WhatWasThere and Historypin are websites which emphasize history’s connection to geography. Last August, Teresa Iacobelli wrote a great post on Historypin, its predecessors, and location based history. WhatWasThere is a similar site that has been gaining popularity in recent weeks.
Both sites are based on the idea of attaching historical photographs of buildings, landscape, and landmarks to present day maps. Both sites perform essentially the same function and provide a similar level of user interaction. The layout, interface, functionality, and photos uploaded to each site varies.
Historypin is in partnership with Google and has over 37,300 images pinned. A disclaimer makes it very clear that Google is not directly responsible for Historypin development. But, Historypin’s partnership with Google does mean that if you already have a Google account you can immediately login to the site and begin adding content. Also, when logging in for the first time you have the option of importing any photos you have saved using Picasa.
Users can explore Historypin in a couple of ways. Content can be accessed by looking at the existing pins on the map and clicking photos or areas that interest them. There is also a search function that allows users to search by location, date, or photo content. When looking at existing content users also have the option of adding their own comments or sharing a personal story about the photo or location. The story function has often been utilized to additional information location of photograph. However, it has the potential to provide a space for users to link personal histories and memories to a photograph.
Historypin also includes a feature that allows users to dispute the location or date attached to photographs. This feature is a fill-able form which can be completed by users. It is nice that users have the ability help correct information. But, since it’s not clear what type of policy or turnaround rate the site has on dealing with these factual disputes, the form seems a bit like a black hole.
In general Historypin provides a basic interface, a decent search function, and allows users to interact with content through comments and stories. Upon switching from the Historypin site to WhatWasThere the most obvious difference is the interface of the two sites, things generally look nicer on the WhatWasThere site.
Despite using Google maps to display content, WhatWasThere is not integrated with Google and to upload content to the site new users have to create an account. Thankfully, account creation is simple and takes under a minute. Similar to Historypin, there are multiple ways to access content on WhatWasThere. You can access content by roaming around the map. I found this feature on WhatWasThere a bit frustrating at times, as often you were unable to see what photos were available for a particular location until you had zoomed in a considerable amount.
There is a standard search feature. However, unlike Historypin it is not possible to narrow your search by photograph type or date. The search by location feature works well. But, for cities with over 500 photos attached to them, it would be nice to be able to narrow search results. Additionally, there are standardized metadata fields for photographs in WhatWasThere. These fields include: date taken, title, description, tags, and source. These fields often include a lot of great information, but are not searchable. Increasing the search capability on the site would greatly improve users ability to access information.
WhatWasThere has gone one step further with Google maps integration than Historypin. WhatWasThere has integrated Google Street View with its photographs. This is a great visually as it allows users to see a mash-up of historical photographs with present day buildings. Historypin does allow users to explore using Street View. But, the use of Street View is fairly clunky and the images aren’t actually blended into the existing landscape as they are on WhatWasThere.
Overall, both sites have their advantages. Historypin boasts superior search functionally, the potential to host location based personal stories, and user interaction through comments. Conversely, WhatWasThere has an increased use of Google Street View, standardized metadata fields, and is visually superior. Ideally it would be nice to see a site that combined the best components of Historypin and WhatWasThere. Until that time, users might be best to try out both sites and see which one fits their interest needs and style of website use.
Krista McCracken is an archivist at Algoma University’s Residential School Centre.
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