Are smartphones leveling the historical conservation process?

Heritage initiatives around the world are quickly benefitting from the past decade’s advancements in information and communicational technologies. Of particular mention is the now ubiquitous smartphone, which serves a principal role as a key infrastructural leveler in providing convenient access to web-based services.

For heritage institutions this is an unprecedented opportunity to democratize access to the professionalized work previously carried out by historians, anthropologists and curators, and tap on the collective wisdom. Using augmented reality and crowdsourcing, it is now possible to reconstruct entire events or even track the development of an entire city. By logical extension, such tools also have the potential to shape and reorientate our perception and understanding of history and culture.

A review of some existing apps

Recently Aaron Tay, a senior librarian at the National University of Singapore Libraries had decided to give it a series of such heritage apps a test drive, and he has included our app in his little survey of available options. If you have been reading his blog, you’ll know that Aaron is no stranger to projects like the Singapore Memory Project, having been writing extensively about digital preservation and library technologies around the world. In his latest post, he has given an honest review of our app alongside HistorypinFacebook milestones and Dipity. We are fans of Aaron’s perceptive blog posts and are deeply honoured to have him compare us with projects which we admire ourselves.

I’ll like to add some more apps to the list that Aaron has considered and to sketch out my preliminary thoughts on the app development landscape.

Historypin
Aaron has already discussed Historypin in detail, so I won’t spend too much time exploring the advantages afforded by Historypin. It’s biggest selling point is perhaps the seamless integration with Google Maps that allows for the effortless pinning (hence its name) of audiovisual objects onto time and space, making it possible to “plant” virtual time capsules. It also has an elegant mobile app that allows users to pin objects in situ, with a camera view that layers nearby objects via augmented reality. We had fun exploring the app in the design phases of building our own, and I believe Historypin has many things done right that we could pick a leaf from.

 

1000memories
A lesser known application within the library circles is the up and coming 1000memories. Instead of centering its branding on heritage, which Historypin is firmly positioned in, 1000memories’ key product offer is an iOS based photo scanner named Shoebox, which allows users to convert analogue photographs into a digital format. The photos are then transmitted and housed on 1000memories in personal photo “shoeboxes”. Users can curate and arrange their personal “shoeboxes” according to various themes and life events. While it is primarily a photo scanner and perhaps only incidentally an effort in heritage preservation, the ability to allow users to curate deeply meaningful albums with their old photos restored is very compelling to us.

StoryCorps
Our last app in this mini roundup hails from StoryCorps, a US-based non-profit group premised on the collection of human stories for eventual preservation at the American Folklife Center and the Library of Congress. StoryCorps has developed a simple but effective recording app which comes equipped with preset guides and suggested questions for conducting interviews. While it does not have the bells and whistles of augmented reality layering and geolocation pinning, it fulfills the important function of allowing the recording of oral histories to be captured in a consistent and dignified manner.

 

Conclusion

As you can tell, there are plenty of options out there for everyone to start documenting and preserving their life histories in a variety of interesting ways. From simply digitizing old photographs, to conducting oral interviews of your grandparents, or even recreating an event from geotagged photographs, app development on mobile platforms is the new frontier for initiatives looking to bring the conservation process to the masses, starting with their own life histories.

So what are you waiting for? Go on and give all of these apps a shot, and tell us how our Singapore Memory mobile app squares up against these big boys.

If you have any suggestions on how we can make it a better app, please write to us at iremembersg@nlb.gov.sg  🙂

Your resident do-gooder

Yeong Chong
Editor, irememberSG
Singapore Memory Project

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