As a history buff, I love visiting historically significant sites when I am traveling on business or pleasure. But a quick internet search when I’m out of town yields varying results of historical sites or museums close to where I am at. What if there was a mobile phone application that automatically displayed all the historical landmarks, plaques, buildings, museums and sites within the immediate location of where I was standing with my phone? I think that would be great and this is my proposal for the creation of such a mobile app.
Marketing History With A Mobile App
The genesis for the mobile application emerged when some of the local historical societies began discussing the idea of some sort of collaborative marketing for the Sacramento region. As president of the Sacramento Historical Society at the time, I listened to the informal discussion that centered on ways to integrate the multitude of little historical societies and non-profits that manage historic homes in the area. The biggest challenge was to get all these big and small groups under one marketing umbrella to be discovered by local residents, travelers, and tourists visiting the area.
Then I attended the San Francisco History Days event where over 90 history related organizations exhibited at the Old U.S. Mint. Wow, it was history heaven. All these groups from neighborhood associations, historical societies, railroads, street cars, and a myriad of other historical organizations under one roof, for two days only. I thought to myself, why couldn’t we put all of these organizations, and others like them across California, onto a phone application to be found, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
While wandering around San Francisco, and sometimes getting lost, I stumbled across two other organizations that weren’t even at the history days event. As I walked down one street, I was confronted with the American Bookbinding Museum. What a treat to learn how books were made and bound in the 19th century.
Filtering Types & Categories Of Historical Sites & Museums
San Francisco is packed with history, but so are numerous little towns up and down California. Some communities are better at marketing their historical sites than others. Even then it can be hard to filter through the variety of different types of historical sites, if they even have a website or are marked on Google Maps, which most are not. A phone app would let you filter the sites you might be interested in. For example, if you are fascinated with Chinese history, when you visit a location you could search for Chinese historical sites and further refine the search for a time period such as 1860 – 1890.
The undertaking to build the database for such an application will be a huge immense. Hence, it will most likely take a grant to launch the development of the mobile app and build the database. Below is my high-level proposal for such a project.
Draft Concept and Scope For Historical Sites Phone App
Develop a mobile application that tourists, visitors, and local residents can download onto their mobile device that would show a variety of historical sites, structures, landmarks, and museums within prescribed radius around their current location or region they may be visiting in the future. Some people have compared the historical sites mobile app to the dating apps, where the history lover is searching for an afternoon date at a historic site or museum.
There is no coordinated effort on the part of California’s many large and small historical societies, non-profits, and museums to market to visitors and tourists. Each has its own website of varying quality and usability. Not all of the non-profits have the time or sophistication to properly document their location on one of the many mobile map apps or Google Earth. The diversity of internet marketing on the part of all these organizations makes it difficult for people to navigate and seek information about the sites, especially when using a mobile phone.
A historical sites and museums mobile application, free to download, would allow locals, visitors, and tourists the ability to quickly view all the historic places, structures, and museums on their phone. This will increase traffic to the historic locations or museums, but also to the non-profits website who supports the historic site. I was fortunate to have gotten lost in San Francisco and happened to walk by the American Bookbinders Museum. What a treasure! I loved it. But I had to get lost before I found this small wonderful little museum. A mobile app would have instantly shown me that the American Bookbinders Museum was less than a half mile from my hotel, and within easy walking distance.
When the mobile application is opened, by default, it would display historical points of interest within a 10-mile radius. The user would have the option of a map view or list view. The map view would be similar to Google Earth that automatically displays certain sites. The user could tap on an icon to open another page that would give additional details about the site.
The list view would display all the sites within the radius with approximate distance from the user’s position. Similar to a mobile map application, the user could request directions to the site either walking, car, or public transportation.
Once the route has been selected, the mobile app would display where they are in relationship to their point of origin and final destination.
Different types of historical sites could have different icons associated with them. For example, any site that is available to visit at any time of the day might have a green icon. This would be for landmarks, plaques, historical sites, etc. Other sites such as museums, libraries, and homes might be yellow indicating they are only open for viewing during certain hours or times. Sites that may have no physical marker or are rarely open to the public might be indicated by a white icon. For example, the location of where Harvey Milk was assassinated. There is limited public access, but knowing the building site of the event may be significant for some people.
The user could select the type of sites to only show those places that have no restrictions on viewing and with a marker.
The user could select from a variety of filters to narrow down their search for distance, category of interest, type of historical site or museum, among a few of the items.
- Map or list view
- Radius from user’s location or proposed location
- Only sites within walking distance
- Type of site: structure, place, museum, tour
- Pre-historic (Native American)
- Spanish or Mexican pre-California statehood
- Gold Rush
- Cultural Ethnicity: Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Irish, German, UK, Latino, LGBTQ, etc.
- Military, naval, Air Force, depots
- Time period: this could be by decade (1850 – 1860), pre-history, specific year, or century (18th, 19th, 20th)
- Buildings: homes, office, warehouse, museums
- Sites of historic events: demonstrations, disasters, landings
- People: locations associated with people in California history birth place, home, office, artists, musicians, writers
- Availability & Fee: filter for sites that are only free, entrance fee, open or closed on the specific date, hours of operation
- ADA accessible
- Religious: churches, synagogues, temples, shrines, cemeteries
(Only suggestions, there are more specific filters that could be proposed)
Data Base Construction
Each entry would need to have the GPS coordinates associated with it. A brief description of the site with the category and type it is associated with. This would be the bare minimum. A fuller more meaningful overview would need to be provided by the site’s sponsor, if there is one.
Historical Landmark Plaques
There are hundreds of local, state, and federal landmark plaques that can be entered into the data base. Since there is not necessarily an organized group that supports many of those plaques, just their location and brief description would be entered.
Historic Structures & Museum
There are many historic structures that can be added that, similar to plaques, do not have an organized group promote the site. There are many buildings who do have non-profit organizations to support and promote the building or museum. These organization could become sponsors and information about the historic site within the database. One example is the haas-lilienthalhouse.org who manage admission and tours of the historic home. A tap on the mobile app for that site would bring up thumbnail images and more information, including a link to their website.
There are many small museums that offer terrific content and exhibits. These museums, with smaller marketing budgets may be within close walking distance for a visitor with a small window of time to explore historic locations near their hotel.
Historical site preservation and promotion is usually the domain of non-profit organizations. While some non-profits could make substantial contributions to the development of a mobile application, because it would be a statewide representation, trying to locate a grant for the initial development of the application seems the best alternative at this time. A grant also puts all of the non-profits in equal standing in terms of their potential involvement. This is not to say a large corporation or non-profits could not make a donation to the development of the application. All those details could be addressed when a more formal meeting of stakeholders – historic mobile app committee – could be convened to discuss the development.
There would be at a minimum two levels of participation. First would be non-sponsored historic sites such as California Landmark Plaques. The second would be sponsors. A sponsor would just be an individual, non-profit, government agency, or company, that wishes to participate in adding information to the database about the site or museum. Ideally, all historic sites would be included in the database. (This inventory and entry into the database would be one of the larger costs of the initial development of the mobile app.)
Once an individual, non-profit, or other organization, has been accepted as a sponsor for the historical site or museum, they would be granted access to the database for their entry, or to create an entry, and enter all the pertinent short description, category, type, time period, URL links, location, etc. There could be a nominal annual fee to be a sponsor of a historic site such as $25 or $50 per year. The mobile app committee could also waive the fee for some non-profits with small budgets. This might be appropriate for some sites who charge no admission fee or hold no tours that generate funds for the operation and maintenance of the site.
Funding & Budget
The seeds of development would need to be planted by a group of individuals within the history community to be drawn from historical societies, historic site preservationists, government agencies, museums, and corporations with a strong interest in preserving history. This historic mobile app group would more carefully define the mobile application and then put out a Request for Proposal for the development of the application.
The historic mobile app committee would also be tasked with estimating the cost of creating the initial statewide data base. They might determine that it will take 500 hours to acquire and input all of the base information into data base. This could be equivalent to a $10,000 to $15,000 one-time development expense.
The committee would then add the average bid price for the development of the mobile app with the initial database construction into a total cost for a grant application. The committee would also consider long term costs of supporting and maintaining the mobile application. There would be the cost to upgrade the software for updates for mobile devices. There would also need to an allotment of some estimated staff time for sponsor support, maintenance, review, and changes to the mobile app. This might amount to ½ to 1 full-time equivalent annually.
Long Term Funding
A successful grant award would cover the cost of initial development and deployment. Funding for maintenance and service could come from donations, sponsors, and advertisements. If the historic mobile app could attract 500 sponsors at an annual $50 fee, that would generate $25,000. This would cover a part-time employee. The mobile app could also have embedded in it an advertising banner at the bottom of the mobile screen. Because one of the apps target audiences is travelers and tourists, there would be no lack of bidders for the ad space. This could all be managed by Google Adsense or other company that delivers mobile ads.
Historic Mobile Application Organization
It’s possible that a large non-profit historical organization such as the California Historical Society could undertake the oversight of development and management of the mobile app. However, there is also the case to be made for the historic mobile application to have its own dedicated non-profit organization established for the purposes of development and deployment. This would increase the long-term costs to maintain the mobile application as there would administrative costs that an established non-profit could integrate into their system.
About Kevin Knauss
Currently, I am president of the Sacramento Historical Society. On my website, www.insuremekevin.com, I have posted several blogs related to the history of South Placer and Sacramento counties. There are numerous images and maps that I have uploaded for other history aficionados to download and review. Many of my history posts became the foundation for my first book Hidden History Beneath Folsom Lake. I am finishing second book on California and Sacramento pioneer Benjamin Norton Bugbey. The research on the Bugbey book has taken me to several historical locations, museums, libraries and archives including the Sacramento Center for History, California State Archives, California State Library, Mechanics’ Institute and Library, and the Bancroft Library.
My website was developed by me using WordPress. I also deploy Google Adsense advertisements on the site. The modest income from the advertising helps cover the costs to maintain the website such annual subscriptions to plug-ins and the website server. In the early 2000s, I developed an internet-based application for the remote wireless programming of irrigation controllers. In addition to managing the development of the wireless software and user interface, I was also the chief marketing individual for the product.
If you have any ideas about a mobile app for historical sites and museums, please contact me. I can add them to the list of features and functionality. I’m not looking to make money off of this idea. I’m just hoping we can create some critical mass of energy to get the ball rolling toward development. It will need to be a collaborative effort to pull it together on the part of historical societies and other interested stakeholders.