Landscape of Digital Public History: Historypin.org

The means of doing public history have adapted with time. Sometimes moving at a slower pace, and sometimes moving at a rapid rate. The reality is that for those involved in the field of public history to retain employment and fulfill their desires of connecting the public to a practical means of experiencing history, institutions such as museums and cultural heritage sites need to implement the means to meet the public where they’re at. Nowadays, the public is largely online—and mobile! Furthermore, it is necessary for these sites to not skip the audience that is most readily available to them: those of the local public. To engage this mobile yet static audience, institutions need to highlight the local history abundant around those who might otherwise be uninformed of what has happened in their very own backyard.

Historypin.org is an engaging mobile public history website that brings together different collections from a variety of places by displaying them as pins on an interactive Google map viewer. The catching thing about Historypin.org is that it is almost immediately clear how this web application can help members of the public to explore historical locations both abroad and domestically. However, let’s explore the application first.

Appearance

The web application is easily compatible with mobile design features. The historical collections that make up the body of pins on the interactive map are on the front page. They are displayed as clickable cards, fitting neatly into the frame of a mobile device, presenting the information a visitor would want to see without the view being overly cluttered.

The navigation menu is succinct and connects to various other mobile friendly sources such as YouTube videos for instructions on using the web application; clickable cards for related news pieces; and other bite sized sources of information that are easily digestible for mobile consumption. It is clear that the website implies that more information can be found other places, but that not much is presented upfront so as not to overwhelm visitors with attempts to understand the application and/or its function.

The top of the screen has a very recognizable feature for most people today: a search bar. The surrounding text clearly instructs visitors on what to do, which is to search for a physical location. What makes this web application already implicitly relevant to visitors is the prompt to search “your neighborhood,” meaning visitors could potentially find historical sites and information wherever they are, including locals placed in their home territory.

Functions

When conducting a search of a physical location (for example, my hometown of Tacoma, Washington), the aforementioned interactive Google map viewer appears and is populated by density circle markers in different regions of the map. Downtown Tacoma has 135 hits all grouped together. Clicking on these markers zooms into the map to gradually reveal individual pins that marking historical sites. Clicking these pins then shows a picture from a connected collection along with metadata of the image and sometimes a description of historical information related to the location and/or the picture. Through my own exploration of the application, I was able to find some very interesting pictures associated with the very neighborhood where I grew up, such as a picture of Marlon Brando fishing with Robert Satiacum on the Puyallup River, just several miles from my childhood home.

This web application also has opportunities for user participation via feedback. Visitors can make comments on these pins and even submit feedback by contacting the creators. Visitors can also contribute by becoming members of the site, which allows them to make their own pins and tie collections together.

Project Analysis

Through the combination of appearance and present functions, it is clear to me that this web application had a clear audience: the mobile local community member. The minimal display of the design coupled with the easily understood signs make the application very intuitive for new users who might join the community or visitors seeking to enrich their understanding of their local area or areas they might visit abroad. Because these signs prompt the individual to search for something relevant to oneself, the application become immediately applicable for a broader set of this audience. Plus, the application draws upon technology that is widely familiar to the segments of the population utilizing smartphones that it prevents the appearance of a large learning curve to connect the user to what they’re supposed to do to either contribute or just gain information.

The ability for visitors to also join a community and start making their own connections is also very key to the success of this project. This function allows community members to essentially have a hand in the narratives that involve them, giving them a sense of control and self-determination. These factors not only increase the usefulness of the application, but its sustainability as users could be encouraged to return to continue telling their story. The previously mentioned picture of Marlon Brando and Robert Satiacum had been viewed by 17 other individuals. Knowing that such an image with a more personal connection for myself was still reaching others, it is inspirational to think of how many can be reached with more notable pins in the map. Thus, the web application does a good job of encouraging community collaboration and telling of their stories.

Personal Takeaways

While I have found the application to be very successful at what I interpret its job to be, I personally did not care for the color scheme of the website. I also encountered a couple bugs in where I could not get a popup menu to close because it extended beyond the touchscreen frame of my smartphone. Though I ultimately found these issues to be minor, they are notable when creating a smooth mobile interface. Because mobile devices need to be highly responsive to input from users of today, these kinds of interruptions can make or break an application.

I found the content to be very relevant to myself and it gave me a sense of community connection to the place I grew up since I no longer live there, letting me know that the history I am familiar with is acknowledge by others. It was also quite engaging simply due to the vast amount of pins available to explore. It is clear that this project has had many contributors (or at least some with a lot of time). One could be engaged for hours walking around a place in town to see what is (or perhaps, what “was”) standing in any given location. Therefore, I think this mobile web application does a fine job of accomplishing its mission.

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Kyle

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