OldNYC: Mapping historical photos from the NYPL

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This webmapping interface is really interesting.


The data is not so complex: photographs with some metadata. It’s a nice idea, to help exploring the past of places I’ve heard of or visited.

What I like about it

The interface is really sleek – modern and nice. Clearly, the developer had a good eye for design and handling a large amount of media. The website is fast enough that’s easy to navigate.

Since there are so many images, I guess it was not possible for them to look in details every image, so there are a few images I could see that were obviously wrong (missing image is obviously wrong). There is a system to report the mistakes, which is a positive way to use this interface (surprisingly, I have met many people who would not want to ‘trust the crowd’, with comments or feedback, so when I see institutions that do trust people, I appreciate it).

Why a webmap?

It’s important to ask what the map brings to the subject. Here in this case, it gives more spatial context to images of the past. Without the map, the images would be just a collection of buildings without stories. With the map, the images have the connection with each other and with the city. For whoever lives or visited Manhattan, it is easy to identify places they know and to jump to these places.

Therefore the map interface helps people relating with the collection of images, brings context, and add more fun to the spatial lovers!

What I would change

On the design side, if you zoom out the markers don’t change size, which means it’s not really possible to click on anything precisely. I also feel that it would have more potential. The navigation is made difficult by the fact that we change of page when we click on a marker. It would be much better to see the images on the sidebar (instead of the Popular Photos), so we don’t have to move back and forth.

Now, that’s static photos of the past. What about new photos? For instance with Street View (although I’ve never tried adding it to a mash-up map), or crowdsourcing more photos? Also I would love to be told stories about the buildings!

That’s probably beyond the scope of the project. At least, it delivers what it says, and shows indeed photos of the past that would otherwise be less informative to navigate without a map.

At least they have a feedback button, so it was easy to share my comments with them.