INTERVIEW by TIMOTHY BROWNE |BR!NK PHOTOGRAPHY by ZACK DeZON
Nick Stanhope is the CEO of We Are What We Do, a London-based nonprofit organization that creates ways for millions of people to use their everyday behaviors for good. In doing so, they’ve created all manner of innovative web applications, from Internet Buttons, which simplify internet usage to the push of a button, to their newest endeavor, Historypin.com, which finished up its beta run and launched as a multi-platform site on July 11th. We caught up with Nick right before launch.
For our readers, what is Historypin?
Historypin is a website and smartphone app that allows people to see and share historical content in new ways. Users can “pin” images, videos, and audio recordings to Google Maps at a particular date, as well as location. Street-level images can be layered onto modern Street View scenes to create amazing then-and-now comparisons, and all content can be gathered into Collections or pieced together into Tours. Recollections can then be added to this content to help tell its story. Historypin has been created to help people come together around this content, from across different generations and cultures.
I’m visiting my parents this weekend and showed my mother a Historypin map, and sure enough, there was a location pinned two miles away from her home and it ended up being a restaurant that she and her family frequented forty years ago. In a lot of ways, Historypin is about hyperlinking generations.
That couldn’t describe better what we do. In developing Historypin, my relationship with my gran was very important. By spending time together with old photographs and home movies and sharing stories, we were able to understand each other’s lives far better and became much closer. Seeing the power of this content and stories to bring people together, and seeing the results of what those stories bring about… telling history in a way that’s about the collective, about millions of people coming together to share their stories… We have to ask our neighbors, our parents, and our grandparents about their histories, or else they’ll be lost.
What has the response been to Historypin? Have beta users utilized the site in ways that have surprised you?
We’ve beta tested for a year. Testing and tweaking, developing a core audience. When Monday comes, that’s when we launch the whole shebang: the mobile app. We’ve really been taken aback by the response. We have over 100 archive partners and over 20,000 independent users. On Monday, when we start telling the world about it, we’re really excited about what can happen.
How does Historypin fit into We Are What We Do’s mission?
We Are What We do is about putting things in the world that play a positive role. We create physical products, digital tools, and live experiences, and we see Historypin as a perfect example of how these creations can affect people’s behavior in positive ways. It sets out to engage a massive mainstream audience with local and neighborhood participation, at a time when local networks and neighborhood associations, particularly in the U.K. and U.S., have been undermined over the last 50 years. Historypin can help boost that social capital in neighborhoods. The heart of it is looking at bringing people together, and bring in a massive audience. What we don’t do is preach at people, we don’t shout about the social good of volunteering or being a good citizen, but instead about creating tangible things that can play a positive role in our lives.
You mentioned “social capital.” What is that and how does it influence your work on Historypin?
Our work is hugely influenced by Robert Putnam, whose pioneering work around the role of social capital in neighborhoods has played a big role in shaping our overall approach and Historypin in particular. He and other sociologists talk about two types of social capital: “bonding” and “bridging.” We focus on the latter, which builds links and networks between people from different walks of life – heterogeneous groups. Interestingly enough, when we work in the U.S., Historypin has a particular resonance. When people meet for the first time here, they try to make a connection between their roots – where they’ve grown up, where they were born. Heritage and family roots are a profoundly important part of the American psyche.
How can Daily BR!NK readers contribute to Historypin’s success?
Obviously on one level, it’s simple: we want people to share their own history, get under their beds, into their attics, and dig out old photos and digitize them and share them, reach out to people and collect as much history as possible and get it shared. If people want to get more involved, then they can find all sorts of ways of working with us on the site.