Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Apps 'n' Maps

As part of my research of how to develop my very own mobile app for Breary Banks, I rediscovered York's history by testing two apps to see how they navigated me to particular parts of the city. My first experience was the 'York Churches' app, which gives guided tours of all the churches in York's city center and is like an interactive website, in the sense that you don't have to necessarily be in the church to learn about its history. To locate the different churches, there is an excellent map of the city, with all the street names which is very accurate so you are able to find the church easily. Churches described as 'vanished churches' (ruins) are also plotted on the map, which is even better. No internet is needed either and the app gives you opening times and practical information about the church. 
18th Century Naval Figure 'The Little
Admiral' Clock. (drawing by author)
I went to explore St Martin's Church on Coney Street, with the famous 'Little Admiral Clock' being an immediate focal point. A panoramic view of the interior is available which directs you to different areas and objects, telling you about its history etc. Even though this was very easy to navigate, it almost focuses too much on particular areas such that you don't appreciate the church as a whole. Although, whilst I was walking round the church, there were already some information signs that describe the content of the stain glass windows etc, so it made me question if the app was totally necessary? Nevertheless, I thought the whole thing was set up well: the timeline of each church is available to show its development. But areas to improve: not all churches have downloads available, so you are limited to how many you can view, and possibly an audio might be needed, but this is debatable. 

The second app I tested was www.historyofyork.org.uk , a 45 minute tour of the Jewish history of York around the city. A map has to be downloaded from the website and internet is needed to access the audio on YouTube. The first stop was by the Shambles, Norman House, but I was unable to enter the house as it was locked and you had to go somewhere else to get the key. This seemed, quite frankly, annoying. The audio itself was good - no background noise from the speaker - but if you are on the busy streets of York, you begin to feel cautious of where you stand and may not take the entire 8 minutes of description in. On the screen, all you can see is the map of the trail, the subtitles have some errors in grammar and spelling and the voice becomes slightly droll and monotone. Perhaps images of the history and attitudes of the Jewish community would be more engaging. Overall, it was not sufficiently engaging for me, although the intent was clear.

View of the rural landscape from the Leeds Pals' Memorial
(photo by author)
From being on site for a couple of days now, I have begun to envisage how the app for Breary Banks would look. As there is a passable road which runs through the village, I would like to take advantage of that by creating four or five 'stops' along the road which will give the public a different perspective of the landscape. My main aim would be to use the vast landscape surrounding the site, and manipulate the app to challenge the audience as to the site's relationship with the environment and the landscape. I would like to tell personal stories of the occupants through the different stages, but in a more fragmented way and by the use of the senses. For example, the idea of smell can be used to elicit stories about the canteen and food. And the idea of touch can illustrate the different elements of training that the men undertook, such as learning how to cook, developing skills on how to survive and training for life in the trenches. It is such a remote area, that by simply describing the history of the site, it will be in danger of becoming too much like a documentary, and I want to create something that will give another mindset to the audience. 

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