Adina's Website Comparison Paper Here

Adina Langer
March 1, 2008

New York City Places: a Website Comparison Report

Public historians have long been the champions of place consciousness in the lives of communities and individuals. Place has been used as a lens to consider broader topics in identity formation, social structure and memory. In this website comparison project I consider the role that public history can and should play in facilitating, preserving and challenging people's personal and communal conceptions of “place.” At the same time, I take a critical look at the reach of these sites, as compared to other education and entertainment-oriented sites on the world wide web.

Website Comparison

For this project, I am comparing the following three websites (Descriptive text here is drawn from the respective websites):

1) Citysearch New York

“Citysearch is a leading online lifestyle guide with the most up-to-date information on businesses, from restaurants and spas, to hotels and retail. Citysearch helps people make informed decisions about where to spend their time and money by delivering trusted content, local expertise, and useful tools — including 14.5 million business listings, over 600,000 user reviews, and ratings on over 2 million business locations nationwide.
In March 2007, Citysearch expanded its coverage of local businesses by acquiring Insider Pages. With over 600,000 customer reviews from members across the U.S. and over two and half million people, InsiderPages.com was created to help people find the best local businesses through recommendations from their friends and neighbors.”
http://newyork.citysearch.com/

2) Place Matters

“Place Matters developed from the work of a committee on historical and cultural landmarks, spearheaded by Ned Kaufman, former Associate Director of Issues at the Municipal Art Society. City Lore and many other NYC organizations contributed to the committee and the report it issued in 1996. The report led to a successful conference called History Happened Here, organized in 1997 at the Museum of the City of New York by City Lore and the Municipal Art Society. We learned from the conference that many people shared our concerns about the places of value disappearing around us. Since few strategies existed for promoting or protecting such places, our two organizations decided it was time to mount an initiative dedicated to such aims.
The Place Matters mission is to foster the conservation of New York City's historically and culturally significant places. These are places that hold memories and anchor traditions for individuals and communities, and that help tell the history of the city as a whole. We are convinced that such places promote the well being of New York's many communities in ways that too often go unrecognized.”

http://www.placematters.net/flash/home.htm

3) Place in History

“Place in History, a nonprofit organization founded in 1997, examines urban development and redevelopment through community-based public art and public history projects.
Through neighborhood-based workshops, public installations, educational programs and publications, Place in History uses history as a foundation to build communication among diverse local constituencies, particularly those excluded from decision-making processes.
In the process, our projects raise questions about important contemporary urban issues such as neighborhood redevelopment, community identity, and local culture.”

http://www.placeinhistory.org/AboutUs.htm

4)Useful Searches
1.World Trade Center
2.Bowery

Site Goals

1)Citysearch New York

1.Citysearch is not a self-styled public history website but I thought it would be useful to include in this comparison because it endeavors to provide a public service as a guide to important places within the city. Difficult to tell from site exactly when Citysearch was founded, but “key facts” page says “for over 10 years.”

1.Can Citysearch be used as a primary source for public historians interested in people's relationships with places?

2.Or is an unvarnished perspective into people's place relationships impossible because of the site's layers of commercialism, sometimes difficult to tell apart from its user-recommended content?

3.Can public history organizations learn from the accessibility and service-oriented techniques of commercial sites like Citysearch?

2.Citysearch is a commercial website that draws authority from user-generated content in the form of standardized reviews. It also acts as a clearinghouse of data, linking users to content provided by countless places within the city ranging from restaurants to parks to tattoo parlors

3.Citysearch's goal is to make money, but it can only do so if it is considered a trusted source by its users.

4.Citysearch is only interested in contemporary information, so it might only be useful to public historians if they actively archive it using a resource such as “Archive-It.” http://www.archive-it.org/

2)Place Matters

1.Place Matters was founded in 1998 to “foster the conservation of New York's culturally and historically significant places.

2.It takes both a top-down and bottom-up approach, providing content created by consortiums of historians, geographers and culturally-oriented web designers, and inviting nominations from the public for the “Census of Places that Matter.”

1.Nominated places are subsequently further tagged and researched by Place Matters staff

3.Site has both an educational and community-building mission focused on interpreting sites in the present, but it also has a preservation and conservation mission for maintaining the history of sites that were significant in the past and may no longer exist.

4.The Place Matters website is a key component in its mission with interactive content updated frequently.

1.Projects done in “real time” or “real place” also have a web presence

2.For this reason, Place Matters is dedicated to the highest quality web technology and accessibility.

3)Place in History

1.Site is a homepage for a non-profit focused on neighborhood-based initiatives

1.Place in History seems more dedicated to creating neighborhood-based workshops, public installations, educational programs and publications than web-inter-actives

2.Website content is more illustrative of programs done off-line than an end in and of itself

3.Small clearinghouse for links to related projects

4.Mostly just a “home on the web” for the organization— offering contact information and project descriptions

Range of Materials Offered

1)Citysearch.com

1.Database of businesses, organizations and significant landmarks tagged and categorized by a staff of editors

1.Address, contact information and sometimes small image focus of each result page.

2.Links to official websites, menus when appropriate, maps and tools for printing, emailing or sending to a mobile telephone or PDA.

3.User reviews on a standardized star system tagged with user name, date, pros and cons.

4.Searching and browsing tools, summary of recent searches, related results and “what's nearby.”

5.Surveys and “best of” editorial tools.

6.Sponsored links and sponsored results, margin advertisements.

2)Place Matters

1.Census of Places that Matter

1.Nominated places tagged by Census subjects including “Associations,” “Favorite Searches,” “Groups,” “Notable Individuals,” “Physical Types,” “Preservation and Planning,” and “Uses.”

2.Each place can have multiple nominators who provide their own descriptions.

3.Place for multiple images.

4.Place pages also all have a spot for a Place Matters staff write-up or “official” history.

2.Web “Tours”

1.Range from more traditional text-and-image scrollable/advance-able articles to more complex, impressive Bowery tour

1.Bowery Tour uses a map as substrate to link to descriptions, images and sometimes audio and video content

3.Descriptions of other “real-space” initiatives including Lower East Side Place Markers Project and local programs and presentations

3)Place in History

1.Description of various projects ranging from the “Bowery Hall of Fame” to “Gowanus 2025” to various publications

2.Site offers contact information for various project directors

3.Listing of favorite links including place-based projects in Detroit, Ars Subterranea in NY and “Dark Passages” a hybrid performance-art, gathering, place-based movement.

Creators and Audience

1)Citysearch

1.Online corporation owned by IAC (InterActiveCorp).

1.Most content produced by editorial staff

2.Uses user-generated content in the form of reviews

2.Audience: tourists and local residents

2)Place Matters

1.Created by historians and consortium of cultural organizations

2.Funded by NEH, organizations and private funders

3.Audience= scholars, museum-goers, NPR-listeners, perhaps others but would require outreach

3)Place in History

1.Created by public historians and educators

2.Community-members, previously disenfranchised from decision-making process

3.Site audience= scholars, funders

How Documents are Treated

1.City Search

1.Only documents to speak of are menus, photographs and other organizations' websites

2.Menus have date and copyright, but are not guaranteed to be absolutely current

3.Photos do not have obvious credits

4.Not really a document-based site

2.Place Matters

1.What documents exist are very well-credited

2.Not a document-based site, but Census of Places that Matters carefully credits everything including images.

3.Place in History

1.Documents mostly include images.

1)When able to view larger, no credit or documentation at all

2)Inconsistent links

Rating the Sites

Before offering ratings for the sites, I used del.icio.us (http://del.icio.us/greenthought/publichistory) to compare their popularity. Admittedly, del.icio.us does not offer a representative set of internet users, but it can give at least a cursory understanding of differences in site popularity. Citysearch New York's guide site is saved by 520 del.icio.us users while Place Matters is saved by 39 and Place in History is saved by only 3. These are all small numbers by internet standards, but the public history sites are small compared even to the small. So in a world of relative obscurity, are they still providing a useful service rendering their web presences worthwhile? My answer, of course, is yes, but I believe that in general this presents a challenge to these public history organizations to get the word out about their websites to help justify the resources alloted to their development.
Place Matters sets a high standard for contemporary public history sites. Compared to Place in History, it has a much clearer vision for using the web as a resource. It does not, however, have as clear a mission-driven connection to the local community. I did not notice resources for teachers or programs in local schools. Place in History seems to do a fair amount in the community, but they aren't as good at putting up the results of their actions on the web.
Citysearch is not a public history site, so it cannot be compared systematically with Place Matters and Place in History. It does serve as a necessary counterpoint in evaluating the general role of sites like Place Matters and Place in History. These place-oriented public history sites serve a purpose that goes above and beyond the kind of service offered by Citysearch. They actively track change over time, actively engage a wide community and actively pursue place meaning beyond commercial value. They also show a broader commitment to valuing history and diversity in the city. (See Place Matters food tour— does this walk a fine line between analysis and endorsement?)
I think it is always a useful exercise to consider the role to be played by public history organizations and their websites. The best way to compare them is by contrasting them with commercial endeavors funded by advertising. For one thing, sites that do not engage in advertising or sponsored links hold greater educational and cultural authority. They also show a deeper commitment to assessing meaning beyond trends. The analysis they offer is rich.
While sites like Citysearch could play an important role as primary sources if tracked properly, they cannot play the analytical or stewardship-oriented role that good Public History organizations can play.

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