Jon Voss, Strategic Partnerships Director, Historypin

Jon Voss is the Strategic Partnerships Director at Shift Design, mainly working on the project, Historypin. He is responsible for U.S. fundraising initiatives, and client/community development, as well as managing the U.S. based Historypin projects and community officers. He is also co-founder of the International Linked Open Data in Libraries, Archives, and Museum Summit, which gathers digital humanities experts to discuss, debate, and share their case studies, experiences, thinking, hack skills, and data management methods. He has also received an Outstanding Citizen Archivist Award from the National Archives for his promotion of citizen participation and digital solutions to providing access to historical records. His participation in this interview provided a look into the world of geotagging historical data and content to create cross-institutional collections that promote community involvement.

Voss explains a personal goal that he has engrained into each of his projects, the ability to cultivate inter-generational and inter-cultural conversations for history, which ultimately create communities around that local history. This stems from both the citizen historians and cultural activists up to cultural heritage institutions. The trick to cultivating these relationships has been looking for willing participants and then helping them to develop these cultural collections to be shared.

The largest challenge to these projects is never within the participants or the content, but rather the understanding of policy. The controversy that exists within cultural projects that Voss deals with is cultural property and copyrightable content, and giving permission to put that data into the public domain to be accessed through these projects. Historypin and his other projects have focused greatly on utilizing metadata to produce the large majority of information, as metadata is considered by most to not be copyrightable data.

How to make this data so accessible, however, is by creating a data normalization standard that institutions, individuals, groups, and communities can easily upload their data and content into a searchable structure. This is really the key to structuring these different projects, as it allows users to build their own archives the same way cultural institutions are building their archives on sites like Historypin.

The key to success with these projects is by promoting community involvement. Developing a platform for community conversation to exist, and then helping to move that conversation forward is essential for such a wide-reaching project. This creates the dichotomy of subjective and objective history that can be created from user-generated content. The objective history comes from figuring out the who, what, and where that exists with all of these cultural objects being shared, and then the subjective history follows with the why, the analysis of the cultural objects that happens when the conversations start.

Voss is dedicated to creating digital platforms to share cultural information. There exists a wealth of knowledge and content within every community and institution, but that wealth has yet to be shared in a lot of circumstances. Voss and Historypin are utilizing their geographically centered cultural archives as a platform for these conversations to take place.


  1. Michelle Padilla says:

    Hi Patrick and Jon! When I first heard that HistoryPin would be the topic of one of our guest interviews, I checked it out for the first time. That might be the shortest 3.5 hours I’ve ever spent just playing with a website! The new additions look fab and like they will make the site even more user friendly. At the end of the interview, Jon mentions “the power of personal storytelling” and how there has been a shift to two-way conversations. I think that the new dimensions of storytelling that digital provides are some of the most exciting things happening in the field today. HistoryPin is a great platform for allowing more people to tell their stories.

  2. Natalie Marsh says:

    I couldn’t help but think of the quote, “history is written by the victors” when listening to this interview and how this site and Jon’s conversation challenges this adage. With the use of open linked data, crowdsourced content, and citizen scientists, history is now written by anyone who lived it anywhere, at anytime. I loved the discussion about East of Main Street and the Asian Pacific historical perspective. This is so exciting! Gone are the textbooks written from one perspective, but now knowledge seekers have the opportunity to find multiple perspectives of history. Love, love, love! Great interview and a great resource!

  3. Ryan Meyer says:

    Jon, Patrick
    Great interview! When Patrick posted he was interviewing someone from Historypin I was really excited to hear the interview for a number of reasons. I think there were some great points made about the power of this type of site and how it can create dialogue and engage communities through this common interest of history and geography.
    With my situation, being a limited access facility, I am very interested in what this type of site can do to create more conversations between my stakeholders around the world. Since I am planning on using a .mil domain for my project and they do not allow for community created content or blog sites, I see historypin as a great way to fill that void. Jon made a statement about the power of personal storytelling, which I whole heartedly agree with. I this is something I want to bring to my museum in order to let the individuals and groups that lived the story of my museum’s topic, tell the story.

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