Images of England

Images of England is a publicly-funded website project from 2001 which aimed to photograph, using volunteers, all 370,000 of the then-listed English buildings. Because many listed buildings are privately-owned and occupied, an 'exemption scheme' was set up allowing these home owners to opt-out from having the photo of their house displayed online, until 2013. The explanation of this in the website's FAQ is simply priceless:

Q. Why is the Exemption Scheme time-limited?

A. The Images of England scheme is a concessionary one. Anyone can take and publish photographs of any building, providing the image is taken from publicly accessible land. We have introduced this exemption scheme because we recognise that some homeowners feel uneasy about a photograph of their house being published on the internet. We envisage by 2013 the internet will have become an accepted form of everyday communication and publication, as printed books are today. We hope people will become accustomed to the internet so that in the future they become more relaxed about their buildings being included on the Images of England website. Within this timescale the photographs will no longer show current information, but be historic images themselves.

These publicly-funded website 'digitisation' projects are pretty common in the 'heritage' sector. Unfortunately, because they're usually only funded for a limited amount of time, there rarely seems to be an opportunity to re-visit and revise old websites like these. I seriously wonder whether it will be possible to re-incorporate these opted-out photographs in 2013, without rebuilding the whole website from scratch. Back-end interfaces, server platforms, databases and even the HTML are all things that can become un-documented, unsupported and unusaable given a reasonable length of time.

One flaw of the Images of England website, for example, is that all of the photographs are sized at 420px x 280px. Whilst this was probably due to reasons of scanning ability and server capacity, not to mention any concerns about commercial usage, the photos now look pretty tiny on a modern computer screen, with the finer details almost impossible to make out.