We lucked out with the right combo of carpenters, coders, designers, and land managers. Repeating exactly what we did would require at least some carpentry and coding skills. We're publishing all our methods, designs, and code in case anyone wants to try this themselves, but your approach will almost certainly be different based on local conditions and the kinds of collaborators you can recruit (unless you're some kind of magical coding carpenter-designer who owns private land visited by lots of people with smartphones.) We've tried to describe some alternative solutions to some parts, but they generally involve substituting technical expertise with labor.
With that in mind, onward!
Step 1: Ask yourself these questions
This is a pretty simple concept, but making it happen isn't free or free of effort! We recommend asking yourself a few questions before you begin:
- What's your goal?
- Awareness and general view of change? Great!
- Spectrographic analysis of photosynthesis? That's hard, particularly given the varied results you're going to get from social media. Deriving quantitative results from the photos was not one of our goals, so we won't cover that here. If that's what you want to do, it will restrict the kind of photos you can use, and might require more participation to get enough photos to subsample adequately.
- Do you need permits to install a sign? (We needed one from CEQA.)
- Do you have someone to keep an eye on this project?
- Watch the feed for photos of Godzilla!
- Watch the signs themselves for vandalism.
- Do you know what a brad nailer is, or does that just make you laugh inappropriately? We benefited by having a member of our group well-versed in carpentry and what one of our more digitally-inclined members refers to as "atom manipulation." You should either know how to use basic power tools or recruit someone who does.
- Can you set up a cron job to run a Ruby script every day? If that sounds like Aramaic to you, you'll probably need to enlist the help of a programmer or someone else who can do these things, though there might be less-techy solutions if you have someone with the time to do the manual labor of picture gathering and assembly.
If you answered all those questions, and you still want to do this, off you go!