Digital public history has come a long way since its early years in the late 1990s. Web technology itself was gradually evolving and websites were not as interactive as they are today. The advent of mobile operating systems such as iOS from apple and android from google have pushed web development technology and have fundamentally changed how we view and interact with web pages. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Adobe Flash (then called Macromedia Flash) was the king when it came to interactive displays of web pages. Almost every desktop computer one purchased had the flash software installed on it. Professionally designed websites welcomed you with a beautifully animated flash video before ushering you into the contents of the site. I remember the pains I took to learn flash in 2002 when I first designed my own personal website. It was a given that any website that was going to involve any form of interactivity or animations must have flash. It is no surprise that most of the digital public history projects that were made in this time period had websites with flash. They all greeted you with a flash home page inviting you to click the menu to enter into the website. The photographs or collections were visualized with flash. The level of interactivity in this period was limited by the technological capabilities that were available. Digital public history projects presented materials to the public without much opportunity for the sites visitors to shape these projects through their own inputs.
In order to maintain the attention of visitors to Digital public history websites, there is need to make the website highly interactive. In my opinion, this is the most important quality for any digital public project. People’s attention span online is often limited. It can easily get boring reading plenty of text. Navigations should be logical and fluid so that the visitor does not easily get confused or distracted. The contributions should not be one way but two-way so that they have a sense that they are part of the project. Passivity makes the online digital space easily boring. When one contributes to the exhibit or project, it gets them engage and keeps them longer on the website. Such engagements could be by way of games, recorded video, text or audio responses, helping to do translations or transcriptions, etc. Clicking through pictures or clicking to watch videos does not make the site interactive, the visitor is only receiving the information that is being presented.
Some physical museums are now attempting to be interactive through activities to keep visitors engaged. This is even more needed in online spaces. It is such interactivity that will bring them back for future visits to the website. As cloud computing and online storage has become more easily accessible and affordable, and internet access faster and more affordable, we will see more museums and archives that attempt to bridge the gap between the digital and the physical. VR technology which is in its nascent days promises significant contributions to these efforts. While the digital may never completely replace the experience of the physical, it will be close enough that the overarching benefits may be the same.