Geocrowd-sourcing: future web project to recruit 13 PhDs

10 Mar 2011

NUI Maynooth and six universities across Europe plan to recruit 13 PhD students as part of a pioneering study into the next generation of the internet, which will focus on the limitless potential of mining and utilising user-generated content.

Among the potential applications the NCG (National Centre for Geocomputation) at NUI Maynooth will be examining through the €6m Geocrowd project along with colleagues in Germany, Denmark, Switzerland and Greece, will be how to gather, filter, interpret and use the millions of ‘vapour trails’ users leave behind when using internet, SMS and other communications in order to enhance our state of knowledge of the world. Examples include:

  • Knowing that large numbers of people are Googling ‘flu symptoms’ in a particular area, can identify a potential outbreak before patients present at their GP. This can hugely assist hospital planning, drug stocking and other first-response resources.
  • The date and time stamps left on tourist photos posted on Flickr can assist tourism agencies and individual users with rich data about most popular routes and sights around cities.
  • Next-generation augmented reality will allow smartphone users to know not just what restaurants or theatres make available about themselves but also to aggregate and select reviews from different types of people instantaneously to help with decision making.

A key challenge for Geocrowd will be to make the use of geopositioning facilities more reliable on mobile networks and more effective indoors. Current GPS-based technology is only properly functional in an outdoor setting. This could help locate friends at concert venues or find individuals ill or trapped in buildings.

Explosion in personal data

“There has been a staggering explosion in the amount of data about our lives, habits and experiences posted and available on the internet or cyberspace over the last few years,” Prof Stewart Fotheringham, director of NCG at NUI Maynooth.

“A lot of this information, if properly filtered, can be of immense use – to enhance people’s lives, for business, for civic planning and for fun. It’s like a geodata tsunami at the moment and this European project is about training a new generation of scientists to be able to tame the tsunami and transform it into meaningful chunks of information that can be obtained as quickly and easily as conventional web-based search.”

Geocrowd is recruiting 13 PhD students across six universities, including NUI Maynooth for a three-year term under an EU Marie Curie international training programme to be part of this new generation of experts. All posts carry a salary in the region of €35,000 along with a significant travel bursary.

Irish recruits will be based in one of the European partner universities, which include University of Bremen and Free University of Berlin (Germany), National Technical University of Athens (Greece), Aarhus University (Denmark) and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (Switzerland). Each of the partner universities was selected for its existing and complementary expertise covering areas such as network technology, geospatial data and web systems development.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years