In praise of Historypin
I wrote this little article for Glue Isobar’s August newsletter. You can see it here, but the text is a bit tiny and a small amount of editing went on, so here it is in all its glory:
Since my job is all about designing online user experiences, I take pleasure in finding sites that not only look nice, but do something useful in an elegant way. Historypin is exactly that. It’s the latest in a line of ideas from We Are What We Do, a social enterprise charity who’s mantra is to get lots of people making small changes for the better.
Historypin is about digging out those old photos your granddad gave you, and sharing them in a dedicated environment where they can not only be appreciated by others, but help to tell the story of your local area for generations to come. The short video tour on their website describes it all perfectly. It manages to bridge the gap between a photo sharing community such as Flickr, and a local history website (that tend to be home-made, and lacking in any consistent taxonomy). So, even before you dive into the site, it seems Historypin is a good thing.
The site seamlessly marries two very different navigation systems - search by location, and time period (via a timeline). Navigation items are grouped to distinguish between general and personal areas, and it’s all straight forward to use. The bulky but functional search & timeline controls fade out of view when not needed, saving valuable screen real estate. One killer feature is how it layers images on top of Google Street View, creating the effect of holding up an old photo in front of the view today - a technique exemplified by Flickr group ‘Looking into the past’, which recently caught the eyes of the mainstream media.
There are a few minor annoyances in the Historypin experience, mainly to do with what the user sees and when. Loading a photo in Street View initially shows a photo greyed out, and the user must roll off of the photo in order to view it - slightly counter-intuitive, since your initial reaction is to just click it. It’s also easy to get a bit lost once you start exploring, so more obvious routes back to where you came from would be nice.
The site is labeled as being in beta, so we guess they’re still adding features. On our wishlist would be the ability to just tell a story about an area, rather than having to post it alongside a photo, and integration with Flickr would be perfect, although probably wishful thinking since Historypin is run in partnership with Google.
Historypin is refreshing in that it has a clear purpose, taking socially gathered content and collating it for all to enjoy, and it does so with a spark. Hopefully it will be around as long as some of its photos have - however it may develop over the years to come.