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NYPL needs your help to identify vintage NYC streetscapes

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Help the library build out its “digital time-travel service” by placing historical images on the map

The New York Public Library has a vast collection of historical images of the city, but there’s one glaring problem: Most of those images lack the context of place that make them so special. Droves of images are stored with their borough location tacked on, but a new initiative from the library wants to see everything from address or intersection to the perspective from which the image derives added to the archives—and they want the public to help.

Surveyor launched this month as a part of the library’s NYC Space/Time Directory, described by the library as “a digital time-travel service” that aims to function as a Google Maps for New York City’s past (h/t Hyperallergic). The initiative is one of several under the Space/Time Directory umbrella aiming to synthesize metadata. When the project is complete, browsing the archives could be as easy as navigating Google Maps.

At that, think of Surveyor as the project that will create the Google Street View of old New York. When a user launches Surveyor, one of 2,500 randomly selected historical images of NYC—including lithographs, photographs, and more—will pop up, Hyperallergic explains.

Surveyor in action.

From there, users can drop a pin where they think the image was captured, and orient the perceived angle at which the image was taken. That’s right, Cornerspotter buffs: this is the game for you.

Prospective Surveyor users have to visit the project website to play along, but the library aims to launch a Chrome extension that will load a historical image every time a user opens a new tab. Between 600 and 700 images have been geotagged since the project launched in July, Co.Design reports. Once a photograph’s location is identified by several users, Surveyor creator Bert Spaan will check to see if there’s a consensus, then add the information to the photo’s metadata.

“Computers can’t solve the problem,” Spaan told Co.Design. “We really need the knowledge of New Yorkers to help us.”

New York Public Library

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