A catalogue of Hong Kong's history

Submitted by David on Thu, 03/26/2009 - 09:00

Shall we build one?

We've made a good start: batgung.com already has 900+ places, 1,800+ photos, and several thousand notes and comments. But recently I've been thinking about how we can keep it growing and improving, and would like to hear your ideas and feedback.

Why bother?

Let's clear up one obvious question first – we already have the internet as a catalogue of Hong Kong's memories, and Google to search it. Do we need anything more?

Yes: I'm sure we can do a much better job of making it easy to search, and also in highlighting connections between previously unrelated memories. Eg I think the connections we make between Places and Images is already different from the general internet. It is useful in searching for photos of a particular area, and I find that seeing all photos of one place grouped together is a useful tool for viewing the changing history of an area.

What we've got

Currently on batgung.com we store these types of memories:

  • Images (Photos, Prints & Paintings)
  • People's memories (recorded via the keyboard as Forum Posts, Articles, Comments.)

And we allow categorising (and then searching) by

  • Place, eg a certain building
  • Date, eg the 1930s
  • Theme, anything that describes the information. ( ie Tags such as 'tram, 'pillbox', etc)

What's missing?

I can think of these extra types of memories we should include in the catalogue:

  • Newspapers
  • Maps
  • Books
  • Films & Videos
  • Recorded speech

And these extra categorise / search methods:

  • By Person
  • By Groups / Organisations, eg army, government, etc.

Planned next steps

Here are the current projects on my to-do list:

  • Extend 'images' to add support for external images from flickr, university collections, etc. (The linking to the Harrison Forman collection is the first example of this project.)
  • Add 'Map' as a new type of resource. Allow definition of the area covered, date created, and scale. Then allow searches, eg “Show me all maps that include the specified location, and that were created between 1930 and 1960, and that have a scale of 1:25,000 or better.”

But I'm interested to get ideas on what should follow after those. So...

Questions for you

Q1. What's annoying about the current site? (Before we look at expanding, what is there in the current site that is harder to use, or more confusing than it needs to be? How can we make adding and searching for information easier?)

Q2. What's missing from the 'types of memories' and 'categorise / search methods' listed above?

Q3. Which extra 'types of memories' and 'categorise / search methods' should we add first?

Q4. What else should I be asking about?

Over to you,




Yes, combining maps and photos is very powerful. I'm pleased to say we have that feature already - see our 'Map of Hong Kong Photos' page. Though it works a little differently from how most sites consider geotagging.

If you take Panoramio as a typical example, it lets you assign a location to a photo. Some cameras (especially those in mobile phones) have a built-in GPS receiver, and can set this automatically. But all that shows you is where the photographer was standing when they took the photo.

That's how it used to work on Batgung too, but I found it never really helped me find the photos I was looking for. Most times when I'm searching for a photo, it's because I want to see something, eg a building, or a certain area of countryside. What I really wanted to know was whether a photo shows a certain place, not whether it was taken at that place.

eg Let's say you stand in Statue Square, take a photo, and give it the geotag for statue square. Now let's say I'm looking for photos of the HSBC HQ building, that faces statue square. If I look at all photos taken in Statue Square, I've got a 25% chance of finding the right photo, depending on whether you were facing N, S, E or W when you took it. And I'll have completely missed the fact that many photos showing the bank building were actually taken from Tsim Sha Tsui, looking across the harbour at the Central coastline.

So instead when you add a photo to Batgung, we ask you to add the places that appear in it. You can try it - go to the 'Map of Hong Kong Photos' page, and click on the dot that marks the HSBC HQ. You'll see its Place, and can instantly see all the photos that include a view of that place.

RE: Q1

I wonder if it is worthwile having additional forums rather than just the 'general' one. The historical stuff is mixed up with the practical advice and questions etc. It would be nice to have some sort of separation.

I sometimes find it a bit cumbersome to enter the sight and look for all new posts and find that there are 20 new 'photo added' messages. Is there a system setting that allows these similar messages to be consolidated? Or am I just being lazy :-)

Must say I agree with Philk on that one.

In an ideal world / site what I'd envisage is a 4 D map of HK, which has as its dimensions:

Commentary / Places like you have now, perhaps including trails

Time (like in the paper you have what happened now, 20 years, 50 years, 100 years ago) so say Stanley now would be the flea market - interesting for tourists, 60 years ago, the POW camp etc,

Photos/Video (historical and present) - either flat or using photosynth

History / novels - as in the newspaper clippings / references to Gweilo book etc.

Phil, thanks for the input. Yes, adding more forums is definitely an option. I can see it will be helpful to new visitors to see information arranged better.

Do you think that regular visitors would also find it helpful? I think I'll stick to the 'What's new', and just look at whatever comes up. After we only average 2 or 3 new forum topics a week.

How about you, what benefits would you get from having multiple forums?

(I like to understand what the reasons are behind peoples' requests, to help find the best solution. It's also good if you can show us other sites you use that you like - eg forums on other sites. That's an easy way for us to see where we can make improvements.)

(Gweipo, is this the part of Phil's post you were agreeing with, or the forums part, or both?)

Good point, I've had the same feeling at times. Here's a quick & dirty fix first: go to the 'What's new' page, and you'll now see a list of the different types of information at the top of the page. If you don't need to wade through notifications of 'new photo added', ctrl-click on 'Image' and 'Image (external)', and then click the 'Apply' button.

That will hide photos from the list - if you do this when you are logged in, it should remember your settings for future visits.

I think we can do a better job with this later, but hopefully that makes it more usable for you now.

Gweipo, that's what I have in mind too - being able to virtually fly through a 3-D version of HK, but with a slider control that allows you to quickly slide backwards and forwards through time. eg you could position yourself at TST facing Hong Kong island, then slide the year to and fro to watch the changing skyline as buildings rise and fall. It is built from a combination of topographic maps for elevation, street maps for building layout, and photos for building heights and textures.

You can ask it to superimpose photos / video over the view you're looking at. Zoom in to people and places to see further information about them.

We'll need a better photosynth first, but I think it is the way the world is moving.

I'm also impressed with the automatic face-recognition on the Picasa website that I use for family photos. I can imagine a tweaked version of that recognising buildings, so that when a new photo is added, the system can automatically scan and recognise buildings (Places) and people in the photos, and create the links to their records automatically.

Another technology that will make a great difference is machine translation. Though we're lucky to have some bilingual readers, by publishing in English we're obviously missing out on a lot of expertise about Hong Kong's history. Can we automatically publish a translated version of the site in chinese, so we can reach out to more readers?

Lots of ideas, but right now we're still building the foundations.

I think the main benefit would be for newcomers. I guess I am a fairly recent newcomer to batgung, there is a wealth of information from only just a year or so ago that I have no idea about and am put off by the number of pages I would need to click through. Perhaps doing some separation would act as a filter and help make earlier posts more easier to find/access.

Actually, while I am on the subject about paging through information - Is there a way to increase the number of topics shown on each page? I much prefer to use my mouse scrollbutton to search through topic headings and posts rather  than continually pressing the 'next page' link. (see, told you I was lazy)

As it is, there is a wealth of information but it is not as easy (at least for me..) to search. The other day, I was trying to find a picture of "ARP Happy Valley" when Craig posted his sights and finds on Blue Pool Road. I typed in "ARP" in the place map and it subsequently gave me several portal numbers but no tag on "Happy Valley".  Another example,  having seen all the picture references to "Fred Evans",  I wanted to figure out who he was. What the Batgung site text search came back with were hundreds of links to his pictures. I attempted to page through them but in the end my patience ran out and I never got the answer.

On specifics, the changing landscape/landmarks morphing through time would be wonderful to see. I would also like to map/picture references to movies and books. What had been done on "The Golden Boy" is indeed impressive. Congratulations! We can apply the same methodology to, say, "Love is a many-splendored thing" - another 50's book/movie.. (phil may have already done this on his website)

the movie thing is already something I have spoken to MrB about, but I am unsure of the best way to do it, and at the moment I only have a handful of films that could be included. It would really need a local film expert to help fill out the majority of decent sights. There is certainly a plethora of old HK films (colour and B&W) that have shots of all sorts of places. It's just knowing which ones and finding them at the local video shop.

But as it stands I think the documentary value of movies is high, given the speed the place changes.

Sophia, thanks for giving the examples, that's exactly what I'm interested to hear. There's a new search on the right of the page (under the 'random photo'. Please can you try that and see if it is better?

If I use it to search for 'Fred Evans', the first result is the first photo in the gallery, which has a clipping about him.

If I search for 'ARP happy valley', it shows me Craig's photo as #1. But I can then use the new 'advanced search' option on that page to limit the search to only show results of type 'Place'. Then the only result is a place which is one of the portals on that tunnel network.

So it seems promising.

(The original search uses Google, which I assumed would be good. But I've also noticed it returns a lot more results than I want. The new search is part of the software we use to run the site, so it knows a lot more about the structure of the information here, and the 'advanced search' looks powerful.)

I agree these are a good source of historical views of HK. I think eventually we'll want a specific new content type for movies. But to get started you can make a trial run using what we already have (forum posts, books and tags), to get a feel for what information and relationships should be recorded.

You've both suggested 'Love is a many splendoured thing', so why not take that as your pilot?

Submitted by
Vinnie (not verified)
Sat, 03/28/2009 - 06:54

After reading the great ideas on this page, I'm finding (as I usually do for the long pages) that I wish there were a link, along with the "prev," "next," and "last" links, that brings you "back to top" of the page.  Scrolling my mouse wheel downhill is much easier than scrolling uphill back to the top; clicking one link to the top is faster than moving the mouse wheel, or pushing the scroll bar.  Perhaps the back-to-top link could be called "The Peak".  ;)

Now, my intention to get to the top is to return to the "What's new" links. Perhaps an alternative to a back-to-top link could be to float the "What's new" links in a rectangle on the left or right gloss.  As you scroll down the page, the floating rectangle remains within view.   Or maybe divide these links up into separate floating "islands," each with its own flavor (purpose) of links, like the separate islands of HK....

Being a really new reader to this site, I hope that these ideas are useful. 

Vinnie.  :)

Sophia, It'll be good to hear if it helps. If you still have trouble finding stuff, please post the examples up here again, and we'll see if there's anything that can be done.

I'll leave both the old and new search up for now, but will eventually switch over to the new one unless we discover any problems with it.

Vinnie, that's a good point. Every day I go through a similar set of actions: check a new comment (always at the bottom of the page), then go back to 'what's new' to see the next.

Not sure what's the best solution (thanks for your suggestions), but I'll add it to the 'To do' list.

Submitted by
Vinnie (not verified)
Mon, 03/30/2009 - 08:45

I was leisurely leafing through the "Recently added photos" pages but then it became sort of a debugging exercise when I found a few that you might want to know about -- if you didn't already.  The first has a warning (divide by 0!) and the others have a missing photo to its link.  These are pages 46, 72, 81, 82, 86 and 87.  I went through 218 pages.  Hopefully this is useful. 

Vinnie  :)


To be honest i think that your site has become 2 things, one is the present HK with tips for newcomers and oldies on living here, surviving and thriving here.  And then delving into the past. 

Visually in the future, I'd imagine the top of the page to be a MTR / london tube type map that you could dive into, and do all the wonderful things we've been discussing, but in the mean time you have 3 columns at the moment, would it make any sense to say put the past on the LHS with all its links, photos and keep the middle for what we're reading and put all the present day things on the RHS ...

I've checked the pages and cleaned up the errors except one (an image that was created without a photo, but that already has some useful comments). Thanks for pointing them out.

You're right about the two different themes of the site. We've talked about splitting it, but haven't thought of a way to do it that works well. Your suggestion is an interesting one, but I've already got other features in mind for what little space we have left in the columns.

In the short term, the first evidence of a past / present split will show up when we get round to re-structuring the forums as Phil suggests.

This is the next extension of the catalogue - including images that are hosted on other sites.

This is not going to be a rip-off of other peoples' content. We'll only display these images on batgung when their owners approve, and there is some extra value to showing the image on batgung.

The first group of images we've applied this to is the Harrison Forman collection from the 1940s. The images aren't copied - they stay on the UWM site, and copyright remains theirs. I checked with their librarian, and it's ok to show them here. I see we (ie all the batgung readers and contributors) add value in the comments we leave, the connections we can make between these photos and other information we have about that period, and by making them searchable by place / tag / date.

The next group is Flickr images. I've added a couple from TWE42 already [eg 1, 2]. Flickr does have comments (including a very useful way of annotating the images themselves) and tags, so if we're just showing them on batgung to add comments and tags, they may as well stay on the Flickr site. Instead I think the main value we can add is by linking them to Places, and adding the date they were taken. This makes them easier to search - those features aren't currently available on Flickr.

The software currently supports photos hosted on ImageShack, Photobucket, and Picasa, though I haven't tried them yet.

There is also a way to add other hosting sites. That's how we added support for the UWM photos. If possible, I'd like to use this to add support for the photo collections that exist in Hong Kong, eg the HKPL, PRO, and Museum collections, all of which could be easier to use. What other collections should we try and work with?

Please go ahead and try adding an image - I've written up some instructions here. As usual, let me know if you have any questions.


i have been hooked on this site since i found it last week. it is really really informative and it sucks alot of my time *gasps* (i am meant to be doing my evidence law assignment)

here are just some of my thoughts...........

i've observed that the website is rather unorganised (in all honesty, and no offence is intended here). i love reading up on the contents of this blog, especially the areas pertaining to history and places. however, i've noted that the site appears to use "google maps" rather extensively. 

i'd rather have a nicely listed out, dot pointed section with links to the main article.

i have also noted that some articles in the "places" section are not in the "history" section even though it is clearly history.




Hi Ayl, thanks for writing in, and glad to hear you are enjoying the site.

You are right that the organisation of the content here can be improved. If you can give an example(s) of a page you thought was in the wrong place, or a time you couldn't find something you were looking for, that will help a lot. It's easier for us to think of solutions if there's a concrete example to look at.

Here's an alternative to using maps: A list of places. Just type in the tag that's used on the map, to see all the places shown in a list instead. Is that better?

Regards, MrB