Reviewed October 2016
Sarah Kirkley, Instruction Librarian
Georgia State University
OldNYC is a free app created by Orian Breaux and Christina Leuci designed for the iOS operating system. The app developers built upon the previous work of fellow developer Dan Vanderkam, who created the OldNYC website as well as the OldSF website. Breaux and Leuci both work in New York’s tech industry and became involved after Vanderkam solicited volunteers interested in creating a mobile app for the OldNYC website.
Launched in May of this year, this app displays New York City’s grid with location markers for images from the Photographic Views of New York City, 1870s-1970s Collection owned by The Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy of the New York Public Library. The OldNYC website mentions receiving assistance from the New York Public Library, but no formal partnership is evident between the NYPL and the OldNYC app’s developers.
Joining the ranks of other location-based resources such as HistoryPin and Phillyhistory.org, the OldNYC app’s representation of NYPL’s Photographic Views of New York City, 1870s-1970s Collection allows the images to be more easily accessible while traveling around the city and encourages users to participate in discovering history around them. The developers used geocoding (associating latitudes and longitudes with images) to place the photographs at specific locations on the map. By overlaying the images onto the map, users are given a unique experience in browsing and viewing the historical photographs.
When launched, the app opens to a map with many red location markers. Users can simply tap a location marker to view the associated photograph (or photographs), then tap the photograph to view metadata, such as the date and a further description of the location. Any known history of the building, location, or scene featured in the image may also be included in the description. As with many historical collections, the amount of metadata per item varies, with some having a thorough description and others not having much information at all. The images are historical, so they are of varying quality. Users are only able to manipulate the images by zooming in. Users can also enter their location, so that they can discover historical images of buildings and sites around their present locations.
OldNYC app’s user interface is clean and simple. The app allows users to scroll across the map and to select location points throughout the city’s five boroughs. It would be greatly improved by some sort of searching or narrowing feature. The ability to search for a specific address or cross streets and to narrow by borough or neighborhood would benefit users interested in particular locations. Additionally, the images span a century (1870s to 1970s) so a timeline feature could also prove useful for users to see the change that occurred at a location. Some sort of marking or saving feature, so that users could easily revisit chosen photographs or locations, could also be useful. Users are able to provide feedback within the app to help the developers in prioritizing future improvements and features.
Although the user interface and features of the OldNYC app are quite simple, the scope and amount of material made available is quite remarkable, thanks to the collecting and digitizing of historical photographs completed by the NYPL. With the possibility of added features and functionality, the app has the potential to become an even more robust and useful resource.