Today Footnote.com has launched.
What is Footnote? It’s a place where you can explore and annotate millions of original historic documents, upload your own images or write about what you’ve found.
Footnote began with two simple ideas:
First, what if any document, photograph or image could be the catalyst for conversations and linked to anything?
On the web, there is plenty of conjecture but often scant evidence. Footnote hopes to encourage exploration, discovery and, of course, discussions by providing the tools to access real documents. That way people can begin to engage in more interesting and productive debates.
An example of bringing history forward: Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address shown in the Footnote viewer.
Second, People = Content + Meaning.
During the customer research trips we made over the past six months, we found plenty of evidence that people are actively digitizing their lives. The problem is they have few ideas about what do after that.
And a growing number have a sense there is some greater collective experience to be had.
My epiphany came during a visit with a gentleman outside Boston. After going through an early demo of the site, he reached for a leather-bound journal, containing the sermons and diary of his great-grandfather, and opened it.
“When you first visited, I thought about what I could take from Footnote,” he said.
“But now, all I can think about is what I can give.”
I’m hoping Footnote will encourage people to freely share that kind of unique information.
Where we enable people to create relationships between documents, images, individuals, places, events - and turn that into something meaningful.
But a person shouldn’t have to contribute a life’s work to be noticed. The bar should be set a lot lower. On Footnote, people are encouraged to identify simple things like people, places, dates or short transcriptions found in images. These small acts will become invaluable by making connections easier to see and documents easier to find. For example, here’s what I’ve contributed so far:
NARA partnership - 4.5 million documents and rising
To jumpstart more conversations, we’ve formed a novel partnership with the National Archives. Today we have about 4.5 million documents, most which have never been seen on the web before. We plan on adding millions more each month.
The rich historic focus might catch some by surprise, since I’ve been writing with Shayne on this blog for the last five years about citizen journalism.
Sure, I could have created a news aggregator or a wiki service but that didn’t seem to fill the need I was seeing while sitting in people’s homes across the country.
People are learning to better inform themselves and looking for ways to better inform others. I think that’s a healthy activity for a democracy, which needs constant vigilance and renewal.
We need to support that because democracy is a brazen idea but a fragile construct.
Want the evidence? Spend a few moments sifting through the Papers of the Continental Congress, be an eyewitness to the birth of an idea - the United States.
So why history? Because there’s lots of it - and we live with its consequences every day.
Update: I’ve just learned that the Footnote.com partnership with NARA is not just novel, it’s the first one!
Amazing application. I really think this is one of those things that will change how people review and remember history. This is exciting! Congrats!
I haven’t been able to access Footnote.com. Is the problem with me or is the site down? Thanks for any info.
There’s a link on the bottom right of the home page that says “Become a member - FREE.” That’s the only link I saw to get started without the subscription.
Chris, this is a bit hard to find. I would expect a free registration just so I can try it. Let me upgrade from inside the account.
Patricia’s problem was that her DNS (router) wasn’t resolving to footnote.com. After reseting it, she got to the site fine.
Also, we’re going to remove the registration to view free images. It just didn’t make it in the first release.