Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Posting historical photos of your library - Facebook milestones, Dipity, Historypin and more

I must admit, local history is not much a specialty of mine but I happen to work for a University, whose history goes back a fair distance to 1905 and as a library unit we have collections that go back almost as far making us the oldest academic library in Singapore.

As such, we do have some old photo collections showing the past rich history of the library and when Facebook pages moved to timeline view and began encouraging organizations to post milestones, I started to think about whether we could put these old photos and how best to display them.

Many libraries including ours also have collections of photos , photo archives etc, is there a better way to expose some of them?

I currently have four ideas, Dipity, Facebook pages as milestones, Historypin and Singapore Memory Project (Singapore only) mobile apps.


It occurred to me then that we already had posted our milestones using Dipity, a timeline based lifestreaming tool that I have mentioned several times in the past (as early as in 2009)  and much later I mentioned the dipity project of library milestones where the widget is actually placed on our official library homepage.

Facebook Milestones in Facebook Page

It was pretty straight forward to transfer or create Facebook milestones on our Facebook page.

As you enter more milestones, you can see the extended timeline on the right (see below).

Some further examples

Below shows what you see when you enter milestones.

It's unclear how popular or how often the milestones are viewed since Facebook insight doesn't seem to track this, but we did get fairly good comments.


The awesome Historypin launched in Nov 2011. Many other librarians have blogged about the potential of Historypin such as Justin Hoenke but perhaps this post entitled
DIY augmented reality…finally is perhaps the earliest and most complete post explaining features and what libraries can do.

Essentially you can pin photos , videos or audio recordings to a specific location (though photos are probably the majority posted), after which you can search for them in a map view which is basically similar to what you see in online maps with crowd-sourced photos contributed.

What is most interesting of course is that it comes with a Android and IoS app that you can use with Augmented reality to direct you to the closest photo or at a location see how a certain location or building looked like in the past, similar to apps like Layar.

Historypin is very full featured, one can set up channels (similar to YouTube channels) linked to your Google account as Google is a partner. One can setup channels as one of the following

  • Individuals
  • Libraries, Archives or Museums
  • Business or Company
  • Schools
  • Community groups

You can obviously upload manually (up to 5 mb at one shot) but there is also a bulk uploader .

The manual uploader is quite detailed. You can enter Title, Description, Tags etc.

Interestingly you can define the license for uploading. As shown above by default it is set to Copyright (c) all rights reserved but you can click on change to change it to a very comprehensive list of licenses. You can also add details including a link back to the original photo if you have it in a repository say.

As shown in the earlier picture, you can't post if you don't indicate a date or time. But for date you can select "I'm not sure". 

The partnership with google shows, with the question about putting it into Google Street View and searching for location via Google maps (see below).

Once it is posted, you can then view the photo you pinned on the map.

As creator you can edit or delete the photo. Others can Fave/Report or Dispute. The last leads to a online form to "Dispute" essentially when you disagree with any details such as date or location of the photo posted by you.

I can go on about creating collections of photos you faved or posted but perhaps the most interesting function is the ability to create tours.

Obviously this has great potential for University or Library Orientation tours as students walk around using their ioS and android devices to see how certain locations looked like in the past.

In effect this allows you to duplicate NCSU's well known Wolfwalk app

It is clear that Historypin is a really well thought our project, with many details and advanced features for those who need it such as detailed copyright options, link back to original photo and is clearly designed to court both individuals and organizations.

Hence it is no surprise that there is now a long list of libraries and museums on historypin including channels by  New York public library, Library of congress etc.

Mobile app

The mobile app is fairly capable, allowing you to browse collections, search the map and of course post a photo etc.

Browsing the collection.

The search is fairly capable, though unlike the desktop version which allows you to search by location and refine by date and keyword, the mobile app does only location refined by date.

Below shows the  the map

The arrow on the bottom left, brings you to your current location and the "Cam view", brings on the augmented reality view telling you where to turn to if you want to move towards the closest photos.

I was however most curious about uploading photos via the app, as already mentioned you need a Google account to login to. Most of it is standard except the date has a interesting default where it assumes you don't know the exact date.

As you can see above by default it just puts the year and then you select "Give or take x years", interesting.... As far as I can tell most of the other advanced options in the desktop version in particular copyright options cannot be set and once set can't be changed later?

Worse yet if you go to the next step for location, it automatically pinpoints your location which you can't change by searching unlike the desktop version. So Historypin cannot be used to upload photos unless you are at the very right spot it seems.

Singapore Memory Project App 

Despite the number of months since the launch of Historypin, I could not find that many photos of locations in Singapore which was to be expected.

Coincidentally in Nov 2011, news broke that the National Library Board in Singapore was launching the Singapore Memory Project . (Some clarification : my current place of work is the National University of Singapore which is a separate and distinct institution, though of course we do work together in the library community.)

The official site is at  http://www.singaporememory.sg/   It is a national project aiming at collecting Five million memories by 2015. It seems similar to Historypin in some respects but is of course restricted to Singapore only and it aims to collect memories, which might include not just photos and videos but also stories in text.

It seems to be a major undertaking with the project being mentioned by the Prime Minister at the National Day Rally Speech in 2011 and the Singapore Memory Project (SMP) team includes some well known names in Singapore libraries field including Gene Tan who is Director of the project and current Library Assocation of Singapore President (see his interview in TWIL last year) as well as Ivan Chew who is Assistant Director, better known to many as the Rambling librarian who has blogged about the project several times including this "behind the scenes look" .

I am just scratching the surface of what this national project is doing, and with all this firepower, it's not surprising I can find quite a bit of memories collected , at this time of writing there are close to 65,000 memories collected.

While Singapore Memory Project is superficially similar to Historypin, it's quite a different beast. It's many ways simpler than HistoryPin , which is fine given the objectives.

For example the memories submission form is simpler.

SMP submission format - desktop version

It seems to me that unlike Historypin, the form is designed for individuals only, while the project does collaborate with institutions it probably does it behind the scenes. This explains the relatively simpler form and the lack of a bulk uploader.

But then again, the Singapore Memory Project needs to handle only Singapore organizations which is a lot fewer than Historypin which needs to be versatile enough to handle organizations from around the world with different requirements hence the complexity of Historypin submissions.

Probably the biggest difference between the project and historypin is the difference in Mandatory fields. While Historypin insists on both date and location being mandatory, for the SMP only the date is mandatory.

While this speeds up the process and increases the chances someone will not give up midway when submitting, it also means not all memories have a location. I am unsure if this the reason was to encourage submissions, or perhaps it was felt that unlike photos or videos that have a specific location that can be pinpointed, memories can be a lot more broad ranging and cannot be pinpointed to a given location easily.

For example, if I posted a memory of going house to house visiting relatives during Chinese New Year in a text story, where should I locate the memory besides in the broad sense of Singapore?

Mobile app 

                                                     SMP startup screen - iOS

The mobile app currently available for iOS, starting screen makes a very strong pitch to submit memories, compared to HistoryPin. I would speculate the SMP app seems more designed for submission of memories than for browsing memores than Historypin for several reasons.

Firstly the search capabilites of the mobile app seem to be very weak.

While the desktop version does allow you to search memories by locations but the iOS app can only show memories that are nearby with no search facilities, you have to awkwardly manually move across the map to look at other locations.

SMP map view showing nearby memories -  iOS

Browsing is no better, you can see the most popular or most recent memories submitted but only limited to 10 or so.

SMP browsing - iOS

As it now stands, the Historypin mobile app appears to be more fully featured, as the Singapore Memory Project lacks augmented reality functions.

That coupled with the lack of a search function at all in SMP mobile app, seems to me makes the SMP app a app more for adding memories then looking for memories (except those nearby). Still, one wonders how often one uses the mobile app, whether HistoryPin or SMP's to search for content.

SMP also unlike Historypin lacks the concept of a "channel" for each person or the ability to curate one's own collection.

The desktop version lists clusters like "my school days", "Toa payoh" which I guess is managed by the staff around special themes. The iOS app, does not have access to this.

One thing the desktop version of Singapore Memory Project one-ups Historypin is that one can login using Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Windows Live or the National Library board account instead of just Google. Though the mobile app asks you to login using Facebook when posting memories.

The fact that it is neutral also plays to the advantage compared to Historypin as the app offers you the option of posting to Facebook whenever you post a memory.

SMP submission of memory - iOS

The interesting bit about posting memories via the app is unlike Historypin  , one can indeed change the geolocation of the memory! This is done by selecting the arrow next to the geolocation listed.
Below shows a search for a location to Geo tag. As mentioned before this can't be done when submitting in Historypin mobile app.

                                   SMP changing location of submitted memory - iOS

Given that both are using Google maps for geolocation, I suspect that Historypin's inability to change the location when posting in the app is a oversight rather than a technical flaw.

Historypin mobile app vs SMP mobile app

The ability to search locations in HistoryPin coupled with tour and augmented reality functions seem to imply that Historypin is designed as a discovery search tool. While the SMP mobile app does allow you to look at memories posted nearby, the lack of a search function, limited browse functions to 10 most popular and 10 recent submissions seems to make it less ideal for finding memories.

It seems to me given the more aggressive startup page appealing users to login and submit memories, coupled with the ability to post memories by changing geotagged locations (a strange lack in Historypin's mobile app) and the ability to share with Facebook your postings implies to me that the SMP app was designed more to encourage posting of memories than for browsing, searching for ones.

Of course, either app could and probably will evolve.

An idea I heard was that given that we are posting memories or old pictures, might be nice if the app could offer filters similar to instagram ......


I just mentioned four possibilities to post pictures of old library buildings. Which one you choose will depend on rights management/licenses, and popularity of the platform. At this stage it's unclear how popular any one of them are, and I would argue none are really.

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