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Describing and comparing landscapes using tags, texts, and free lists: an interdisciplinary approach

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How do people perceive landscapes? What elements of the landscape do they identify as characteristic of a landscape? And how can we arrive at descriptions, and ultimately representations that better reflect people’s notions of landscapes? In this study, we collected landscape descriptions from five landscape types at 10 study sites in Switzerland. For each site, we collected data from three sources: free lists with participants, hiking blogs, and Flickr tags. Free lists were obtained through on-site interviews with visitors, hiking blogs were gathered by focused crawling of web content, and Flickr tags were selected based on spatial footprints obtained from the hiking blogs. We quantitatively compared landscape descriptions between data sources and landscape types using cosine similarity. We found that descriptions from the same data source were significantly more similar, irrespective of landscape type. Descriptions from the same landscape type were more similar, but only within the same data source. Through a qualitative analysis of different aspects of landscape in our content, we found that each data source offered a different distribution of landscape aspects. For example, while Flickr tags contained high proportions of toponyms, they contained little content relating to sense of place. In contrast, hiking blogs contained more information about sense of place. Our approach combining these varied textual sources thus offers a more holistic view on landscapes. This study constitutes a step toward extracting semantically rich descriptions of landscapes from a variety of sources and using this information to distinguish different landscapes, with potential applications for landscape monitoring and management.
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Keywords: Place descriptions; geographic information retrieval; landscape character assessments; text processing; user-generated content

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Geography Department, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland

Publication date: August 3, 2018

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