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!

Summer 2016 note: Due to changes in Instagram's API, it is no longer possible to harvest images by hashtag from Instagram. So this project will work only with Flickr and Twitter.

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!

Great idea, great project, great Instructable, BUT how dare you not post the link on the sign as a clickable link in the intro so we can check it out right away!<br>:-)
<p>Great idea NfN! <br>I've just been following the seasons with #morganfire01 on twitter. <br>Do you know what the bush with the yellow flowers is in the foreground?</p>
<p>That bush is Ericameria linearifolia, or narrowleaf goldenbush. Learn more about it at http://www.calflora.org/cgi-bin/species_query.cgi?where-taxon=Ericameria+linearifolia. We were hoping to capture some flower phenology in these pics, but we actually didn't notice that one when we installed signs, so it was a pleasant surprise!</p>
<p>Great project!</p>
<p>Fantastic! Wait, was that Godzilla?</p>
<p>This is super cool! </p>
<p>This is super cool! </p>
<p>This is super cool! </p>

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