Friday, January 30, 2009

Heritage Properties Online

In my public history class, we recently discussed heritage legislation in Canada. A portion of our discussion focused on the ineffectiveness of this legislation, and the extent to which the preservation of heritage properties often depended on how active a municipal community was. We also came to the conclusion that more often then not heritage properties appeal to a niche market, some people simply don't like old houses, while some love them.

Being a history student kind of implies a love or at the least an appreciation for heritage and old buildings. So, after class I explored some municipal websites to see what information was available online about already designated heritage properties. Surprisingly enough not all city or municipality websites actually featured a list of the buildings and properties which had been designated.

However, the city of London, has gone beyond a simple list of properties. The city site includes an interactive map that lets users explore priority rankings of heritage sites, the year they were built, the architectural features of the buildings, and the addressed of all the heritage properties and communities in London. The city of Toronto website does have a Inventory of Heritage Properties. This inventory is searchable by street name, and shows information about the age of each property and the reason it was designated a heritage property. The city of Barrie heritage website does not feature any form of list or database of the city's heritage properties. However, Heritage Barrie has designed a number of walking tours based on the heritage properties in Barrie, the brochures and maps of these walking tours are available online. The walking tour guides are local history rooted and essentially tell the story of the early development of Barrie.

I personally like the idea of the walking tour guide as it provides a non academic way to present heritage information, includes more information than a mere list, and has the potential to interest a wider audience. The fact that some cities have made a list of heritage properties available shows a commitment to informing the public and to heritage itself.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Future of Post-its

Despite the increasing number of digital ways to record information, post-its are still flourishing. Recently, the CBC featured an story on the reasons why the post-it note is still a popular method of not keeping. One of the main reasons post-it notes seem to be everlasting is the convenience, accessibility, and simplicity of them. This desire for an easy, quick, and manageable technology to jot thoughts and simple notes on is nothing new. As a history student, I have often used a pile of post-its while reading and going research, to remind me to look at specific things later on. The Zotero research application does allow highlighting while researching online, which is preferable over writing on a post-it-notes that I will most likely lose.

Additionally, there are some digital applications which play off the idea of post-it-notes. For example, plays off the simplicity of post-its. functions as a sidebar on firefox, where users can type in a short note, which will be displayed in a post-it like manner on the side of the screen. The only problem with this set up being that you have to be using firefox for the program to function, so the speed of start-up still doesn't compare to the speed of using a post-it. Desktop Sticky Notes allows users to post notes anywhere on their monitor, includes a to-do list features, and a note archive. The colour and size of the notes can be manipulated in Desktop Sticky Notes, however the notes themselves do look a bit clunky on the screen. This clunky appearance is overcome in the Sticker Lite application, which allows users to fade notes into the background, and automatically dates every note. Despite all these digital post-it-note applications I'm not entirely convinced that these applications are as convenient as the traditional post-it-note, as no matter which way you look at it you have to be using some form of technology, and can't merely reach for sticky piece of paper.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Photoshop on a budget.

Photoshop has long been used my museum and public history professionals. It is often used to touch up digitized photos, to adjust for glare, colour changes, etc. It is also used to alter images which are to be used online, to make them more visually appealing. However, one of the major problems with photoshop is the price. The newest version of Adobe Photoshop can run upwards of $700, making it a huge investment for museums will small operating budgets.

Recently I stumbled upon some open source, web-based alternatives to the Adobe Photoshop. Pixlr is an online photo editor. Not all of photoshop's features have been recreated, however Pixlr is simple to use, allows for photo manipulation, colour adjustment, layering, and most importantly it is free. Additionally, the Pixlr site actually encourages users to incorporate Pixlr into their own site or service. Picnik is an online photo editing service similar to Pixlar. One of the advantages of Picnik is that it is compatible with flickr, photobucket, picasa, websots, facebook and myspace. This compatibility means if photos are already stored online users do not have to upload everything again. One of the downsides of Picnick is that though the free version does have a number of editing features some of the more advanced features are only available through subscription. FotoFlexer is also compatible with a variety of online photo storage sites. I found the FotoFlexer site a easier to navigate than the Picknick site, as nothing is restricted to non paying users. FotoFlexer houses pretty much all the essential photo manipulation tools and some neat advanced options such as animation and curve manipulation.

These are just a few of the options available for those looking for an open source alternative to photoshop. The majority of online photo editors don't require you to download anything, are user friendly, and work in a variety of browsers, making them ideal for those who need a photo editor but may not be able to afford one.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inauguration in a Digital Age

inauguration has being called the first true Internet inauguration by some. The amount of digital media surrounding yesterday's inauguration is simply staggering. According to the Globe and Mail, during Obama's speech 12 million people were accessing news content a second, Obama's facebook and myspace fan pages drew record numbers, more than 40,000 photos on flickr were tagged with inauguration, and twitter use spiked.

All of these social networking sites allowed for people to be constantly updated on the inauguration, even if they were not able to access a television. Additionally, these sites allowed the average person to comment and reflect on the event. These comments are just as valuable as the speech itself, as it reflects the public opinion of Obama, and public opinion is something historians have been trying to find a reliable way to gauge for decades.

In addition to social networking sites, the Obama youtube channel has become the test channel for a new google feature. The new feature allowed users to actually download content onto their computers. This has never been done on youtube before, primarily due to copyright issues I suspect, so it is unclear if this is a one time thing or a beginning of a new dimension of youtube.

More digital representations of the inauguration can be seen in artistic representations of Obama that people have posted online. The CBC site put together a photo gallery of Obama inspired art, The Obama Art Report features a wide collection of digital art and photographs of physical creations, The Art of Obama features a similar variety of artwork and also includes pictures of the inauguration itself and Obama memorabilia, and google search on Obama art gets 53,000,000 hits.

There is a mass amount of digital material available for anyone even remotely interested in the recent inauguration, its just a matter of sifting through the staggering amount of user photos, reflections, interpretations and memories.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Is three really a crowd?

For our digital history class this week we are discussing mashups and collective intelligence. The article by Jeff Howe focused on a variety of industries which have moved to outsourcing their work to the general public, aka 'crowdsourcing.' Howe mentions iStockphoto which features amateur photography for cheap, ifilm which is no longer in existence, but was fairly similar to youtube and included an archive of viral videos, and InnoCentive which outsources research and development to 'average' people.

In addition to the companies using crowdsourcing mentioned in Howe's work, there are numerous other industries and companies which are based on this technique. One of the most common ones is reCAPTCHA. You know every time a site asks to type in something to prove you aren't a bot? That is reCAPTCHA, and your entry is used to help digitize information. Similarly, wikipedia is sometimes called a crowdsourcing project as it relies primarily on the information of the general public.

A couple of more interesting uses of crowdsourcing include Galaxy Zoo and Zeros 2 Heroes. Galaxy Zoo is an attempt to classify various types of galaxies, and is based primarily in the work of volunteers who interact with the project through the web. Zeros 2 Heroes is a Canadian site that features comic books and graphic novels by aspiring artists, in the hope that these works will eventually be picked up by mainstream media. The site also includes a community section which holds blogs, message boards, and allows for users to use open source tools for users to create their comics in.

The idea behind all these sites is very similar to the open source concept we have been discussing since September. They have the ability to make information more accessible, affordable, and provide exposure to amateur artists or work for 'average' people. The accessibility and affordability is something which we keep on coming back to, and is one of the main advantages of using digital technologies.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The medium makes the history

As part of our public history class we will all be conducting an oral history later in the semester. In preparation for our oral history interviews we recently had a class in which we discussed the benefits, practices and pit falls of doing oral history. The impact of actually hearing an oral history vs. reading the transcript of an oral history was mentioned, and for the large part we decided the keeping an oral history in its audio form allowed for a wider range of emotion and information to be evident.

After class I began wondering about the availability of oral histories online. In class someone mentioned the oral interviews of firefighters from 9-11 being avaliable online. I highly recommend that if you are looking to remember those lost that you listen to some of these oral histories, as they are very emotional and expressive.

Similarly, The Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive is particularly moving, and includes oral histories from over 130 Holocaust survivors from a variety of locations. The majority of these interviews have both audio and transcripts avaliable online and are down according to contents, so it is possible to listen or read only particular segments. The site, like the firefighter interviews, provides a good example of the impact a medium can have upon the history. The transcripts of the of the Holocaust survivors are broken into questions, and do not resemble the actual conversation and story that is going on in these interviews. By changing the interviews into a written source the interviews lose some of their impact, but conversely the information is much easier to handle and it is easy to search of specific information.

I also came across the Rutgers Oral History Archives of WWII, Korea, Vietnam and the Cold War. These archives feature 470 interviews and provide the personal military details of those being interviewed as well as interview transcripts. the archives are also searchable based on military awards, military branch, college class, and alphabetically. The only downside being that none of these histories are in audio format. The interviews are still valuable as they provide an intimate look into various wars, however the lack of audio makes the interviews seem less emotional than those of the Holocaust survivors or firefighters.

The Oral History Museum site is also worth noting. The Oral History Museum was established in connection with the Multicultural History Society of Ontario, and contains over 9,000 hours of recorded oral history. The disappointing part being that none of this extensive collection is avaliable online, and the site makes no mention of digitizing these interviews and making them accessible online.