Exciting news from PC Magazine. They recently selected Footnote.com as the Editors’ Choice and featured as the Site of the Week. Footnote.com received an impressive rating of 4.5 out of 5 and was complimented by a great review by Lisa Ruefenacht. You can read her article below.
When I was a kid, the last thing I wanted to do was go on vacation. We were a car-trip family, and my parents, both history buffs, threatened to stop at every historical marker, every museum, every small town with even a remote claim to fame. History was for old people, I thought, but more important, seeing these things simply wasn’t worth the time and effort. Times have changed, thanks to Footnote.com, which instantly brings history to your fingertips. It offers a great interface, a healthy dose of Web 2.0 technology, and a vast array of documents previously available only to those willing to sit at a microfilm reader.
Footnote.com’s motto says it all: “History for the People—Discover. Discuss. Connect. Share.” Its mission is to build an online community around history, using an amalgamation of the United States National Archives and social networking to foster contact between users who can download documents from the site and upload their own scanned content. The bare-bones idea is an innately good one, but what really makes it pop is the site’s partnership with the National Archives, which has allowed Footnote to digitize its entire collection—about 9 billion documents, many of which have previously been released only on microfilm. The site has set an ambitious goal of uploading 2 million new Archive documents per month; though it’s less than a year old, it already boasts 15 million documents.
That 15 million is a huge number, and I expected to find some great things tucked back in the corners of the site. I wasn’t let down, either. Some of my most interesting discoveries were advertisements for slaves (the idea continually baffles me), naturalization records for men who immigrated to Ellis Island on the same ship my great-grandpa Ruefenacht did, and handwritten notes from the Constitutional Convention. On the more entertaining side, you can peruse the many pages belonging to Project Bluebook, the government’s once-confidential UFO files—complete with enough redactions to keep even the most devoted conspiracy theorists intrigued for months.
INTERFACING WITH HISTORY
Granted, Footnote has an excellent vision backing it, but that wouldn’t matter if the interface couldn’t keep up. Luckily, the site features some of the best, most effective Flash I’ve seen. Whereas some photocentric sites have excruciatingly long load times, Footnote is remarkably quick, though larger scans still take a moment or two longer to resolve on-screen. On any document—all of which derive from scans of original documents—you have the option to rotate, spotlight, annotate, zoom, download, or print. I found these tools straightforward and comprehensible for users of all skill levels.
Spotlighting involves marking the document for Footnote’s Spotlight page, which highlights various documents that users think are especially interesting. Annotation involves marking a specific person, date, place, or text within a document, which automatically enters it into Footnote’s searchable database of terms. I found the annotations especially helpful because they let users input information on any document. It’s like Wikipedia in this sense; people are all free to contribute to each document’s information.
Footnote’s philosophy is that everyone has a “shoebox” full of miscellaneous items that will have value to someone. In keeping with this idea, a portion of the site’s material comes from everyday users. Some people have chosen to upload pages from their high-school yearbooks. Others have uploaded photos from World War II or even love letters written during the war. Imagine if you’d have been able to add this sort of stuff to that history term paper you wrote in high school, instead of just pulling dry-as-dust facts from an encyclopedia or two? Items are uploaded either through story pages, which include basic information about particular documents, or through a basic image uploader. You can find them both through your profile page, which catalogs your activity on the site.
Footnote has helpful features sprinkled throughout the site, but one of my favorites is the status bars by each group of documents. The tiny bar charts use percentage to indicate how complete each collection is. Many collections are at 100 percent, so that’s often a non-issue, but it’s definitely helpful for people who are searching for something specific that may not yet have been uploaded.
Scanning quality, for the most part, is excellent. The National Archives documents uploaded by Footnote are of first-rate quality, and no matter what magnification you zoom in to, the result is always clear and easy to read. But a few documents I really wanted to read, mostly ones scanned in by other users, were scanned at too low a resolution to look decent at any degree of zoom. Footnote currently doesn’t have any quality control; including some upload guidelines would be a good move.
Some features on Footnote are free, but you must pay a fee for downloading privileges. For $7.95 monthly or $59.95 annually, you get unlimited access to the site’s amenities; a free membership, naturally, gives you less. There’s enough free content for the site to be worthwhile, but if you spend much time there, you’ll soon find yourself wanting to upgrade.
The thing I love most about Footnote is the immediacy it gives to history. If I’d had a Web site like Footnote when I was a kid, I think I’d have a significantly better grasp of my country’s history. Seeing actual original documents like this is something no textbook can parallel. This is the sort of stuff that turns people into historians. Even though Footnote is still years away from its peak, information-wise, it’s already an invaluable site for researchers, genealogists, academics, or even the general Internet surfer with even a little curiosity about the past.
Link to original article: Site of the Week: Footnote.com