Interview with Paul Hagon, Developer

Paul Hagon is the mashup developer whose amazing mashups of Google Maps and images from the Commons were featured on Indicommons recently.

   Could you tell me more about yourself?
My first coding experiences were back in high school when I learned the basics of programming on a VIC-20 and a TRS-80. This sparked an interest in computers, but my real passion is in design. I studied Industrial Design at university.

I was still involved with computers then, but mostly doing a lot of CAD drawings, renderings, Illustrator and Photoshop work (this was back in the days of Photoshop 1.0). After graduating I worked in the furniture industry for 7 years before moving into the web world.

I always had a fascination about how people interact with things. Industrial design was perfect for feeding that fascination — it has an extremely personal scale of interacting with an object. Designing for the web is so similar, it’s interaction at a personal level.

When the internet came on the scene in the mid-’90s, I read lots of websites and read lots of books, taught myself HTML and never looked back. I moved out of the furniture world and into the world of cultural institutions when I got a job as a web developer with the Australian War Memorial (who recently joined Flickr Commons). Since 2006 I’ve been a web developer at the National Library of Australia.

   You have created four Google Maps and Commons-related mashups. Tell us a little bit more about them.
The first mashup is a Then-and-Now mashup. This sort of thing is probably the most obvious mashup for images from the Commons — everyone loves historical comparisons and seeing how something has changed over time. The mashup displays historical images from the Commons plotted on a map and compares any image you select to the current day location in Google Street View. I like the fact that as well as displaying a historical then and now, it is also a technological then and now — a static image and a 3-D immersive environment.

The other Commons mashup is a location-based mashup. It works out your location and displays any images from the Commons that are near you so you can immediately see how the environment has changed while you are in it.

   What were the challenges that you faced in designing these mashups?
There really weren’t too many challenges to getting the mashups working. It only took about 30 minutes to get a rough working concept running. When I was incorporating the images from the New York Public Library into the mashup, that provided a couple of challenges as there was no location data recorded.

   Any technological hurdle you have yet to overcome?
At the moment my then-and-now mashup only displays the Street View image at the correct latitude and longitude and most of the time the user has to start exploring within Street View to compare it with the image from the Commons. Being able to set the pitch, yaw, and zoom to align both views correctly would be nice (although I do like the exploration that currently takes place). I’ve got a few ideas on how to do it, but haven’t got around to trying them out yet.

   What do you think Flickr can do to encourage mashup artists like you to continue extending The Commons?
Flickr have a huge range of APIs available to allow users to create interesting things and they have started to develop specific Commons APIs. But a mashup is nothing without good content. I think the institutions of the Commons have as much of a role as Flickr does in encouraging mashups. The basis of the Commons itself is a huge step forward as you know you have no issues about reusing the images, given their no known copyright status.

   And what do you think the institutions themselves can do?
The institutions can help by providing interesting images and providing as much information as possible (locations, dates). I would like to see more accurate date information, that could provide some interesting timeline mashups, but that can be very hard given the nature of the photos.

I have been a fan of your work ever since I heard about it last year. Are the Commons institutions are as supportive?
The Commons institutions have been extremely supportive. Whenever I’ve shown them what I’ve done with their images — they instantly want to blog about it and are genuinely excited. They appear to be extremely keen to see how people are extending their collections in ways they may not have thought about, or in ways that they don’t have the resources to be able to do.

The Powerhouse Museum nominated my work for the Best of the Web awards at the upcoming Museums and the Web conference (luckily in a different category to One of the most amazing things for me is that institutions are actually reconsidering the type of images they are adding to their Commons presence to take advantage of tools like this. As an individual, being able to have that sort of influence is incredible.