May is National Preservation Month at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and to celebrate, they've rolled out a new online project called "This Place Matters." The idea is to bring the Trust's mission of protecting the nation's most important historic buildings and neighborhoods to the masses, allowing people in less famous places to document and celebrate their own most cherished spots.
Visitors to the Trust's website can print out a sign that says "This Place Matters," then take a picture of themselves holding it in front of a locale that's dear to their heart, à la Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues"  (or Fidel Castro proving he's still alive). They can then upload the pictures to the Trust's flickr stream, Myspace page, and/or Facebook group, and add to a growing crazy-quilt of historic, nostalgic, and just plain funky places across the country.
Or at least that was the original idea. The National Trust is a private, non-profit foundation best known for its Preservation magazine, and its annual list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places; but now, they've taken to the web with a full-bore social-networking assault—and are learning that the internet can be a chaotic place. "This Place Matters" started out as a bold experiment in Web 2.0 synergy, but has rumbled off the road into the weedy patch of user-generated content.
Some users of the "This Place Matters" web tools forget to include location information in their uploads, and others don't bother with the "This Place Matters" sign. The "Historic Hiwassee Railroad Loop" looks kind of cool, but that may not be a compelling reason to save it; and directing the preservation paramedics to save Anglers Lodge, um, somewhere in the United States (hint: it's yellow), just doesn't cut it.
But many posters do get it right, especially in Minneapolis: fans of St. Anthony Falls and the Humboldt Mill have got the geotagging thing down, and this photo of kids at Nolte Field in Silver Spring, Maryland, is a perfect example of bringing people-power to the cause of historic preservation.
Right now, there are over 300 photos in the "This Place Matters" flickr set, and these numbers alone may be enough to declare the Trust's internet experiment a success, proving to potential donors and government decision-makers that there are a whole lot more than just eleven preservation-worthy places in this country.
Image: Oak Park Roller Rink from VintageRoadside