Monday, December 30, 2013

#blog12daysxmas Post 6 #anz23mthings Thing 5 Photos+Maps+Apps

I was determined to use the opportunity of #blog12daysxmas to get back to my #anz23mthings, particularly as I fell out of it during #blogjune and have lacked the mojo to get back to it since then. Unfortunately working on this Thing has made me feel rather disheartened.

Thing 5 of the 23 mobile things is all about a mixture of my favourite things: technology and local history.  So I should be so excited about this. We were given three apps/sites to explore Historypin and WhatwasThere which both have both apps and websites and Sepiatown which only has a website.

This combination of old and new photos and maps is something that I have long felt was a really special thing that mobile phones could do. I want to be able to walk down the street and have my phone tell me when there is something that someone has considered of historical importance nearby, show me what it used to be like and give me info about the site as well as links to further information. And yes I know someone has to research the places and input the photos and data and do the geo links.  But I am more than willing to do that if I can find a good app.

All these sites show the potential for this long term dream of mine, but unless I am really missing something none really do it for me.

SepiaTown: from here to then is a nice site but it doesn't have an app, so it only ever had the potential to succeed in part of my dream.   Unfortunately there were very few photos around me (three in the Melbourne CBD to be precise) but that's a matter of them being put up. It is fairly clean and simple site:  you search a map and find nearby photos, click on them and then you can also look at Google streetview. Or you can do a random search.  The photo and the map/streetview are adjacent to each other on the screen so I don't know how this would work in an app without being completely configured. I played around with a photo of the State Library of Victoria, and then some Random searches which mostly brought me to NYC but also France and Germany. Sepiatown focuses on specific cities and has a number of featured cities including Sydney where there are lots of photos loaded. All that I hit were from the Powerhouse, but that may have been chance.

Then I did a specific search for Athens, Greece. Not good: there seemed to be only one photo in Greece taken in Livadeia in 1947. There was no Google imagery available for the Now version of this photo.  I was interested in looking for Greece, because I was thinking about how we could use such tools for relating to our aging ethnic communities and how we could use their photos and memories.  And that's certainly not to say we can't use the tool for that purpose, just that we would be starting completely from scratch. And it looks like the Now part of it might be very limited.

WhatWasThere has both a website and an app.  Again Melbourne didn't feature highly on the agenda so in this case I decided to give in and move to North America where most of the photos seemed to be centred (er centered).  I had fun playing around with some places I knew in San Francisco. Again, you search for a location and the site goes to the Google map and brings up a list of nearby sites.  I enjoyed looking at Mission Dolores and a couple of other buildings in the Mission area.  The way this site worked was slightly different.  You got the "old" photo and then when you asked for the now the old photo was superimposed over the now and you could fade it out. Nice. Again I did a check of Athens, Greece.  There was one lovely old photo of the Agora in 1908.  But for Greece there was no Now option on offer. Not even in Athens.  Leaving aside photos belonging to our ethnic communities, there are fabulous historical photos of Athens and this could be such a great tool for documenting that history.  But apparently there is no Now for comparison.

I loaded the app for WhatWasthere and went out for a walk with it.  But as there was nothing there it wasn't very useful.  It looked like I could look at existing photos and load new ones but I couldn't work out a way to search the app ie to find the photos of Athens or San Francisco I had found on my desktop. The app seemed only to be interested in where I was.

And then we come to Historypin.  This really is the site with the most potential. I had heard about it ages ago and had the app but I had never done more than have a quick look at it.  I got off to a bad start with the app.  It kept on freezing on me or throwing me out if, for example, I tried to go to Help.  I tried deleting it and reloading it, a necessity because of the freezing.  But to no avail.  I also couldn't signin in the app as it sent me to a place on the website where I got a message that the page was unknown.  Sigh.

So I went to my desktop and opened the website.  Setting up an id was fine through Google+, Twitter or Facebook and I created one.  I played around on the site looking at all the Channels that had been set up by different organizations and individuals, and also the Tours though I was a bit irritated that you appeared only to be able to browse the Tours not search them. There are good FAQs for loading photos and other processes.  I went on a couple of Tours in NYC and was quite excited about the prospect of doing a little trial tour for myself. I looked at the map locally and found quite a few photos.  So I worked out my tour which was going to be linked to the Collingwood Historical Society Hotels  Database. There was one photo of a hotel already there and I thought I would add a few more in the street and create a tour.

I headed off with my phone but alas and alack I still couldn't sign in on the app even though I now had a valid id.  It still kept on sending me out of the app to the site to a message that the page requested couldn't be found. This meant I couldn't really do much with the app,eg I couldn't take photos. Also strangely the nearby photos that appeared on the website never came up on the app. I took photos and came home. I wondered if my lack of access to the app had something to do with my phone?  I remembered I had loaded the app on my ancient (well a couple of years old) iPod and checked there.  Again I couldn't sign in and got sent to the same page missing part of the site.  But I did manage to get into Help which I had not been able to do on my iPhone. So I sent an email explaining my issues.  The result was immediate:

Eventually I found another email address on the website and so I wait for a response about the app.  I do have photos and I will experiment setting up a Tour but it is very frustrating not to have mobile access. And yes there are also lots of lovely photos on the Greek map. But unless I am missing something the only way I can see streetview on Historypin is if it has been incorporated into a tour?  I'll have to try to create a Greek one to see if there are any options.

Meanwhile, I need to delete the Historypin app and reinstall it again as it has hung again.

I still have my dream, but I do wonder why all these sites only allow loading of photos from live camera or your own files.  I would love to be able to load stuff from Flickr or websites like Trove.  It would also be good to have interactive links as I found one example of a photo on HistoryPin with an incorrect caption that has been corrected on the main website.

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