Historypin is pretty cool, but has some important limitations. It is the Wikipedia of pictures but featuring people’s history. Just as Wikipedia, it is a crowdsourcing web tool. The Historypin website serves as a huge drop box and gallery. Users who have cool historical pictures, video, or audio they want to share upload it to the site, and offer the content’s background information (to the extent that they know and are willing to share). The date of the event showcased and location in which it was set are required of user to pin. Once content is pinned to its location on a Google map and published anyone on the site can look at it.
Entire collections of pinned material can be uploaded and made into tours for site visitors. Users who are registered with the site can add additional background information or even correct factual errors about a photo. The creators of Historypin are especially proud of the site’s ability to illustrate change over time through street view functions (via Google) and photographic fading (to see what I mean click here). Users can use these functions to see distant and more recent past overlapped.
The best features about this programs is that it easy to use. New users can walk through a tutorial and know how to use the major functions of the site. However, the site is intuitive so most users comfortable with the web can learn on their own. The site is a massive, digital scrapbook. And, because the organization has partnered with major archives and learning institutions really cool content is available to explore.
Yet, the site does have shortcomings. Individual user submissions are of uneven quality. Sometimes, the images are boring. They run like a family photo album and without descriptive text, and they are unlikely to be interesting to most people because of this. In this case, Historypin is operating from the assumption that people of the world, especially those who identify strongly with their local communities, will eventually stumble upon these images and add more content. I am skeptical of this. In contrast, the most iconic images, or images related to the most memorable or famous events, people, and places in history, are being more actively edited and updated. In fact it seems that though the creators of Historypin imagine their site functioning to create community online, it is more likely that the community of history lovers already online have simply migrated to play on this site too.
Worse, really interesting photos that do not have descriptive labels are numerous and frustrating. Take today’s Historypin on the Bay of Pigs (see below). This image is really cool. But I don’t know who I’m looking at. Are these American or Cubans? Who is taking the photograph? Was this clandestine photography? Did the Cubans take the photo?
Rather, than feel like this a puzzle I want to solve, I feel annoyed. I feel like I have to wait to see if anyone in world, with Gmail (All users must use Google products to use the site, another problem which others have covered well. See this article for more information.) will eventually come along and reveal the mysteries. This is a bummer. Now of course this is one photo and I could just do the research, after all I’m graduate student. But what about people who aren’t graduate students? What if I don’t want to research every other cool photo I come across on Historypin? I think this is issue the site creators should consider more deeply and attempt to address.
In sum, I like Historypin. It has really awesome content and the potential to gather even more great stuff. But, the organization should make a real effort for better labeling. Historypin can be great, it just needs more tweaks.