Historypin: Review of a Digital Humanities Tool

The tool that I have picked to review is Historypin. This is an open source tool so it allows anybody with an internet connection to access and contribute to the website, Historypin. I am intrigued by this tool as it allows the digital visualization of historical photos and artifacts on a local level as well as an international level. Since it is user generated, the more users on the site the more it expands and is able to cover a deeper synopsis of the history of areas and different periods of time.

In terms of providing you with a deeper understanding of this tool I will attempt to describe how it works and helps the user. To start with, this tool relies somewhat on faith in humanity. When I say this I mean that it relies that users will post credible and truthful information about a chosen moment(s) in history, free from bias and propaganda. One user can comment and contribute to another’s collections of history on Historypin. This peer to peer judgement makes for more credible collections of history on this site.

Image based interface

One research article I found in my investigation into Historypin points out how ease-of-access has become so important in the world today, Historypin is a free digital platform that allows users to archive photos, video and audio but is primarily used for image-based collections. (Gibbs, 2014). Historypin makes a successful attempt in making their website as easy as possible for the user by using images to catch the eye of the user as opposed to long paragraphs of text. The first article I read also referenced several other articles including one by K. Burger & E. Winner. Although the Burger & Winner article surrounds the idea of visual aids helping children learn how to read I do believe some of its points are relevant to all age groups. After investigating what the article had to say it suggested that visual art is beneficial because it serves mainly as a motivational entry-point to reading and writing activities. (Burger, 2000). Stepping back and considering this statement I do believe it to be true as when reading a piece of work more often than not it would be the visual aids that catch your eye first as opposed to the paragraphs of text that follow it.

Historypin Login Page

To get the authentic user experience it was necessary for me to make an account on Historypin and observe how the tool functioned. It was a relatively easy process as Historypin does offer the option to sign up through multiple social media sites or to simply make a new account specifically for Historypin. Once inside your own account – if you are a new user – it is a trouble-free experience finding out how the site works as the Historypin team have a total of four informative videos posted on a “How-To-Guides” page guiding users on how to use the site effectively.

Of course, every tool has negative aspects to it and for Historypin one of the main disadvantages of the tool is the low number of people using it. Historypin would not be as popular as some visually similar online forums such as Pinterest. It will be interesting in the coming years to see if the founders of Historypin make efforts to popularize the tool so we as a culture will have the same level of awareness of it as we do of other tools.

Pinterest is also a competitor of Historypin. While Historypin has identified its target as being people who have an interest in history, Pinterest’s target audience is much wider. Along with being able to search history content on Pinterest it also facilitates user’s wants to post articles from home design ideas to tattoo suggestions. This multi-purpose Pinterest design surpasses web designs such as Historypin in some ways as Pinterest advertises itself as a ‘one size fits all’ site if you will. This case presents a challenge for the Historypin team as they somehow need to entice the public to create an account on their site to dedicate to historical concepts as opposed to simply using their Pinterest account –if they have an existing account- for everything. That said, one could argue that because the Historypin founders have dedicated themselves solely to digitizing periods of history if the number of users increased they would be able to provide a more thorough review of the timeline of past events.

Textexture interface

The online tool ‘Textexture’ represents a challenge for Historypin but in a different way. Although not visually similar, Textexture’s vision is to visualize any text as a network and enables the user to use this interactive visualization to read through the text in a non-linear fashion. (Labs, 2012)

This also makes the information in the paragraph more concise and to the point. For people who simply want to look at a piece of text on history and understand the core message of it this tool may be the more attractive one to use. Unlike Historypin, which may have paragraphs of text on one topic, Textexture is able to sum up many paragraphs into ten or twelve words. It allows you to find the basic premise behind a piece of writing. However, Historypin allows for that along with a continuing story-like feel to pieces of information up there. To combat competitors like this Historypin need to show the public that they enhance your experience by giving you access to the full linear-style version of the text as opposed to just the core idea of it.

From my personal experience of using Historypin I would recommend it to others due to its merits in ease-of-use and vastness of subject matter within the topic of history. The layout of the interface makes it an enjoyable and easy site to navigate which in turn leads to few frustrated glances at an unfamiliar screen just wondering where you went wrong. In terms of improvement, what I really believe would help this online tool is advertising. Simply making the general public more aware of it as an online resource. Examples of how advertising on social media popularize online tools can be seen in the case of Michel and Tzoc’s (2010) study of Flickr. Here, the authors demonstrated that adding digital collections to the social site resulted in a 200% increase in the access of local digital collections (Gibbs, 2014) . Since the 21st Century population is so reliant on social media platforms such as Facebook I would possibly employ some advertising there as opposed to just having a Facebook page which may lead to them to possibly passing under the radar, unnoticed.

Burger, K. &. (2000). Instruction in visual art: Can it help children learn to read? Journal of Aesthetic Education, 277-293.
Gibbs, M. B. (2014, April 01). Historypin and Pinterest for Digital Collections: Measuring the Impact of Image-Based Social Tools on Discovery and Access. Retrieved from Taylor & Francis Online: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01930826.2014.893111?scroll=top&needAccess=true
Labs, N. (2012, November 5). Textexture: The Non Linear Reading Machine. Retrieved from Textexture: https://noduslabs.com/cases/textexture-non-linear-reading-machine/