October 1, 2011

Why The History List?

The inspiration and motivation for creating The History List came from three experiences: Serving on the board of our local historical society, attending little known events and looking for other similar events, and seeing the way in which traveling in the region created the interest to read more about the history behind the markers and monuments.

The challenges of local historical societies

When we moved to New England from outside of the region, I wanted to learn more about the history of the old (c. 1780) Photo from the early 1900shouse we'd just bought.  This led me to the local historical society and, before long, election to the board and an appointment to our city's historical commission.  This, in turn, led me to take a closer look at the challenges facing organizations working to preserve local history.  Other than not enough time or volunteers, and not enough money, which are problems common to almost all organizations regardless of mission, two stood out:

  • Making their collections available to interested individuals, which includes the challenge, especially for small organizations, in simply cataloging the collection.  And given that fewer people are attending local history museums and historical societies, making collections available online becomes even more important, which poses another set of challenges.
  • Making people aware of their events and programs.  While most of the programs presented by a local historical society may be of interest mainly to the residents of that community, some programs are of broader interest, and there are few good avenues for publicizing these beyond the community where they're presented.  Likewise, for those interested in learning more about a certain topic, where do you turn to stay updated on programs and events that would be of interest?

The challenge of discovering little-known events

The first fall we were here we happened to notice a sign in front of the fire station of a nearby town promoting an event that Saturday.  We went and had a great time.  It was perfect in every way.  There weren't that many people there, which was fine for us as spectators, but it did make you think that more people would have attended if more would have known about it.

Talking with one of the reenactors that afternoon, I asked where I could go to find out about similar events.  After thinking for a minute, he pulled out his business card and wrote his personal e-mail address on it: "If you'll send me an e-mail message next spring, I'll send you a link to a couple of websites that list other Revolutionary-era reenactments in the region."

A few weeks later I sat in on discussion with the executive directors of some of the larger historical societies in the area and heard the plan they were considering for promoting events at their organizations.  I offered up a few ideas, and realized later that, the more I thought about a scalable, sustainable approach, the more interesting and the more challenging designing the solution became.  (A few years later I had the opportunity to brief this same group and invite them to participate in the closed beta for institutions.)

The experience of coming face with historyDawes - Revere capture site

The last experience was the most motivating: Becoming more and more interested in learning about the history behind the monuments and markers that I saw around me.  (The marker on the spot where Dawes, Revere, and Prescott were stopped on the morning of April 19, 1775 is shown at right.  Later that morning the first shots were fired in the Revolutionary War.)  And when I started reading about the people behind these events I realized that history was so much more than the names and dates learned in school.  Instead it was the personal stories of decision, courage, and sacrifice:  How would I have reacted if I'd been there?  What decision would I have made?  Would I have been willing to make the sacrifice they made?

In most cases, it wasn't until I read the first-hand accounts and dug deep in the research and biographies that I began to understood the complexity of many of the events that have been reduced to a paragraph or two in most history school books.  And it was then that I started to make the connection between the events "in history" to the choices we face today.

The History List: Bringing you face to face with history.

October 20, 2011 update: The ideas above are captured in a presentation in this recent post.

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January 8, 2012

The value of reviews

As The History List is developed, one of the features we'll add are reviews. 

A recent and very frank comment on a LinkedIn group showed what can result when someone is disappointed by their history-related event experience, in this case, a walking tour of an historic area:.

 A recent review that appeared in a LinkedIn group.

Use and impact

 One of the companies that provides services for large companies that want to include reviews on their site compiled statistics that show the extent to which people use reviews and the impact that they have on purchase decisions:

  • 61% of people rely on user reviews for product information or research before a buying decision is made. (Razorfish, 2008)

  • 67% of shoppers spend more online after recommendations from online community of friends. (Internet Retailer, September 2009)
  • Consumer reviews are significantly more trusted -- nearly 12 times more -- than descriptions that come from manufacturers, according to a survey of US mom Internet users by online video review site EXPO.  (eMarketer, February 2010)

  • 90% of consumers online trust recommendations from people they know; 70% trust opinions of unknown users. (Econsultancy, July 2009)

  • When asked what sources "influence your decision to use or not use a particular company, brand or product”  71% claim reviews from family members or friends exert a "great deal" or "fair amount" of influence. (Harris Interactive, June 2010)

  • Friends still play an important role in influencing consumers. Eighty-three percent of online shoppers said they are interested in sharing information about their purchases with people they know, while 74 percent are influenced by the opinions of others in their decision to buy the product in the first place. (Manage Smarter, September 2009)

While these describe product purchases, it wouldn't be surprising to learn that reviews are at least as important in selecting destination travel and events.  Among other reasons, this may be the only opportunity the person has to visit a particular site, and unlike products, you can't return a bad experience with a trip.


One of the questions I've received from my earliest experience with companies marketing online dates to early 1995 and the issue of fairness.  Working with one of the world's leading adventure travel companies, the question they raised is what happens if someone unreasonable goes online and says disparaging things about their trip.

The fact is that an unreasonable person is usually as easy to recognize online as they are in-person.  The problem only arises if there are no other reviews and if the provider being reviewed doesn't have a chance to respond. 

In the example shown above, the comment was posted within the last 12 hours and it was the only comment about that tour.  It will be interesting to see if the tour organizer responds or if others post comments or reviews.  The most credible comments and reviews will come from satisfied customers or visitors, and organizations can use a few different approaches to encourage them to post.

January 10, 2012 update: Lori did respond.  Read the rest of the story in this post.

Designing the ratings and reviews system for The History List

Our goal is to create a way that is easy for people to do the following:

  • Post ratings and reviews--Among other things, we'll provide at least three variables to rate, such as content, logistics (e.g., parking and lines at the ticket booth), and value. 
  • Ask and answer questions--Such as recommendations for when to arrive or how to plan their day that so that they're able to take in as much in at a large event as possible.  

These will help ensure high-quality content:

  • Using real names
  • Flagging inappropriate content
  • Marking comments and answers from those responsible for an event, exhibit, or venue so that they stand out visually

If you have questions or suggestions about the design of this feature, please send them in.

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December 8, 2011

Presenting to the Charles River Group in Massachusetts

Needham Historical Society in Needham, MassachusettsThanks to Gloria Greis, Executive Director of the Needham Historical Society and head of the Charles River Group of historical societies and museums in Massachusetts, for the opportunity to present The History List yesterday.  (The house and one room school that make up the Society's complex are pictured here on that overcast, rainy December day.)

The institutions included in the group range in scope from the historical societies for Natick, Wellsley, Medfield, Dedham, and other towns, to an historic property in a community, such as the Golden Ball Museum Tavern in Weston or the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation, which covers an era in the growth of our country from their converted watch factory in Waltham, to a subject-specific institution, such as the Spellman Museum of Stamps and Postal History in Weston.

The feedback from those who attended was positive and very helpful.


  • Why should I use this instead of the events calendars I use now?  If the others are working for you, keep using them.  In those cases, The History List is an additional outlet.  It's free to list events.  And you know that your event will be among other high-quality events geared toward people who have an interest in history.
  • One executive director explained the problem they are having getting their site updated now that the town has control of it.  The organization's own page on The History List, which will include a description of the organization and will list their upcoming events, will be an additional option for them.   They will control the content, they can make it as detailed as they wish, and they can ensure that it's always up to date.
  • Ease of event entry is critical.  We agree, and it's something that we're focused on and continuing to refine.

Right now, information can simply be cut and pasted from existing material, such as a Word document or a website.  Our goal is to ensure that, once a user signs in, it takes less than five minutes to enter an event.  For some events where the description is being cut and pasted from elsewhere, it may be as quick as two or three minutes.

  • Will people be able to sign up for an e-mail newsletter so they are automatically notified when events are announced?  We've given this a lot of thought and have identified a way to do this that we think is optimal for the user and takes into account subject and distance.  One of the executive directors pointed out that there's a simpler way to do this in the near-term, and we'll probably build out her idea as the first version of this feature.
  • There was a willingness add a logo and link to their newsletters and websites as a way to show their participation and support.  (These would link back to their organization's page on The History List, which will automatically include all of their events.)

The presentation from the meeting introducing The History List is available online.  You can request an invitation to the closed beta for organizations from the home page of the site.

One of the highlights of visiting the Needham Historical Society was seeing the original NC Wyeth painting, "Christmas Morning" (right).  The painting  first appeared on the cover of the December 1913 issue of Scribner's Magazine.

Wyeth was from Needham and the painting was given to the Historical Society by Stimson Wyeth. The wooden shovel in the painting leans against the wall.

My thanks to Gloria and her colleagues for the opportunity to present The History List and for their helpful ideas and support.

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November 8, 2011

Video: Noted Civil War authors at the Boston Book Festival



In recognition of the sesquicentennial commemoration of the American Civil War, the Boston Book Festival brought together several distinguished authors for a discussion at this year's event on October 15: Adam Goodheart, 1861: The Civil War Awakening; Tony Horwitz, Midnight Rising: John Brown's Raid and the Start of the Civil War; Charles Bracelen Flood, Grant's Final Victory and several others; and, Harvard University president Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering. The session was moderated by Annette Gordon-Reed, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Hemingses of Monticello and Andrew Johnson.

The video runs just under an hour and half.

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November 4, 2011

Introducing The History List

This is the presentation that was given at the first second third ongoing meetings introducing the closed beta.  (See the December 7 post about the meeting with the Charles River Group of historical societies and the post about the meeting with the New England Historic Genealogical Society (American Ancestors), Historic New England, the Massachusetts Historical Society, and the Freedom Trail Foundation.)  If you'd like to participate in the closed beta for organizations that is going on now, request an invitation.  To inquire about a presentation to your group, please contact us.

Updated: May 7, 2012: The History List is now open to all organizations.

Updated: July 29, 2012: The presentation has been updated with the most recent features and with quotes.


Introducing The History List

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