institution: National Heritage Board
category: Exhibition and Collection Extension
Singapore is a small city-state in Southeast Asia. We’re a young nation – we recently celebrated our 50th year of independence – though the history of our island stretches back a further 700 years. Delicately balancing the breakneck pace of change with the need to stay true to our roots, the individual stories of Singaporeans are continually adding to this larger narrative.
The National Heritage Board (NHB) is the custodian of Singapore’s heritage, and so it’s our duty to record, tell and celebrate these stories, which capture the essence of what it means to be Singaporean.
With this mission in mind, Roots.sg was conceived in 2014 to bring the contents of our national collection, heritage trails, national monuments, historic sites and other multimedia assets together in a single, one-stop heritage resource portal. Roots.sg allows us to transcend the limits of our physical spaces, granting a far wider segment of the population access to our resources; as well as effectively allowing people to co-curate their heritage experience with us.
Singapore ranks highest in the world for smartphone penetration (as of 2016), representing a huge potential digital audience for us to reach out to. Along with that fact, we were aware that Singaporeans are increasingly active in seeking out content on heritage. This was, however, sometimes an unwieldy task; each museum, library and heritage institution ran their own individual websites, with sometimes overlapping information. Roots.sg was conceptualised to gather all that information together in one place and present it in an intuitive, user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing portal. While the idea for what is essentially another website isn’t exactly new, it would be the first time that Singapore’s heritage would be collated in such a comprehensive manner on a digital platform.
This was an ambitious project; besides the challenges of gathering all the information and actually building the portal, we had to convince our decision-makers of its value. Armed with strong convictions that even as a toddler city-state, enough content existed to populate the site; and that growing interest in Singapore’s heritage would translate to a significant amount of visitors, we managed to secure funding, and thereafter buckled down to catalogue 125,000 artefacts and multimedia resources.
Since its launch, 500,000 individuals have visited Roots.sg, and the engagement rate on our Facebook page has increased too. In six months, time spent per visit has increased from 1 mins to 3 mins, with individuals averaging 3 pages per visit.
Users of Roots.sg say:
The Straits Times Online (Singapore’s national daily) on 22 Apr carried a letter from Ms Ye Yutong who expressed her appreciation of Roots.sg, NHB’s new online portal that captures more than 120,000 cultural treasures and artefacts (Parliament: National Heritage Board launches one-stop heritage portal Roots.sg; 14 Apr). She shared that the portal is an effective method to engage both Singaporeans and Permanent Residents in understanding Singapore’s cultural heritage and foster a sense of belonging.
She highlighted that despite Singapore’s development, one can appreciate our national heritage through this portal, and it is useful for learning on the go given our hectic lifestyles. She also noted that other than the part the Government plays, individuals also have a responsibility to actively keep ourselves informed about our heritage.
Mr Gareth Phua, Lecturer at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts
“First off, I will say for the record, that this is an excellent initiative. Obviously, a massive amount of work has gone into collating all the data and displaying them in this really elegant and user-friendly format.
While I will not go into the design of the whole thing, because I believe it is a very dynamic thing that will evolve as you get along, I will say that currently, what you have is definitely something very useful for history buffs, and to a large extent, educators.
Coming from a photography angle, I love how there is extensive history for the National Monuments. This will give readers a good chance to find out more about each monument, and even entice them to want to visit these monuments.
I certainly will be bookmarking this as one resource that will save me lots of time.”
It is our hope that in the not so distant future, Roots.sg will be the foremost digital concierge for people wanting to delve into Singapore’s heritage; and “Roots” will be synonymous with “Google” for everything related to Singapore’s history, heritage and culture.
More about Roots.sg
The site intelligently recommends related information, based on visitors browsing patterns. This portal also marks the first time that NHB is using online maps to indicate heritage points of interest, ranging from museums, trails and monuments.
Visitor experience was a key consideration while we were developing the site. Roots.sg gives visitors a wider and comprehensive birds-eye view of content. In other words, content is presented in a larger context, and not in isolation.
Aside from this convenience of having all heritage resources located under one roof for easy access, Roots.sg intelligently recommends inks between the different resources, thus offering an enhanced understanding of a certain aspect of our heritage. For example, when researching on a particular heritage trail in your neighbourhood, you will also be “recommended” by Roots.sg to explore the National Monuments located on or near the trail, or even look into other related resources such as videos documenting traditional trades practised in that area.