Brooklyn Revealed
March 6, 2009 7:29 AM   Subscribe

Apart from the wonky Flash interface for the pictures, this is great-- I love urban history.
posted by dunkadunc at 7:44 AM on March 6, 2009

Thanks for the link! Kind of a shame about the interface design, though. Flash means nothing is searchable, and there seems to be a little bit of bugginess in the layers.

The NYPL Digital Gallery is also a great resource, eg The Nooney Brooklyn Photographs.

Also, Bugs Bunny. ("Must go back to the woods -- to the forest primeval: to Flatbush.")
posted by milquetoast at 7:45 AM on March 6, 2009

This site has good content, but I really don't have the patience for the interface. Done as a straightforward photogallery, I'd definitely spend some time with it.
posted by Afroblanco at 7:56 AM on March 6, 2009

Kind of a shame about the interface design, though.

My favorite part is the "download flash" button... inside the flash movie.
posted by 0x029a at 8:07 AM on March 6, 2009

That feedback on the interface is important stuff for people presenting digital history. I'm interested in hearing more and understanding what's annoying about it.

Is it always a bad idea to use a Flash interface? When does it work best? What formats do you like better for accessing historical images like photos and maps? Does everybody hate it, or are there some people who enjoy the interface?
posted by Miko at 9:15 AM on March 6, 2009

This is so incredibly cool. Thanks!
posted by tiger yang at 9:30 AM on March 6, 2009

I hate Flash interface, always! If I want to see images, I'd rather just have a list of thumbnails with verbal descriptions appended, that I can click on to see the full-sized jpg. The Flash confines the experience without adding any functionality. It makes the site a little prettier, but the prettiness of the photos is what I'm interested in seeing, not the site itself.
posted by Greg Nog at 9:36 AM on March 6, 2009

...and I just tried using their Flash-based feedback form to essentially say what I did above, and it crashed my browser. Ugh.
posted by Greg Nog at 9:41 AM on March 6, 2009

Also, what's it... what's it called where I can't link to anything? Are you guys talking about that? I found a picture of a building down the street from my house and I wanted to email it to my roommate, but I can't. Otherwise, this is really lovely.

Hi, I am on Metafilter and I am quasi computer-illiterate. I just learned how to insert the html <> thingies myself a couple days ago.
posted by zoomorphic at 9:47 AM on March 6, 2009

With a few exceptions, using Flash as a container for content really doesn't do much other than get oohs and aahs for the first thirty seconds, followed by frustration for people trying to actually use the website.
posted by dunkadunc at 9:50 AM on March 6, 2009

zoomorphic, that's a really great point in an age where museums and historical societies are increasingly adopting the goal of making their content usable for people in ways that fit their lives. Not being able to say "hey look at this!" to your friend creates a dead-end communication that ends with you.
posted by Miko at 10:12 AM on March 6, 2009

Exactly. In a case like this, Flash is a solution to a problem that nobody had.

A cardinal rule for WWW interface design is (or at least ought to be): do not obscure information. This is doubly important in a scholarly or archival context, wherein information wants to be explored and referenced in simple, non-symbolic means. HTML is great for this.

I don't want to learn a host of awkward new metaphors or signifiers just to look at some pictures. I don't really want to enter into a relationship with a library interface. It should be a means to the experience, not the experience itself.

Flash is great for certain things, but must be used thoughtfully when employed as a pure content container, as dunkaduc suggests. All of the natural web browser functions -- text searching, bookmarking, stepped navigation -- are essentially turned off in a Flash environment and must be either re-engaged or accounted for in other ways.

Ultimately, the question is: how does this non-standard layered navigation, which excludes disabled users, breaks basic browser functionality, and constrains content to tiny, unlinkable blocks, enhance the overall experience? If it significantly improves my understanding of the subject matter by weaving various material threads together into a tapestry of visual revelation, I reckon I'm willing to forgive a few technical flaws. But that's a rare use of Flash these days.

Just my two cents.
posted by milquetoast at 10:19 AM on March 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

Miko : I try not to be overcritical, but since you asked...

I generally just kinda hate flash interfaces. They just don't add anything to the site. I mean, it's all cutesy and fancy and has all kinds of bells and whistles, but that doesn't do anything for me at all. To me, an interface like that means a number of things :

1) I have to get used to a new type of interface. If it was just done in the style of a normal website, with menus, descriptive paragraphs, captioned pictures, and hyperlinks, I wouldn't need to "think" about the interface at all.

2) It requires a whole bunch of unnecessary clicking. If the photos were arranged in a normal gallery format or a blog-type scrollable page (like today's Chernobyl post) I could just scroll through and enjoy the site. Instead, I gotta shuffle around these pictures, double click on them, etc. What a pain!

3) The site organization is non-obvious to someone who didn't create the site. Once again, I have to "figure things out," which is a lot to ask of someone whose just casually browsing or trying to kill a few minutes at work.

4) What a waste of development time! I can imagine all the work that must have gone into having "pictures" that you could move around the screen and click on. And it was all so completely unnecessary. It actually obscures the information.

Anyway, I accept the possibility that this site wasn't aimed for me. Perhaps children would prefer a site with lots of animated crap that you can pick up and move. Overzealous graphics designers LOVE stuff like this, and I pretty much blame them for the continued proliferation of this kind of interface. Bands and movies also love overdone flash sites, which is one reason why I never visit those sites.

Heh. I guess that's one thing Myspace actually succeeds at -- forcing bands to give us a way to access their music that doesn't involve using the stupid flash site that their stoner cousin cooked up.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:26 AM on March 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Not only to be a contrarian, but I like the interface OK. I prefer something like that (though I admit it's not the most elegant solution) to reloading multiple Web pages.

Cool site.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:40 AM on March 6, 2009

Terrific site. Thanks Miko!
posted by brain_drain at 12:34 PM on March 6, 2009

Dorkily proud that I live in the original Brooklyn.
posted by Shebear at 12:41 PM on March 6, 2009

Terrific pictures, slightly more than irritating site, but only slightly.

At the end I kind of felt like saying, to the designer, OK, you got chops, now get out of the way of the content... 'Cause the content is sweet.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:57 PM on March 6, 2009

I bet this would be a fantastic site if I could see it. I'm on my roommate's old laptop while mine computer's in the shop. I came to the comment thread to make sure the site wasn't down.
posted by Hactar at 8:03 PM on March 6, 2009

Shebear, I think you'll find that the original Brooklyn is somewhere else.

As a citizen of Utrecht I clicked through on the "New Utrecht" link. Some googling followed and I found the fascinating story of Anthony Jansen van Salee that involves barbary corsairs, the sack of Reykjavik and Baltimore Ireland, slaves, conversion to Islam, capture by the Maltese Knights, escape, etc. etc. and finally New Utrecht.
posted by jouke at 9:13 PM on March 6, 2009


Okay, this is kind of creepy; I've just begun writing for the web site, and two of my recent posts cover this exact "how did these streets get their names" kind of information. (I elaborate a little, though...)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:40 PM on March 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Thanks everyone for the comments. I an a traditionally trained historian who has recently taken the plunge into digital history and you guys put your finger on what is wrong with a lot of these "innovative" online presentations. They define your experience for you and do not allow you to interact with the content on its own terms.
posted by LarryC at 9:50 PM on March 6, 2009

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