A Code for Europe project is developing a web app to help people share memories of their home town.

Edinburgh Scrapbook, which is due for release in early 2015, will allow people to upload photos and text about their memories of life in the Scottish capital.

The open data project has been developed by Alan Gardner, a Code for Europe fellow who is working with City of Edinburgh Council. When completed, the code behind the web app will be available for other authorities to use.

“Edinburgh has two apps for this – Capital Connections and Our Town Stories - but they’re both highly curated,” Gardner explains.

“People want to add their own content, but they’d need to have a professional photographer and archivist, so there isn’t a way to do it.

“People also clear out their attics – particularly after a loved one passes away – and want to hand over their keepsakes. But now there’s a move towards committing them to digital media.”

The app collects memories of the city as location-aware open data, so it can be mapped. Users sign up for an account, upload photos from their smartphones or computers, tag them and categorise them.

They can then share their scrapbooks on social media, or print hard copies.

Going beyond memories

So far, so simple – but Edinburgh Scrapbook can go beyond just sharing memories.

“For people with early-onset Alzheimer’s or dementia, a good way to head it off is to trigger memories or conversations,” Gardner says.

“And as the condition worsens, then those memories can give you small windows of time which patients can spend with their families.”

While personal events, such as weddings, can only be about individual days, being reminded of the city around them can trigger memories.

“If you show someone a picture of a landmark – perhaps the bus station they used every day, or maybe they walked past the castle every day – then that can help,” he says.

The responsive web app, which can also be used in schools to promote learning across the generations, will be shown off to the public for the first time at a family history event later this month. After that, Gardner is aiming for a soft launch in January, followed by a beta launch in March.

Possible future extensions could include the ability to upload audio and possibly video.

Importance of user experience

Other Code for Europe fellows have been concentrating on opening up council data, but Gardner says Edinburgh’s approach made it possible to get going on the project straight away.

“Edinburgh’s been doing open data for some years now, so I don’t need to bring open data to the council – it’s already there,” he says.

“So I can work on a project which is open data-friendly, making more data and creating an API with location-aware media.

“It can demonstrate to councils the value of creating something that’s user-centred, the importance of the user experience, and that there has to be a use for it, too – you can’t just have big piles of open data you can’t do anything with.”

Working as part of Code for Europe, which places developers in cities and councils to solve local problems, has been a positive experience for Gardner, who has been able to take on board success stories from elsewhere.

“The opportunity to talk to developers around Europe, to see the challenges they’ve overcome – has been fascinating,” he says.

“Edinburgh might be further along the open data road than many councils, but everybody in the world can learn from the progress made by Finland and Helsinki.

“At least one or two people in the organisation need to be championing open data.”

With Edinburgh behind open data, Gardner hasn’t “had to fight City Hall” – and he is raising awareness of his work by undertaking a week long “flash hack” – “being parachuted into a council department for a week, to rapidly prototype a solution for an issue they’ve had”.

“It’s good to be doing something where I’m using my powers for good,” he laughs.

“I’m happy working for corporations, but after a while, I could do with doing something of value in the community. I’ve learned a ton here.”

Edinburgh Corp Leyland PD2/20 NSF 703 High St Edinburgh Scotland by John Ward used under CC BY-SA-NC 2.0.