Hypercities: Cool Concept, But…

Hypercities, a joint project based out of University of California Los Angeles and the University of Southern California and funded through the MacArthur Foundation, “is a digital research and educational platform for exploring, learning about, and interacting with the layered histories of city and global spaces.”  Built on the belief that “all stories take place somewhere and sometime,” Hypercities was built to allow stories that may have taken place in the same location, but in different times, to “interact and intersect.”[1]  In other words, the site allows a visitor to pick a city and have a time traveling experience.  The project started in 2009, with major cities from all over the world in development. The list includes Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Rome, Lima, Ollantaytambo, Berlin, Tel Aviv, Tehran, Saigon, Toyko, Shanghai, Seoul, and others.

Contributers to Hypercities includes the team from UCLA and USC, as well as partner institutions who choose to upload maps, photos, archival documents, etc.  Individual users can create a free log-in ID, and upload information as well.  In this sense, Hypercities attempts to harness resources and information from the public, making it a two-way platform between the creators and the audience.

The visitor first “launches” the hypercities platform, where a world-sized map shows which cities are available to explore. The interface utilizes Google Maps and Google Earth technology. Some cities have much more content than others.  For example, Los Angles has much more content than London, even though London’s history covers a far longer time period.  Rome is a great example of a city that has content across a wide temporal range.  The amount of content per city is most likely due to where the official developers have put their own time and energy, as well as where users have uploaded their own content.

The goals for the site are big.  In their own words:

“As a globally-oriented platform that reaches deeply into archival collections and aggregates a wide range of media content (including broadcast news, photograph archives, 3D reconstructions, user-created maps, oral histories, GIS data, and community stories), HyperCities not only transforms how digital information is produced, stored, retrieved, and shared but also transforms how human beings interact with media and how we experience places.

By connecting digital archives, maps, and stories with the physical world, HyperCities aims to become the first media platform for supporting the revolution of Web 3.0, the birth of the geo-temporal human web.” [2]


It all sounds great, right?  Having first explored the information on the site before launching the platform itself, I had high expectations.  Navigating hypercities is an altogether different experience.  There’s an eight-minute introduction video that shows the visitor how to interact with the different maps, as well as the extra content – photos, images, videos, personal stories, oral histories, etc. – that has been geo-located in each city.  Yet I found the site hard to navigate, things took too long too load, and it took a while for me to learn how the site operated.  And yes, I watched the video before I jumped in and started playing around.  The site claims that it has already been used by “thousands of students, teachers, community groups, activists, and members of the public-at-large interested in exploring, creating, interpreting, and sharing the history of city spaces.”[3]  These users must have had more patience than I did, because I would think this would prove to be too much of a hassle to utilize in a classroom, or for many visitors to want to spend their free time on the site.

I want to like this site very badly.  Their research on geo-temporal analysis and argumentation seems like it’s a step in the future, and I was intitally very excited about their concept and what they want to do with the project.  In fact, I still am excited with the concepts behind hypercities, I’m just not thrilled with actually using hypercities.  It could potentially be a great tool for the educator, the archivist, the historian, and the lay person alike, but not as it stands right now.  It just gave me a headache.

[1] hypercities.com, About Page

[2] hypercities.com, About Page

[3] hypercities.com, Education Page

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