WhatWasThere.com is a web- and mobile-based application that allows users to upload historical photos to Google Maps to see how places appeared in the past.
Imagine you’re the head of a digital agency and two groups of employees independently approach you with the same idea for a highly interactive, community-driven digital historical photographic archive. This is what happened in 2010 to Steve Glauberman of Perficient, and the result of this idea is available now for anyone interested in exploring – and contributing to – a dynamic, ever-changing vision of the past.
For rapidly developing cities, in particular, the application’s ability to preserve “what was there” and contrast it with new construction and development represents a unique and visionary archival experience.
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Digital and Mobile from the Ground-Up
We conceived and executed a completely unique, highly complex (yet elegant) web application and mobile counterpart. To that we employed a remarkable array of state-of-the-art programming tools and strategies, as well as groundbreaking experience design practices.
One challenge involved how to efficiently – yet meaningfully – organize and present tens of thousands of aggregated, location-based data points on the Google map. When standard functionality proved inadequate, we developed an adaptive approach to clustering the data – a flexible strategy that visually represents data density by size across the full range of possible zoom states while maintaining accuracy in data plotting.
The full-on experiential core of the WhatWasThere.com concept is its mobile app. Not simply a retooling of the full site, the mobile app takes full advantage of all the functionality packed into most advanced mobile devices: GPS, mapping, compass, orientation and camera. In addition to developing for a variety of devices and operating systems, the mobile app needed to adapt a very memory intensive digital application to the mobile realm – an achievement that could only be accomplished by employing a rigorous, dynamic, and highly complex approach to device memory management.
Preserving the Past
Laurel Erickson, senior agency manager at Big Data Hush, sums up what drove the passion of the team, “What inspired this project was the realization that we could leverage technology and the connections it facilitates to provide a new human experience of time and space – a virtual time machine of sorts that would allow users to navigate familiar streets as they appeared in the past. What excites us about the project is that it provides the context to capture a photographic history of everyday places before that history disappears.”
Results of this project include:
Since early 2011, the number of uploaded photos has grown by over 300%
Early adopters who become proficient in the application tend to return on a regular basis
A bit of a learning curve can lead to greater user investment if the payoff is worth the effort