Partner: Google

The Challenge

Historypin was born out of our research into the state of inter-generational relationships, particularly in the UK and USA. Using a body of existing work and taking on our own consultation and research, the depth and importance of the divide across older and younger generations became very clear.

Exploring the lack of contact and negative perceptions that have become gradually ingrained since the 1960s, we could map this with our ongoing analysis of changing patterns in the social capital, to find similar forces at work: disintegration of associational life in many communities was pulling older and younger generations apart, just as it was reducing many other indicators of healthy community life.

So, we set out to create something that, in the short-term, could bring people together in ways that created new, positive associations and, in the longer-term, could help shift the negative perceptions of different generations, cultures or communities. Ultimately, we wanted to build something into the heart of communities, online and offline, that could grow and grow and become a natural, permanent incentive to come together, collaborate and reach out across these gaps and differences.


Infographic: The state of inter-generational relations

  • ⅓ people view elderly as incompetent and incapable
  • of Britons think that old and young people live in different worlds
  • 1.2m people over 50 suffer from social exclusion
  • In the 80s around 60% of people in their 30s were active members of cross-generational community organisations. This has dropped to 10% in the 2000s

The State of Intergenerational Relations Today, International Longevity Centre UK, 2008
The Economic Case for Digital Inclusion, PWC, 2008
Institute for Public Policy Research

Department for Work and Pensions
Population Division, DESA, United Nations

Office for National Statistics



The Solution

Starting with our own experiences, and drawing in more evidence from test events and local partners, we explored the role that local and family history plays in starting conversations – mutually enjoyable, rich conversations that bring people closer, with more empathy and understanding.

The key was how we could make these conversations more normal, more meaningful and more sustainable when they do. Essentially, our solution aimed to massively boost the perceived social value of local historical content and memory.

At the heart of our solution was using technology to breathe fresh life into old pictures, videos and recordings and allow people to add and explore it much more easily and enjoyably.

Historypin is a global archive where millions of people can come together around the history of their neighbourhoods, from across different generations and cultures, to explore and create rich, communal archives and build stronger communities.

This Historypin experience takes place online at Historypin.com, through our iphone and android apps and via Historypin community projects all over the world.

Individuals can add photos, videos, audio files, stories and recollections, pinning them to a particular point in place and time, for other people to add to, learn from, debate and use to build up a more complete understanding of the world.

Historypin aims:

  • To transform the perceived social value of the history of their family, streets, country and world.
  • To bring neighbourhoods together around local history and help people feel closer to the place they live in.
  • To get people from different generations talking more, sharing more and coming together more often.
  • To conserve and open up global archives for everyone to enjoy, learn from and improve.
  • To create a study resource for schools and universities.
  • To become the largest global archive of human history.

Google is We Are What We Do’s main technology partner on Historypin and has supported the development of the Historypin site and apps with financial and technical support, including the integration of a series of Google tools and services, including Google Maps, Picasa, Google App Engine, YouTube and Android. Google teams around the world also support Historypin’s work with schools, helping us develop materials and reach out to schools, and work with us establishing community, educational and development partnerships.


Historypin is at its strongest when we take it directly into neighborhoods, working closely with local people, archives, business, organisations and associations on unique local projects.

The Historypin website and app gives local groups, schools, businesses and whole communities the tools to run their own projects in their local areas. By providing case studies of other schools, groups and organisations that have carried out activities and events, tips and ideas on exactly what to do and free downloadable resources we equip and support people to get further involved.

We also have more hands-on projects where we are more personally involved in running community activities. We are currently running a project in Reading where the entire community is being asked to get involved and gather together the history of the local area. We are working with a number of schools, care homes, community groups and volunteers.



The idea has potential. I’m besotted with it. They’re calling it a “digital time machine” and, this being the age of Wikiality, anyone can contribute. What’s history? Whatever you pin.

Sam Leith, The Guardian

Now anyone can create the same kind of montage [windows through time]  thanks to a specimen of new technology… In effect [Historypin] enables us to see the ghosts that walk our pavements.

The Sunday Times, 18th July 2010

Seeing these old photographs overlaid defamiliarises the present: it renews and enriches your sense of your surroundings. It’s of aesthetic, not just historical, interest.

Sam Leith, The Guardian

Local history buffs have a new toy.

Washington Post, 13th July

By merging old photographs with new mapping technology, this site fuses new connections between the generations

Megan Gambino, Smithsonian Magazine, August 31, 2011

When I saw the demo last night, I got most excited about using Historypin as a personal documentary tool. I love the idea of designing a living map that traces my relatives’ moves all around the world—a kind of corollary to the family tree and photo archive we’ve been compiling for a few years now—and having both the process and the finished product be something to share with my grandmother the next time I visit.

Slate, July 12th

Picture the Past: Historypin Mashes Up Archived Photos with the Present

Good, July 15th 2011

Historypin app lets people create a “time machine”

Mashable, 12th Spetember 2011


What is so exciting to me about this project is that no-one ever, in the history of photography, clipping these photographs, snapping these images, capturing bits of our history imagined a technology like Historypin coming along and making it possible to synthesise and integrate our history across generations and across time and space. This  project symbolises and will show us all the enormous value of humility in everything we do and design and build, and out of that extraordinary humility will come some of the greatest insights about our past, and about the potential for our culture to teach itself and our children the greatest lessons that our past has to teach.

Lawrence Lessig, Director of E.J. Safra Foundation for Ethics, Harvard and founder of Creative Commons

The photograph I am going to share today is a family photograph, rather than an historic action photo. I wanted to share something many families have in their photo albums or collection at home with the hope of encouraging everyone to share family history as a universal experience. The photo I selected depicts my father, grandfather and I in our home on Sunset Avenue, in Atlanta Georgia. Three generations named Martin Luther King… All three of us were involved in civil rights campaigns, marches and protests and so the photo also symbolises a kind of inter-generational community, history and something of a family tradition.

Martin Luther King III

The Historypin project can be an instructive educational tool by connecting historical photographs with a sense of the past… It will be able to mark historic events as well as the small, cultural moments that define communities.

Martin Luther King III

This is a really phenomenal example of what we hold dear. With childhood memories, aspirations of travel, history that you’ve studied, anything like that, you have emotional connections to maps, maps really speak to you. Historypin really taps into that by connecting images from the past to the map that we see today. They didn’t stop there though, which I find even better. They extended this concept to other Google technologies, the intergration with the street view overlays, the contextual aware mobile apps …

Jessie Friedman, Product Marketing Manager, Google Maps and Earth


Historypin has so much potential to be used across the curriculum, especially in History and English, and is perfect for designing community projects.

Charlotte Berry, Assistant Headteacher, Billericay School


People would think that we are completely different to older people, but when you start chatting to them you find out that you’re more similar than you think

Callumn, student, Billericay School

In a Monday morning lesson, you think ‘oh, history’ but when it comes down to other people telling you stuff, you find out a lot of different and unusual stuff that you wouldn’t in a history lesson and it’s just really interesting.

Patrick, student, Billericay School

It’s been a really good experience with the elderly people… instead of having one same teacher in a History lesson, it’s a nice change to be with someone else and we’ve learnt a lot about what they’ve brought in so it’s been really interesting.

Patrick, student, Billericay School

I learnt so much, hearing the stories really brought the history alive. It was so interesting!

Patrick Hylton, student, aged 13

I can’t believe that I’ve met someone who’s met Elvis Presley and also carried Winston Churchill’s coffin. It’s made me want to ask my family to dig out all their old photos so that I can share them with others via Historypin.

Tommy Underwood student, aged 13

Older Users

I’ve really enjoyed looking through old photos and sharing them with the students and it’s been really interesting thinking about the past, looking at the past and all the happy memories we had. The photos of mine that were put on Historypin were from just after the war, a family photograph in the garden when I was about 3yrs old and it was just lovely to look at my family again. Unfortunately they are not here with us anymore, but it’s been really nice sharing them with the students who are lovely and very interested in the topic that they’re doing.

Ann Richards, Essex, UK, participant in Billericay School event

One story is about a friend of mine that drove up to Essex about 25yrs ago with a big Jenson Interceptor so we looked up the size of the engine on that car and the horsepower, compared with the new one they’re bringing out… so we’ve been comparing that and we’ve been enjoying ourselves looking it up on the Internet.

Alan,Essex, UK, participant in Billericay School event

I’ve managed to meet one of my grandson’s friends, so that’s been quite exciting.

Alan, Essex, UK, participant in Billericay School event

I’ve found it absolutely fascinating… they are very keen these young people to know about my youth, things which I regarded as commonplace, they seem to have absorbed it and I’ve suddenly realised that while I think I am a child of the age, I am a child of history as far as they’re concerned! My story was back during the war when I was an evacuee and I have been able to relate the pictures that existed of an old wheel right shop and a blacksmiths forge where I spent a lot of my time as an evacuee and they were absolutely fascinated. To me it was just an ordinary happening, but to them, bit of history come to life and that’s great.

Peter Owen

Rather than these old stories dying let them live on in these young people and on Historypin.

Peter Owen


I may try to get my Brownies involved, it would be quite thrilling for them to have their old pictures on the internet, it would be a fun project for them.

Historypin user

Historypin renders the familiar unfamiliar or even exotic, and makes you want to refamiliarise yourself with your surroundings… I found the site fascinating… my very own time machine.

Historypin user

I want to get my grandparents’ photos and upload them!

Historypin user


Historypin is very much focused on community engagement using imagery to get people connecting through stories and locations and it made sense to us to release our collection images in a way that would enable and foster this dialog.

Shelley Berstein, Brooklyn Museum

Boston is a city of very distinctive neighborhoods with deeply felt affiliations. The Historypin interface allows our users to look directly into the past of these neighborhoods as they wander though their current environs. It’s a bit like seeing your grandmother’s distinctive gaze in the eyes of your own child. It is eerie and amazing at the same time. We hope to foster a deeper appreciation of these neighborhoods and the communities that once inhabited them through this online collection.

Tom Blake, Boston Public Library

Historypin has allowed the Chinese Historical Society of America Museum to make available information that was previously only available to a select group of researchers. Sharing our vast photography collection and the stories captured in the images furthers our mission of presenting Chinese American history while promoting the contributions and legacy of Chinese America.

Pam Wong, The Chinese Historical Society of America

Historypin provides an exciting new way for users to interact with historic photos. To be able to place an historic building image on a modern (Google) map allows users interested in our campus history to really understand landscape change over time. Many of these buildings are no longer part of our campus landscape or have been altered beyond recognition. The Historypin experience allows users to visually appreciate various locations on campus throughout the past 150 years. We’re excited to engage a whole new audience of users through Historypin.com!

Vicki Tobias, University of Wisconsin, Madison Archives

We are very excited to be working with Historypin to make our collection globally accessible and participatory. PHS has the potential to inform the world of the rich heritage of Peoria and to guide residents and visitors into interest of the region, to assist with economic capacity, to enhance educational opportunities and to lift the area’s overall quality of life. Historypin is an important aspect of our vision for the future.

Robert Killion, Peoria Historical Society, Illinois


Webby Award for Best Not-for-profit/Charitable Website

Lovie Award for Best Education & Reference Website

The Social Tech Guide: The World’s Most Inspiring Social Innovations Using Digital Technology

Sunday Times App List 2012


AASL 2012 Best Websites for Teaching and Learning

Winner of the inaugural History Today Digital History Award, 2014