Application Development

Q&A: New History App Tells Old Stories of US Towns

Have you ever gone on a road trip and wondered about the history of the town you were passing though? This is exactly what HistOrigin, launched in July 2014, aims to deliver. CTO, Chris Schaller and Director of Media and Advertising, Rob de Santos, join forces to answer a couple of questions about the app. 

What inspired the idea for HistOrigin?
While on a trip from Columbus, Ohio to Charlotte, North Carolina, one of our founders wondered why it was that the nearby town had been established at that particular location.  A conversation started on how that information could be delivered using the technology of the smart phones and tablets with mobile internet access and the idea for the HistOrigin was born.

Would this project have been possible without Kickstarter?
Unfortunately, our initial attempt at Kickstarter did not attain our funding goal. We expect to try crowdfunding again soon. At the moment, we are concentrating on expanding the audience for the app and expanding the regions covered by our database. Up to this time, the project has been funded completely internally.

Can you describe your short and long term goals for the app?
Short Term – Complete the origin stories for all of the incorporated communities in the United States.  Long Term – Expand the historical data in the app and add additional categories of historical and travel data for users.

How far along are you on this journey?
We have fully completed local histories for three US states and over 2,100 communities. The app also includes historical marker data for all 50 US states. Initial technical development and programming of the app is now complete for the Android platform. We are turning our attention the remaining 47 states, fundraising to allow us to hire the staff required to research and compile stories of the 20,000 remaining incorporated communities, adding additional types of historical and travel data, and planning for the iOS version of the app.  

What have the biggest technical challenges of this project been?
Building the app was daunting as it was important that the app be functional and usable while travelling and not require user interaction while driving a vehicle. It was also important the app not interfere with other voice functions such as navigation or voice calls.

How many new stories are you receiving and how are you processing these?
Users can submit an entry about the history and origin of a community to us using the "Add story" option accessible from the menu in the upper right corner of the HistOrigin app, or from the form available through the "Add story" form at the bottom of the main page of the HistOrigin website.  As records are received, our staff analyses them. The staff access available information from internet sources such as local government websites, from historical documents, books and local history. If the information can be validated, the submitted story will be used to represent the community for which the story was submitted. We have already received valuable feedback from local historians in many communities.

IT can help keep local history and culture alive, but how does this fit with the growing tide of globalisation?
Everyone has a need to understand the places they came from as well as their current surroundings. The history and origins of places are part of that identity. Globalisation should not mean the loss of your individual identity of place and time.

Are there any other history projects that rely on IT that you think are particularly interesting at the moment?
Satellite imagery that identifies long lost historical structures in terrainSonar advancements that can find historical objects on the bottom of ocean floor.

Do you ever hope to expand outside the US?
A wider effort is in our plans but the size of the effort in the US and the challenges in funding that effort mean that we will have to pass those hurdles before it will feasible to expand beyond the United States.  

Is there anything else you’d like to share?
We welcome public feedback and contributions. If you have you ever wondered how a town you are passing on the road got its name, then our app is for you. If you want to know where nearby historical markers are located, our app is for you. Our app is currently available in the Google Play Store in both free and paid (US$1.99) versions. It works in the background without interfering with your normal use of the phone via navigation or voice. The app lets you know local city and town histories and historical locations as you travel.


Kathryn Cave is Editor at IDG Connect


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