What tools are used to motivate participation on historical websites?

In this blog, we analyse the website ‘The September 11 Digital Archive’, saving the histories of September 11, 2001, and ‘WieWasWie’, a website focussed on genealogy and archival material. We will do this using questions and analysing methods used by Cohen and Rosenzweig.


The September 11 Digital Archive

In the ‘About’ section of this website, the makers tell us that the website was created to ‘collect, preserve and present the history of the September 11, 2001 attacks…’ in the U.S.A. to create a permanent record of the events. The Library of Congress accepted a copy in September 2003 into its permanent collections. When visiting the website, it’s not immediately clear that the website uses memories and experiences, because they call it ‘histories’. They combine media and first-hand stories.

To contribute to the website, you can select either contribute a story, a photo, video’s or audio. There are not many questions, and there’s mostly room to share an individual experience. They only ask for an e-mail address. It does seem easy to contribute. There is an option to publish the contribution on the web, but also to keep the identity private. It seems relatively easy to contribute. You don’t have to sign in with your name, just with your e-mail address, but by ticking the box of keeping your identity private, you can share your story in a completely anonymous way. In the Terms of Service, it says that you do have to be 13 years or older to contribute, but there is no way to check this since there is no question about age.

When diving into the website, we find that all kinds of personal stories are to be found. Under the title ‘Collections’ and ‘Personal accounts’, many people shared a Word-document for others to be read. The privacy settings regarding these are different with every piece. We do find that the question asked, which is ‘How did 9/11 change your life?’, is not really answered in most texts. The texts are categorized under names, which doesn’t really appeal to the viewer. It’s difficult to search for a specific story or theme, because the contributions are categorized under ‘Audio’, ‘Video’, and then under personal names.



This website is created by the CBG, Centrum voor familiegeschiedenis in The Hague, which is an archive based on genealogy. The website’s aim is to make genealogy and historical research on people available for as many people as possible. The website offers one location where you can find ‘trustworthy’ sources which can support you in your own personal research. The aim, the target group and the role of the makers are very clear in the ‘Over ons’ section.

When you first visit the website, it’s immediately clear that it is interactive. The first thing you see is a search box, and an invite to start researching your own family tree. Underneath the initial invite is also the possibility of contributing in the ‘Vele handen’ project, where you can help in the indexing of archival sources from all kinds of archives. Individuals can help by filling in the details of specific scans, which can help archives because they don’t have to do it themselves. It is quite clear what your task can be. It also says that the same scan needs to be analyzed twice, and then it will be checked again by someone from the website, who will then decide what details will be on the site itself. You can also score points by handing in information: if you score 960 ‘VeleHanden’ points, you get free day access to the CBG-sources. The website really motivates people to share information that they would otherwise gather anyway, to help archives and other researchers. The website itself is really convenient for genealogic research, because it combines scans and information from all kinds of different provincial and national archives. You can type in a name and details such as birthplace or date of birth, and the website gives you all the details and certificates that are digitized and contain the name in the search box.

The website says they do not interpret, which means they only show the details as they are in the certificates. It says that the interpretation of the scans and details available is up to the users of the website. There is also an option of improving the website and/or details, or report errors. The website is extremely interactive and welcoming, in stating their gratitude in every contributive option. When you report an error, and the institution changes it, you get notified. The only thing unclear is who will help you when you have questions regarding your own research. The contact options are mostly for issues with the website itself, and not really in-depth.

Under the section ‘Nieuws’, users are updated on all kinds of genealogic research. It invites people to events and gives them information on how to improve their research. It also states that ‘WieWasWie’ was included by ‘the Family Tree Magazine’ in a list of ‘101 Best Websites for Genealogy’. It is not necessary to register on the website to use it, although some options are only available for registered uses. To use the website in a creative way, and to extend your research, you can get a premium account by paying money (monthly or yearly).


Concluding, in both of these websites participation is stimulated in different ways. The 9/11 Digital Archive plays into people’s personal emotional experiences, and WieWasWie plays into the aspect of making a contribution to actual archival research.

By Olivia & Jonne