What is Atlos?

What is Atlos?

Atlos is a non-profit and open source platform that enables visual investigators to collaborate at scale.

Atlos solves a process problem

Atlos is a solution to a process problem: general-purpose tools like spreadsheets don’t adequately support large-scale visual investigations. We’re big fans of Google Sheets, but there are several areas where spreadsheets fall short in some large-scale investigations:

  1. Integrity— Spreadsheets make it too easy to edit data inadvertently. Investigations with many contributors also often require granular access controls, but spreadsheets generally allow all investigators to edit all content.
  2. Visual content— Spreadsheets weren’t built for visual media. There’s no space for photos or videos—investigators’ evidence—in a spreadsheet. This makes deduplication, media verification, and incident analysis difficult.
  3. Researcher safety— Spreadsheets aren’t suitable for sensitive content. Visual investigators contend with graphic and other disturbing content. They deserve tools that help keep them safe.
  4. Collaboration— Spreadsheets can’t handle large-scale collaboration. Investigators have no space to discuss the details of a particular incident with one another. When they turn to a separate system for collaboration, important evidence and a record of the investigative process are left behind when data is entered back into the spreadsheet.

What we do

Atlos is purpose-built to visual investigators’ workflows. We aim to solve each of the challenges spreadsheets pose for visual investigators:

  1. Integrity— Atlos tracks every change to the underlying data, so investigators have a clear record of the investigative process.
  2. Visual content— Atlos automatically archives photos and videos, tweets and TikToks, and even entire webpages. We display this content directly within the platform, so investigators can easily refer to their evidence.
  3. Researcher safety— Atlos makes it easy to warn collaborators that content media contains graphic or disturbing content. We also follow industry safety best practices, including by displaying all content in grayscale by default.
  4. Collaboration— We’ve baked in key project-management tools right into the platform. While Atlos workspaces are private by default, sharing a project is just as easy as sending a Google Doc: Investigators simply send collaborators an invite link and choose from several fine-grained permission levels.

What we don’t do

We think Atlos is a powerful tool for large teams conducting ambitious visual investigations. We also know Atlos isn’t for everyone. For many investigative workflows, there are better tools than Atlos. Atlos is not a tool for:

  • Legally-admissible evidence archival— Atlos is not intended for legally-admissible evidence archival or other forensic evidence preservation. We archive media so it can be easily viewed and preserved during a journalistic investigation. If you’re looking for forensic preservation, Mnemonic is a leader in forensic media archival.
  • Geospatial visualization— Atlos’ map is intended to make searching the catalog easier. While our map is helpful for visualizing trends, Atlos is not primarily a mapping platform—there’s better mapping software available. We’re big fans of Felt, which is compatible with Atlos’ CSV export.
  • Publishing— Atlos is currently not a publishing tool; Atlos projects cannot be viewed by anyone online. We do plan on adding publishing features in the next few months. For now, if you’re looking to publish the dataset you’ve constructed on Atlos, we recommend using our API to integrate with a third-party mapping suite like TimeMap.
  • Quick tagging of a small dataset— If you’re working alone or on a small team to quickly tag a small dataset that is not—and won’t become—organized around incidents, spreadsheet software is probably best for you. Atlos is helpful in many cases, but spreadsheets are also a great—and far more flexible—tool.