Matthias Müller-Prove, working paper
The Chronoscope Hamburg is a time machine to explore the historical topology and development of the city of Hamburg. It offers seven historical maps – dating from 1590 to 1937 – in a geo web application. It was necessary to align the maps to display them with high precision on top of today’s map. The web app provides controls to zoom into the details on street and canal level, and to compare the maps across centuries.
Keywords: eculture, open data, digital humanities, cartography, interaction design, user experience
The Chronoscope is one of the projects that were developed during the cultural hackathon Coding Da Vinci Nord. One of the participating institutions was the Hamburg State and University Library Carl von Ossietzky.
The first step to dive into such a project is a content audit. What's there? How many? How to access the data and meta data? Are there any obvious or faint patterns or structures?
The Hamburg Library has scanned 241 maps and made them public under Creative Commons license. Here they are sorted by year.
After spending some time browsing the data, the ideas start to pop up just by themselves.
Early prototypes became operational on October 5, 2016. They are based on google maps and eventually display four maps for the years 1694, 1803, 1867, and 1905. The maps have been geo-referenced in a manual process with a photo editing tool and several semi-transparent layers.
It is a deliberate design discission that the Chronoscope works as a personal research medium. There are neither guided tours nor info boxes that distract the user from her own personal journey through space and time. It is one of Chronoscope’s key properties to support a self-paced discovery of streets and locations that resonate with the user’s curiosity and perspectives.
Marine Lives Project is an Independent project that has transcribed more than 10.000 pages of the High Court of Admiralty in London of the 1650s. In specific, 60 residents of Hamburg have been identified by name, address and occupation. As an experimental feature, the Chronoscope shows the streets were they have lived.
The problems of the Chronoscope version 1 have been addressed by replacing google maps with mapbox GL JS. The main new features are:
Other additional features would have been possible with google maps as well:
The load times have been reduced by scaling down the maps to 4096 pixels width at maximum. This was also a constraint posed by WebGL for iOS. The use of tile servers for the maps has been evaluated; but performance and display quality are not convincing (at the moment).
>> Check the Operations Guide to learn to fly through space and time
Along the concept and development process usability and interaction design have been a major objective. Each interactive element went through several iterations, and it was evaluated if it provides sufficient value and delight to the user. The qualities are:
contextual and innovative gesture controls
According to Bill Verplank each user interface is either plan or map. A plan UI provides instructions to accomplish a certain task, while a map user interface shows the entire landscape (metaphor!) and leaves it up to the user to form a mental model and make her steps. Another example: for desktop applications, the menu structure is a map user interface that presents all possible commands – on the other hand a wizard is a plan UI because the user is guided to take the commands in a predefined order. Both flavours of UI are valid approaches for certain scenarios. But they provoke a different kind of user experience.
The Chronoscope has a map user interface – metaphor and visual design are hard to distinguish. But just imagine the historical maps combined with a story-telling approach. Then the user is entertained with historical facts and gossip; but she is less engaged to control the parameters of the time machine.
Speaking with Marshall McLuhan, the Chronoscope is a cold medium – cold like in cool jazz. The user has to complement and complete the experience with her own perspective and emotions.
Another dichotomy is lean back vs. lean forward. You lean back to watch TV, a hot medium. You lean forward to read a book, a cold medium. A cold medium is generally more immersive than a hot medium because the degree of active participation is higher.
By design the Chronoscope should be a cold medium that is engaging and offers a lean forward experience. The user constructs the story by using the time machine to see how her neighborhood has changed over time. This personal relationship between the user and the tool is the precious quality of the design.
A sketch with out a social life is not a sketch – Bill Buxton
An app with out a social life is not an app. With out users or a community it can be considered a nice prototype, at most. Therefore a hashtag chronohh was established right from the beginning to share updates on the development. In March 2017 a facebook page was launched; and since mid of April 2017 the Chronoscope is accompanied by a a mini-blog on tumblr Chrono Hamburg and it’s alter ego ChronoHH on twitter. However, the objectives and goals have to be adjusted for a successful social media strategy. While the Chonoscope itself offers a self paced exploration, the social media channels have to continuously offer fresh content. This is done by sharing and retweeting content of other eCulture or historical Hamburg sites [cf. Chrono Hamburg Archive]; and it requires an active community managements. After a month twitter has gained 100 followers, while facebook falls behind with 50 Likes after the first 2 months of being.
What the heck are reasons to participate in a hackathon; in specific in Coding Da Vinci Nord? Spending hours and days for no incentive? – stimulating the intrinsic motivation is key. Here is a subjective list: