Back in (New York) Time(s)

This is super cool. Why The New York Times built a tool for crowdsourced time travel:

Flipping through old magazine and newspaper ads is like throwing the switch on the world’s simplest time machine. Suddenly it’s 1969, the Apollo 11 astronauts have just made the round trip from the moon, Abbey Road just dropped, and for the low price of $29.95 you can enjoy an “electric computerized football game [that] lets you and your opponent call offensive and defensive plays.”

This is the benefit a paper like The New York Times finds in its archive: the ability to pluck moments from the historical record out of the past — the small steps and giant leaps, but also the assembled fragments and cultural artifacts that often share space on the page. While you can dig deep into the stories of the past with TimesMachine, uncovering specific ads isn’t as easy. The team in The New York Times R&D Lab wants to rectify that with Madison, a new tool for identifying ads across the newspaper’s archive. What makes Madison different is that it relies on Times readers — not a bot or algorithm — to do the tricky work of spotting and tagging the ads of the past.

I wish every news center could pull this off tomorrow. Imagine what we’d remember we knew about all of our towns? Now, if everyone would just digitize their morgues.


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