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Historypin Review

Posted by Amanda Gustin on July 13, 2011 in potpourri |

So on Monday we announced the launch of Historypin, a really interesting new interactive history project. Users from all over the world can share digital content – stories, videos, photos – by “pinning” it to the Google Maps interface. Today we’ll have a quick review/overview of the nuts and bolts of the project, and then on Friday, we’ll bring you an interview with the creator of Historypin and the CEO of We Are What We Do Nick Stanhope.

Entering Historypin for the first time is simple if you have a Google account: because the project is in partnership with Google, you can just use your Google login. A few more clicks to agree to terms and conditions and decide whether or not you want email, and you’re dropped right onto a map of the UK to start exploring.

The basic Historypin interface looks like a Google Map, zoomed in a bit more than usual, and covered with “pins” holding up photographs, as if onto a corkboard. You can manipulate the screen in the same way as the Google Maps page, by dragging left or right or zooming in. Some photographs appear at the top level to draw you in; as you zoom in you see many more that appear in their specific places.

Essentially, users are invited to do a couple of things. High-level users can contribute their own content to the map by uploading photos or videos and “pinning” them to a particular location. The pinning can be specific enough to place a photo right at the intersection it was taken at in 1900. There’s also a neat function that places exterior photos over their modern locations using street view; you can superimpose a photo of London after the Blitz over the same London street in 2011, for example.

The project has already gotten some high-level support from major institutions, from the Museum of the City of New York to the Boston Public Library. Plans over the next year include local collaborations with communities, sending Historypin staff out into these communities to hold discussions about sharing even more content. They’ll also be rolling out a full set of institutional tools, so other museums can share their collections and also bring the Historypin application back to their own websites. Historypin and the Brooklyn Museum are experimenting with crowdsourcing metadata for photographs to increase community engagement and allow for more files to be uploaded.

It seems like a really wonderful tool and method for sharing. My concerns have to do with its possible limitations – so many wonderful photographs out there are not tied to a precise place, or are even indoors. Historypin’s strength seems to be in the changing urban landscape of major cities, where intersections can be located quickly and easily. There are many other layers to history – including vitally important non-visual ones. Will there beĀ  a way to incorporate objects into the project? Not many museums have vast historical photographs of their local areas. What about paintings?

What do you think, Tufts community? Revolutionary and genius way to engage communities with history, or gimmicky and limited?

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