Let me confess up front that I have a weak spot for apps that focus on local historic areas.  These are like someone inviting you into their home. This is where they live and work. There’s an element of pride based upon a true appreciation for a place that shines through the best of these apps. Even if it’s unlikely you’ll be able to make the physical journey to everyone one of these, the best historic places apps create a soft spot in your heart that you don’t forget by taking you on a mental journey. Let’s begin with a warm invitation to the Strawbery Banke Museum.

The Strawbery Banke Museum

App icon for Strawbery BankeMuseumRated Four StarsHave you seen the travel book series “Why Stop?” such as this one for Texas. Each book covers the historical markers in a state so that as you drive across the state you can read about the markers on your route and choose to stop at the ones that interest you or in reading about them become more informed about the places you are traveling through.  Perusing through the App Store the first question an app developer for a historic place answers is “why stop?”. Why stop and spend time with this app and then why stop and visit the historic place with which it is associated.

For me the above video answers the first question for this wonderful app developed by John Forti, Curator of Historic Landscape, in partnership with Audissey Guides (too bad the App Store doesn’t allow the embedding of videos in the app description) and this very well developed app answers the second question. After spending time with this app I really do want to visit the Strawbery Banke Museum one day.

Located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, “Strawbery Banke today is unique among outdoor history museums – tracing 375 years of history in one of America’s oldest continuously occupied neighborhoods. The 10-acre site, with its authentically restored houses and shops, period gardens, and costumed role players, presents the daily lives of ordinary people who lived here – from Colonial times to World War II, from the mundane to the elegant, from economic boom to war time austerity – in engaging and accessible ways. Strawbery Banke Museum is a capsule of New England seaport life across four centuries.” (from the museum’s website).

Screenshot of Strawbery Banke map with 29 stops identified

Touch screen map with 29 stops

Navigating the Strawbery Banke app is super easy and intuitive.  From the “Home” screen tap “Property Map” and you are taken to an interactive map of the museum’s ten acres.  I really appreciate this design because including this interactive map is not only useful for the onsite visitor but also draws in the app visitor to the place. If however, you prefer a list view simply tap “Sites”. Tap stop #1 and there is an brief introductory video that invites the viewer “to come discover your place in the unfolding story of America”. This welcome is a nice touch that some apps skip. Tapping on each of the 29 stops takes the user to a screen with 1-3 videos to choose from. The variety of voices and the accompanying musical score really  do a good job of bringing user into the museum grounds. Strawbery Banke comes alive as historical pictures and illustrations are interspersed with pictures of the contemporary space.

After spending time with this app the user really feels like you’ve visited someplace. And someplace you want to return to again and again to discover the little gems provided in each stop. Tapping “Visitor Info” on the “Home” screen takes the user to a screen with links for “Events”, “Hours & Admission”, “Directions” and “About this Application”.  Overall an uncluttered navigation design. The only thing missing is any integration with social networks or the possibility to email links to the video clips to friends which I was tempted to do on the one on “Victorian Children’s Garden” in which the listener is encourage to think of encouraging the children you know to have their own garden to tend.

The Strawbery Banke Museum app is available for free from Apple’s App Store and well worth checking out. It is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad and requires iOS 3.1 or later.

Chester: Revealing The Rows

App icon for Chester: Revealing the Rows

Rated Two StarsLocated about forty minutes south of Liverpool in the UK is the town of Chester which, in partnership with Imagemakers , has incorporated the children’s game of i-spy into a stroll through historic Chester.  The Rows are a system of covered walkways that run through the fronts of buildings and are found on the four main streets of Chester. This app is a game where participants try to spot one of thirty different objects from the city motto of “Aniqui Colant Aintiquum Dierum” (Let the Ancients Worship the Ancient of Days) to the marking on a building of “1274 AD” for when King Edward I of England used Chester as a base to attack the Welsh.  As the app says, “Not great for the Welsh, but good for business in the Rows!”. Each of the thirty items are assigned a point value from two to ten points each and up to four people can play together.  The thirty objects are divided into three themes: “Ancient shopping mall”, “2000 years of history” and “People and places”. In order to “spot” all thirty objects in the game one must play the game three times, each time choosing a different theme.

Screenshot of The Hand

Screenshot of "The Hand"

A list view displays the ten objects in the theme the players are trying to spot and tapping on each takes the user to a screen such as the one to the right for “The Hand”. Tapping “Look” on this screen results in a full screen view of the object. Tapping “Map” displays a map of the Rows with the location of the object.  “More” simply means in this case a more complete description of the objects significance to the history of Chester.  Once the object is spotted the user taps “Seen it”.  Modest in its ambitions this app is an interesting example of leveraging the game model to increase one’s knowledge a historical area.

Chester: Revealing the Rows incorporates no multimedia which is a shame. Although playing around with this app does not inspire me to visit historic Chester it does give me a brief appreciation for its place in history. Mostly though I kept wondering what it might be like to merge this app with the next one in today’s post: DigiMacq.

Chester: Revealing the Rows is a free app and is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad and requires iOS 3.0 or later.

DigiMacq

App icon for DigiMacq

Rated Three StarsFor our next historical places app we’re going down under to Parramatta in The Heart of Greater Western Sydney (as this video by the Parramatta City Council is entitled).  DigiMacq is the app as history channel focusing on the historic centre of Parramatta.  Six beautifully produced vignettes take the viewer on a journey into the past with oral narratives reflecting historical sources and actors playing the roles of the central characters in the drama of the cities early history.  This app is entertaining but frustrating.  It’s the first app I’ve come across in some time that forces the user to follow the tour lock step from start to finish.  And I do mean in lock step. The user is given no navigation options to move around in any order other than the one designed. This app may or may not be designed primarily for grade school children (I’m waiting on confirmation from the developer) but it has the feel of a DVD being played in a grade school history class.  However, I wonder if it would appeal to today’s children.

As I mentioned in the review on Chester: Revealing the Rows I really kept imagining blending these two apps.  Take the production value of DigiMacq with its beautifully crafted multimedia narratives and combine that with Chester’s three themes and game playing model and I could see a much more engaging app than either of these two individually are.

Screenshot of Parramatta Park

Screenshot of Stop #1Parramatta Park

Don’t link to social media if you don’t have a follow up plan in place.

When you finish the multimedia tour you are invited to take a survey (but the link doesn’t lead to a survey only to SurveyPirate where you can create your own survey).  Additionally the user is provided a link for DigiMacq’s Facebook Page where we read that “the DigiMacq Facebook page has been set up as so users from all around the world can discuss their experience and meet other DigiMacq users!”.  Sounds like a plan however, the two most recent post on the wall are spam and there are no discussions in the discussions tab.  Follow the link to “follow the DigiMacq journey on Twitter” and you find a hand full of tweets from months ago.  It seems like the developers had good intentions for incorporating social media into the experience but it seems to have fallen short. I’ve reached out to the developers to find out what happened here and will update this if I’m successful in reaching them.

DigiMacq is a free app available on Apple’s App Store and is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 4.0 or later.