Page last updated at 09:29 GMT, Monday, 27 April 2009 10:29 UK

Hunt begins for most scenic spots

By Chris Vallance
BBC Radio 4 iPM programme

Screengrab of Scenic Or Not website,
Visitors give their assessment of how scenic places are

The wisdom of crowds is being tapped to map the most scenic parts of England, Scotland and Wales.

Modelled on the HotOrNot website, ScenicOrNot presents visitors with snaps of rural and urban locations rather than people.

The presented images are rated on a one to 10 scale and the site aims to create a map of "scenicness".

The pictures are drawn from a database of 200,000 each of which is representative of 1km square of land.

Picture perfect

ScenicOrNot is a project of Mysociety, an organisation set up with the aim of increasing the transparency of democratic institutions through the development of online tools.

The goal is to use the data generated by user ratings to produce a map of "scenicness".

Speaking to Radio 4's PM programme, Tom Steinberg director of Mysociety, said he was drawn to this method of collecting data because HotOrNot style rating systems are "incredibly sophisticated clever ways of doing online polling".

As the images are randomly presented to users it is much harder to manipulate the results. "You can't besmirch places you don't like", Mr Steinberg said.

Although the exercise is billed as a game, it has a serious side. Numerous policy decisions are influenced by whether or not a place is commonly regarded as scenic, because of this Mr Steinberg said the new data generated by the project would be made "open so that anyone can re-use it and play with it later on".

The site's FAQ also states that the data will be used for a "secret project", though Mr Steinberg was not prepared to reveal what that would be.

The photos displayed on ScenicOrNot are sourced from images submitted to Geograph.org.uk a site that collects user generated, geographically representative, photographs and information for every square kilometre of Great Britain and Ireland.

The images vary in quality and Mr Steinberg is aware of the risk that ratings may reflect the skill of the photographer not the landscape.

"We encourage people quite strongly to discount any aspect of photographic skill," he said.

A limited number of latest results are posted on ScenicOrNot's "leaderboard". For the moment it appears that unspoilt countryside is viewed as particularly scenic; by comparison the modern built environment seems to do relatively poorly.

Jon Wright, a senior case worker at the 20th Century Society, which aims to "safeguard the heritage of architecture and design in Britain from 1914 onwards", said he was intrigued by the project.

Mr Wright added that that urban areas and those of classically beautiful parts of the country are very different in character. He said: "Those views should be judged on their own terms."

The data could also be used to reveal places that are not scenic. Mr Steinberg said he was uncomfortable with highlighting the least lovely places in Britain.

He said: "Can you imagine how you'd feel if someone said to you of the 217,000 square kilometres in Britain you're in the worst one?"



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