Monday, September 15, 2014

I am insulted by the Historypin software

As I am updating my own site I am posting pictures on the "Hertfordshire on the Map" project, deliberately choosing examples which demonstrate the varied needs of any serious historian working in a county whose history goes back to Roman times and earlier. I had already run into difficulties because the software required every picture to be dated and I had discovered that the earliest date acceptable appeared to be 1840. This meant that to post an early engraving or map meant I was forced to lie about the date - and I have already sent a letter querying this clearly unacceptable aspect of the "Hertfordshire on the Map" project. Interestingly the selection slider on at least some of the  pictures that I have examined goes down to 1750 but there appeared to be no way of entering a date before 1840.

I decided to add a cartoon picture post card from 1908, by an unidentified St Albans artist, signing himself Karaktus, associating it with the house/shop at 23 Catherine Street, St Albans, which was also used by a photographer who took pictures of troops in the area during the First World War. I entered the picture and then the address - to be presented with my picture pinned on a strange map - which happened to be in the United States. OK - once spotted that was easy to correct but surely if you are working on a project for Hertfordshire the software should AUTOMATICALLY assume all locations are in or close to Hertfordshire.

I then had to select a date - and much to my surprise I noted that the list of dates offered now went down to 1750. I assumed that someone had spotted that I was trying to enter pictures before 1840 and removed the at least part of the idiotic restriction. In my surprise at finding this "extension" I accidentally selected 1808 rather that 1908 and received the message:

If you have a few pics from prior to 1840 please get in contact, otherwise stop messing with our form!

OK I had made a mistake this time but when I was trying to post a map of 1808 a few days ago I wasn't even given the option - or the dubious benefit of an error message -and had to lie that it's date was 1840. However I got the message, let me make it quite clear that the above error message is completely unacceptable for the following reasons..

  1. I did what the software allowed me to do and then get an error message with no explanation as to why there was a {totally unacceptable}restriction on the date history began.
  2. It says I should "Get in contact" but it is far from obvious who I should get in contact with and there is no obvious "ask for help" button.
  3. It implies that I might have been "messing around with our form" - which I find insulting. No error message should ever insult the "customer" (however silly or provocative the customer may have been). 
I will say no more at this stage, but will be writing a review of the suitability of the software, and will take into account any comments posted below in reply to this posting - and any response I get to an earlier private email.

1 comment:

  1. I queried the value of HistoryPin (HP) in an earlier comment on this blog as much of its work seemed to duplicate Herts Memories (which I think is an informative and interesting website).

    I found the pages of HP difficult to follow (except that the denarius finally dropped that this was NOT solely a Herts project but countrywide). Expressions on the pages like the site was 'For freeee' (sic) are odd and seem to indicate a certain dumbing-down.

    Undeterred, I responded to their call for input with this e-mail: 'I am web master of a site dedicated to the local history of Preston, near Hitchin: I would like my web site to be linked to the Hub, please and would like to know how the Hub can help my site and how I can get involved in the Hub.'

    This was sent on 7 September and I am still awaiting a reply (as at 15th September).

    Chris, I don't know whether the message you received was from a person, or computer generated but I would say, whatever its source, it too is odd. I've always thought 'When in doubt, leave it out' was a good axiom and while there is a place for lightness and humour in local history, clarity of instructions and helpful encouragement are more important.


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