Differences in selfies across global cities

A new online project finds that selfies taken in different global cities like Moscow, New York, and Sao Paulo exhibit some differences:

That seems the most salient takeaway from “Selfie City,” an ambitious selfie-mapping project released Wednesday by a group of independent and university-affiliated researchers. The project sought to extract data from 3,200 selfies taken in Bangkok, Berlin, Moscow, New York and Sao Paolo, then map that data along demographic and geographic lines. Do people in New York smile more than people in Berlin? (Yes.) Does the face angle or camera tilt say something about culture? (Possibly.)…

Many of the researchers’ findings are less than conclusive — there’s either not enough data, or advanced enough analysis, to really make sweeping statements without a bit of salt. The photos — 20,000 for each city — were scraped during a one-week period in December and analyzed/culled to 600 by computer software and Mechanical Turk. While 600 photos may seem like a lot, there’s no indication whether that number is a statistically significant one, nor whether the culled photos represent each country’s Instagram demographics…

Selfie City has found more evidence for a phenomenon both sociologists and casual users have noted already: women take far more self-portraits than men. (Up to 4.6 times as many, at least in Moscow.)…

They also suggest that people take more expressive selfies and strike different poses between cities. Bangkok and Sao Paulo, for instance, are by far the smiliest — Moscow and Berlin, not so much.

Sounds like a clever use of available images and analysis options to start exploring differences across cities. While not all residents of these big cities will follow such patterns, cities are often known for particular social features. New Yorkers may be relatively gruff. Other cities are known as being open and friendly – think of the popular images of big Brazilian cities. (I wonder how much this will come up with future World Cup and Olympics coverage.)

At the same time, how many selfies would a researcher have to look at to get a representative sample? Over what time period? And, perhaps the underlying issue that can’t really be solved – this is likely a very select population that regularly takes and posts selfies (even beyond whether this represents the typical Instagram/social media user).

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