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SeaDragon Logo
SeaDragon Logo
SeaDragon is a web optimized visualization technology that allows graphics and photos to be smoothly browsed, regardless of their size. SeaDragon is the technology powering Microsoft’s Silverlight, Pivot, Photosynth and the standalone cross-platform SeaDragon application for iPhone and iPad.

SeaDragon technology allows one to view extremely large and high resolution images without the loading time or latency typically associated with large images. The developers behind SeaDragon also allow users to upload photos and create their own SeaDragon style images to be viewed online. SeaDragon has been utilized by many image intensive websites and projects to allow their content to be more easily accessible via the web, such as The Yosemite Extreme Panoramic Imaging Project and Cover to Cover’s online Playboy Magazine archive. Many additional examples of SeaDragon’s amazing functionality are available in the SeaDragon showcase. A more through discussion of the applications and implications of SeaDragon will be discussed subsequently.

SeaDragon is an example of a Web 2.0 technology, and allows anyone to create SeaDragon content simply by uploading an image. Other distinctive features that makes SeaDragon characteristically Web 2.0 (as according to Tim O'Reilly's Web 2.0 characteristics):

  • The more people that use SeaDragon and its related programs the richer the user experience becomes.
  • Users of all skill levels and back grounds are able to act as co-developers whether its creating content or using SeaDragon code in their website.
  • SeaDragon is above a single device being able to be viewed on personal computers running windows, and mobile devices such as iPhones. In fact SeaDragon is the first ever Microsoft application to be released in Apple’s application market place.
  • SeaDragon is the first of its kind for a cross platform application from Microsoft – a very web 2.0 characteristic.
  • The technology that allows SeaDragon to browse extremely large image files quickly makes SeaDragon “lightweight” and low bandwidth making it perfect for mobile devices and positioned for future use.



The principal company that SeaDragon software originated from was named Sand Codex and was founded by software architect Blaise Aguera Y Arcas [Reference:, accessed July 22nd]. Sand Codex was acquired by Microsoft in 2006 and has since become part of Microsoft Live Labs, and Blaise Arcas continues to be involved in the development of SeaDragon, and various other SeaDragon powered programs.

How SeaDragon Works

The Deep Zoom mosaic
SeaDragon technology is based around two distinct platforms, one being Asynchronous Java Script and XML (AJAX), the other being Microsoft’s Silverlight with DeepZoom application. Using the Silverlight version requires that the user downloads the Microsoft Silverlight application. Alternatively, the AJAX version require only the standard Java web plug-ins available in most browsers and portable devices [Reference:]. AJAX technology has allowed for the increased interaction and rich user experiences which are typically characteristic of Web 2.0 enabled websites.

For the creation of SeaDragon style content and images, when one uploads a picture it is converted into a number of Deep Zoom Image (DZI) format files which can be combined to make up a Deep Zoom Collection (DZC). [Reference:] This Deep Zoom Images creates a digital tiled mosaic, of small (256x256) images, with each tile representing a portion or layer or set of pixels of the image at one specific resolution. This Deep Zoom format allows for only the pixels needed for a particular view on the screen to be loaded at one particular time – this results in a more effective use of bandwidth and computer resources. This also means that the amount of data needing to be transferred at any one time is proportional to the number of pixels on the screen. This is an alternative to loading all the pixels (data) of an image all at once with standard image formats. The figurative “secret sauce” behind SeaDragon is the technology that allows for the seamlessly smooth transition between the tiles and layers amongst the DeepZoom collection (DZC) files that make up an image [Reference:].

SeaDragon Applications

SeaDragon powers two very powerful applications that show the capabilities of this technology. Once is called Pivot and the other Photosynth. This section will look at both of these applications and what their capabilities are.

Live labs Hierarchy



Microsoft Pivot is Microsoft Live Lab’s most ambitious project to date. It is program based on the Seadragon Technology, more specifically it is “a data visualization technology called Pivot, designed to help people make better use of digital information” . Pivot is a data mining system that “allows people to visualize data and then sort, organize and categorize it dynamically”, which results in correlations and trends that become immediately apparent in a visually interactive format. Click here to see how it works.

In order to get a better understand view this video, where the Microsoft Pivot team discusses the features and functionalities of this program.


Pivot is a program is designed to contextualize information in a much more natural way for humans to digest large quantities of information without losing their way. Most specifically it combines related data — “anything from pictures, videos and maps to batting averages and financials — into large collections that can then be manipulated, sorted, filtered and examined visually”. In this way, the data itself can help shape and inform the way it is presented. Thus, instead of having to struggle to understand data and then apply it to a problem, Pivot works in unison with a person to come to an optimal solution.

Currently information seekers are stuck in the old way of viewing information, limited by browsers to view information only in the context of “next” and “previous”. Pivot allows users to aggregate this information and view it to see if there are any recognizable patterns in the information. The value of such tool is that you can begin exploring with an idea and Pivot works with users to discover information that might have otherwise not been seen. This is important because it has been found that “if you make it a sudden transition, people lose their way…but if you make it very smooth and continuous, people have a mental model of how they got to where they are.”

Another interesting aspect about Pivot is that it works with any type of data. In fact, the Pivot Collections range from Wikipedia entries to the 2009 International Union for Conservation of Nature Endangered List. This gives Pivot immense value because its capabilities are transferable to any industry.

How Pivot Works

Pivot screen shot
At the heart of the Pivot program are the Collections that combines large groups of similar information “so we can begin viewing the Web as a "web" rather than a series of isolated pages”.

Surprisingly enough, new collections can be created with no programming and are composed of a collection of data. These data collections are composed of two components, the XML (the descriptive component of the collection), and the images (the visual representation of the data).

Pivot is able to filter through images and information seamlessly because the images are described in Deep Zoom format, a component of the SeaDragon Technology. Click here to download Pivot.

Overall Pivot is a data mining tool that looks to tease out insights to inform decisions that help businesses make better choices.

Pivot Applications

Data Mining Applications

The business world has become fully digitalized as “over 92% of all business records and data are created and stored electronically; most are never reduced to hard copy” (RUHNKA, J. C., & BAGBY, J. W. (2010). Using ESI discovery teams to manage electronic data discovery. Communications of the ACM, 53(7), 142-144. doi:10.1145/1785414.1785453). In fact, there were 90 trillion emails sent in 2009 (The Nielsen Group) alone [Reference:]. With companies drowning in data, the ability for companies to filter through mass amounts of information and discover hidden information and trends is crucial.

“Data Mining is the process of discovering actionable and meaningful patterns, profiles and trends by sniffing through your data using pattern recognition technologies” [Reference:], that are programmed to search databases for hidden patterns. As you can see this relates directly to the capabilities of Microsoft’s Pivot.

As students we are much like businesses as the outcome of our success is dependent on the amount of information and data we have gathered and processed before making a decision. That is why it was impressive to see Pivot’s application to websites such as Business Source complete, a data base that any student has accessed and used. We can begin to see Pivot’s application into the business context as Business Source complete has recently been equipped with a visual search engine. Much like the Pivot demonstration above, it allows users to aggregate information into recognizable items and view information in an intuitive manner to help aid problem solving.

This technology will assist companies with business intelligence, as is defined as a set of technologies that allow the acquisition and analysis of data to improve firm decision-making and work-flows. (Seah, M., Hsieh, M. H., & Weng, P. (2010). A case analysis of savecom: The role of indigenous leadership in implementing a business intelligence system. International Journal of Information Management, 30(4), 368-373. doi:DOI: 10.1016/j.ijinfomgt.2010.04.002)

Web Browsing Applications

In 2009, Microsoft released Bing Visual Search, which lets users type in a query as usual, but instead of returning the customary blue links as results, Bing returns images. Combined with Pivot’s ability to attach meta-data to images, it creates an interactive search engine that provides users with a more intuitive experience than was possible before.

An example Tim Schwartz, of Microsoft, uses is Pivot’s application to browsing the web for a product purchase. Visual search has potential in this market because “when purchasing products online, research shows people want to gather as much information on the product before they make a purchase, images play a large role in this decision making process” and “a study conducted by Microsoft Research shows that consumers can process results with images 20 per cent faster than text only results” [Reference:]. An example of this being used in business could be a consumer shopping for books, visual search allows them to narrow the results with 1-click filters such as author, format, cost, reviews, etc, instead of just providing you with information it assists you in the cognitive process of selecting a book.

Companies have such value in the visual search engine that organizations like Best Buy have began to incorporate it into their online sales repertoire. To experience this interactive tool visit this link that assists Best Buy customers in buying GPS units.

Another company emerging as an early adopter is Netflix. In corporation with Microsoft they have implement a Pivot like browsers that allows viewers to search and select movies based on reviews, rating, genre, year cast, director and availability. Consumers can experience the capabilities of Pivot by interacting with Netflix Pivot website.

This sort of interaction with information has been proven successful with the success of interactive technologies such as Apple’s iPhone. Visual search allows users to experience the same kind of interaction but a in the search engine medium, as it allows users to search for information using image galleries rather than text links, creating a more intuitive and interactive environment.



In 2008, Microsoft released Photosynth, a free service that gives people all over the world an opportunity to upload and create their own Photosynth moments. Photosynth images placed on the web allow users to view photographs from their original vantage point. Photosynth, which incorporates DeepZoom technology, gives users the ability to create striking 3D virtual environments from a series of photos, allowing users to be immediately immersed in the environment they create.


The technology behind Photosynth works in two steps. The first step involves the analysis of multiple photographs taken of the same area. Each photograph is processed using an interest point detection and matching algorithm developed by Microsoft Research. The second step involves the display of and navigation through the 3D point cloud of features identified in the first step. Current generation Photosynths are pretty easy to capture, as photographs uploaded on Photosynth can be taken by any regular digital camera or mobile phone. In general, the higher the megapixels, the clearer the pictures. Currently, users have the option to geotag their digital shots on sites such as Flickr and then upload them on the online Photosynth web service. Images uploaded on Photosynth give people the ability to seamlessly view landmarks, public spaces and objects from all sides. One example of this technology in use is the Deep Earth project in which creators are developing a rich interactive mapping of the entire world through the participation of community involvement around the world.


Recently, Photosynth has been integrated into Bing Maps, allowing enthusiasts all over the world to capture the places they know and love and help pave the way people now travel. Currently, the Photosynth community has spread to the far corners of the globe. According to, there are over 14,000 geotagged synths covering all the world's major and minor landmarks. If you’ve built a synth on and geo-annotated it (the little globe icon) your synth gets indexed into Bing Maps. To check out the Simon Fraser synth our team has created for Bus 466 please click here (you must have PhotoSynth installed on your computer to view these). In addition, exploring the streets of major cities around the world with the new Streetside map view in Bing Maps gives viewers a real feeling of "being there" all through the process of user-submitted photographs. Below is an excellent video which illustrates the Bing Maps Photosynth Mashup with Flickr.

Users can submit pictures from other popular photo-sharing sites like Picasa and Panoramio. Currently, Microsoft is giving users 20GB of online storage for their Photosynth collections and 1GB of unlisted synths. Also, the Photosynth team is now making editorial choices trying to choose synths that are well photographed and show landmarks that a visitor to that place would be interested in. With respect to photo tourism, professional photographers provide context and drive people to discover new places and potentially inspire/motivate other users around the world upload their own synths.

Future Uses of SeaDragon

That past several years has been very difficult for print media. Many newspaper companies have been going bankrupt all throughout North America and there has been a huge decrease in paying readers. This drop in revenues has been reported to be 9.4% from 2006 to 2007 [Reference:]. One of the major reasons for this is the recent recession in which people would be less willing to spend money on an elastic good such as a newspaper.

However as there has been a drop in print media, there has been a huge rise in online newspaper revenues. This implies that as people stop buying newspapers, they are looking elsewhere for their news. In the last year there has been a 20% increase in online newspaper revenues in North America [Reference:].

Advertising trends are also following this huge move from the traditional newspaper to the digital world. Digital advertising has seen a huge increase in revenues, while the traditional advertising revenues have been falling dramatically.

This leaves a huge gap in a market that is growing rapidly. Currently there is no software that can effectively display the newspapers. Ideally users would be able to have the same readability on the screen as they would look at a newspaper. Load times must be minimal in order to avoid frustration for the user; the problem is newspapers are often full of images.

SeaDragon has the potential to be able to fill this void due to is new DZI format which has already been described. The only current working example of print media using SeaDragon is done by Playboy Magazine. It is important to remember that this technology is still in its infancy so this working example just shows the very basics of what it is capable of.

In order to understand the potential of this technology Blaise Aguera Y Arcas give an excellent example of where it is heading. In the below video the potential of using the DZI format can truly been seen. The whole newspaper is displayed on one screen with almost instantaneous load time so there is no frustration for the user.

Here is an example of how Sports Illustrated is planning to transform their online newspapers for tablets. SeaDragon would be an ideal piece of software to allow them to be able to implement these design ideas.

Social Media and Web 2.0

The Web 2.0 movement has given birth to several large scale applications with phenomenal numbers of users and even greater collections of information and sharing. There are many existing applications that Seadragon technologies can be implemented to enhance users’ experience within these applications.


With over 400 million users, Facebook has become the pinnacle of all web 2.0 applications, and is the cornerstone of all social media. Seadragon technologies has the potential to enhance the Web 2.0 experience of over 400 million Facebook users. All three major applications of Seadragon development can provide different aspects of user experience enhancement: Seadragon, Pivot and Photosynth.

The largest cost for social web applications, such as Facebook, is bandwidth: the cost of transferring data to and from its servers. Implications of this constraint to the user include limiting the size of pictures uploaded and shared with friends on Facebook. The limit on picture size allows Facebook to reduce its bandwidth consumption, however, for users, this limitation results in loss of image quality and detail. To satisfy the needs of Facebook to keep thier bandwith usage to a minimum, while at the same time allowing users to share photos in their full quality and size, Seadragon can be used as an image substitute. As SeaDragon employs Deep Zoom Images (DZI) [1] only portions of images are loaded as they appear on screen, saving huge amounts of bandwidth for companies. Details for larger pictures emerge as they are zoomed in and panned around, without delay or lag. Large images can then be compressed and displayed without a negative impact on quality and detail.

Another SeaDragon technology that can enhance user experience on Facebook is Photosynth. Photosynth gives friends the ability to take photographs shot by multiple cameras and users, and connect the them to create synths. These Photosynths add another dimension to the way users share photos by recreating entire landscapes and settings in which the photos were taken.

The last SeaDragon technology, Pivot, enables users to filter and search through friends, events, and pages more effectively and efficiently. As the popularity of Facebook grows, users will have greater number of friends, more events to remember and more fan pages to follow. Current search and filter abilities for friends, events and pages are limited to searching by name or browsing through lists. With the use of Pivot, users can enhance their social networking experience by filtering friends by any field, such as gender, religion, relationship status, etc., or finding events by specifying the date or range of dates.


Flickr is an image hosting website with over 4 billion images [Reference:] currently in its system, it is one of the largest user generated image repository, and is wildly used by bloggers for embedding and sharing images.

Flickr allows users the option for uploading different sizes of images, and management of file sizes is left to the user to maintain under their data cap (100 MB per month for Free users). Similar to the ability of enhancing image quality for Facebook images, SeaDragon can allow users to upload images of higher quality and give the public access to spectacular images of unimaginable quality.

A greater impact of SeaDragon technology in Flickr would be PhotoSynth’s ability to construct large settings from multiple images. By combining pictures of identical “tags” on Flickr, Synths of popular locations or settings can be created from images of users from around the world. This strengthens the idea of a global community and identity for users of the site. In this video example Blaise Aguera Y Arcas' Notre Dame is created entirely using photos off Flickr.

Crowd sourcing

One of the key aspects of web 2.0 is the idea of user generated content and crowd sourcing. This is the idea of letting larger numbers of users contribute to common application. As previously mentioned bing maps has already employed SeaDragon's Photosynth technology, allowing users to create and upload PhotoSynths of any location to bing maps. By crowdsourcing, Bing maps can populate its application entirely through user generated content, giving users the ability to decide what they want to see; an idea at the foundation of Web 2.0.

Dangers of SeaDragon

With the sudden emergence of a digital world there has been a huge issue with privacy. Social media has provided companies with in depth knowledge of potential customers, and many people see this as a huge invasion of privacy. Google maps has already mapped out most major cities around the world with using photographs, but what SeaDragon has done with Pivot is to bring this idea to members of the public. It gives anyone the chance to document anywhere on earth and publish it.

This could generate huge security issues. It may sounds far fetched but it would be possible for criminals to use such programs to plan break-ins. If this pivot technology caught on, people all over the world could post complete images of interiors and exteriors of buildings. The longevity of this information once its on the web also creates an issue. Many sites will not let you remove something once you have posted it, an example is Youtube.

There are more few drawbacks that should be considered. For example, there is a possibility that users may not properly geotag their photos correctly. In addition, authorization to upload synths is imperfect in the sense that the Photosynth team decides whether the user-created “synth” is deemed appropriate to place on the web. Furthermore, if you would like to prevent other people from finding your synth on the Photosynth website you can make it "unlisted", however, unlisted synths are not securely private, they are simply not listed on the Photosynth web site anymore. Currently, Photosynth does not support secure encrypted access, meaning anyone who has the URL can view the synth. Moreover, when using Photosynth, free users are restricted in the number of views their unlisted synths can attract. Currently, the Photosynth web service limits unlisted synths to 500 views/month. Another drawback to the service is the fact there is no offline version to allow people to view the uniquely created synths from remote locations. Furthermore, with respect to web 2.0, users are unable to comment and rank user creations when viewing synths on Bing Maps, however the option of commenting is available on the Photosynth website. In relation to other popular networking sites, some people may not provide their consent to have their original photographs placed on the web because others can use and publish them to the world. If this is the case, synths can be permanently deleted from the web service.


Currently, the main competitor to SeaDragon is Zoomify, which is a flash based version of the ajax that powers Google Maps. Zoomify is also a new feature in Adobe Photoshop which allows users to export photos for the web as html files. The image size can be set to anything you want, but embedded is a small flash player that enables the viewer to zoom in on the image. Zoomify allows users to view high resolution images without having to wait for long load times, which is very similar to SeaDragon.

If SeaDragon wants to ensure they remain at the forefront of this technology they must ensure that more companies begin to use their technology. To do this they should try to attract potential customers from some of the potential target markets we have already discussed. This could be in the form of newspapers, realtors or other companies that are heavily reliable on images.


SeaDragon will continue to allow developers, graphic designers, virtual architects and artists to innovate and develop new applications to enable users to view content in revolutionary ways for years to come. Our group sees this technology being utilized in more smart phones as a simple way to quickly browse through online content, virtual maps and huge collections of photographs. This is due to its super-fast rendering of scaling images and simple streamline process of uploading data online. The performance, user-friendly mechanics and stability of SeaDragon is quite impressive, as seen through the various applications developed and video’s presented within our wiki. Furthermore, with regards to Photosynth and Pivot we see the potential of this technology becoming the new standard of how we view photos and locations, browse through text and data mining within businesses. By taking a glimpse in the future, our belief is that books, newspapers, magazines, reference materials and manuscripts will all be able to fit on a single page, allowing the user to quickly take this info on the go through their various mobile devices.

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