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Analyze YouTube war footage with Google's Montage app

Engadget Engadget 20/04/2016 David Lumb
© Provided by Engadget © Provided by Engadget

Where information from warzones used to trickle in, the internet has brought a flood of user-generated media. And though there are some tools available that can quickly parse through that data in real-time, they mostly work only with static documents, as videos are harder to analyze. Today, though, Google is releasing Montage, a curation tool that turns masses of video into conclusive data for humanitarian groups, journalists and news junkies.

Simply put, Montage sorts, maps and tags videos -- which is normally a huge undertaking for small teams to accomplish. Google let the humanitarian non-profit The Carter Center use Montage for its Syria Mapping Project, as the Syrian conflict continues to produce an incredible volume of user-generated video.

Recently, the Syria Mapping Project team used Montage to help confirm that a flurry of attacks had been caused by a single Jihadi group that wasn't party to a brokered truce -- ergo, a tenuous ceasefire between Syrian government and rebel forces was still in effect. That's exactly the kind of analysis that benefits from a speedy tool like Montage.

Montage, which is free to the public as a Google web tool or a Chrome plug-in, was built by Google's humanitarian-focused tech incubator, called Jigsaw. Google's goal is for Montage to ingest YouTube's massive, growing collection of user-uploaded videos and quickly turn it around for use by human rights groups.

Montage's genesis came from a 2013 Google Ideas summit in NYC when Google staff met with amateur conflict analyst Elliot Higgins, who was already making wartime discoveries almost entirely by analyzing YouTube videos. As Jigsaw product manager Justin Kosslyn told Wired, the meeting "was the beginning of this realization that Syria was the first YouTube conflict in the way that Vietnam was the first TV conflict."

Images: AP Photo/Andoni Lubaki (lead image); Jigsaw (screenshot).


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