Since the beginning of this blog, we have mostly embeded or reposted the insight, media and products that reflect the very wide world of global African culture. For the last 7 months and counting though, Beta Bahil has also run parallel an in-house development of our new iPhone application called the iHeritage Guide(www.iheritageguide.com). Where our other in-house project, Grio.tv, is a HUGE endeavor likely to need a great amount of resources, iHeritage Guide was the perfect size to design, develop, and launch for this boot-strapping firm. Ok, it did take some arm-twisting and pleading for seed funds but, none-the-less, all involved have agreed on the usefulness and potential of the product which in essence, brings physical history into the palm of your hands. With our geotagged engine and app, one can locate the nearest African-American historic or culture site.
Why is this important? The short answer is Sankofa. Sankofa(with a nod to both the movie and cafe) meaning that we move forward taking the lessons from the past. The longer answer is that the app aids in the answer of where, or where is our past?
If you have an iPhone, definitely try it out. If you don’t, but are interested in the app, leave a comment and we’ll keep you posted. Museums and other cultural/heritage institutions who can actually build traffic using the iHeritage Guide, can also contact us at the following link.
Here are some brief observations from our current listing:
-There are tons of African American cultural institutions through-out the United States. Every major city east of the Mississippi River has some museum and/or center. West of the Mississippi, there is also good representation of institutions in states like California, Washington, and Texas.
-National marked heritage sites are also plentiful and can be found in the smallest of towns.
Sankofa 2.5 = Sankofa * Technology
Interestingly, the journey of development has also illuminated tons of learning and questions around finding relevant content for the iHeritage Guide and the presence of African heritage data in the digital world. For the iHeritage Guide, the key was to combine all elements of data related to African American heritage onto one platform(i.e. physical interaction, general data, updated data, and other media such as video). Developing straight for the smartphone presented us that opportunity and allowed us to translate the world of heritage information onto a converged technological tool such as the iPhone.
But let’s back up a bit and go over what converged or convergence means. The video below gives you a general outlook on what convergence is and its implications to how one obtains and interacts with media and information. To summarize the clip, the day when you can obtain news and video “anyplace, anytime, anywhere” has arrived in the form of smartphones like the iPhone, Palm Pre, or Blackberry and their PC-like features and internet accessibility.
So, in this rapidly evolving technology ecosystem, a few questions came to mind related to heritage/cultural institutions:
1. Are heritage/cultural Institutions and their content leveraging new ways for people to obtain information? First generation websites were made primarily for marketing. Second generation or Web 2.0/Social Media platforms are used for conversations with an institution’s members or audience using a Facebook Fan Page or Twitter account. (Side note: This also brought to mind what input an institution has on Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit,” and the subject pertinent to the institution’s area of expertise or scholarship?)
2. How can convergence and a rich mobile presence facilitate the mission of a heritage institution and also, in broader terms, historical information? For example, for those that can’t visit The King Center in Atlanta, what ways can exhibitions, programs, and media be accessible by someone across the country or across the world digitally. The website was one manner, but now the arrival of web-enabled mobile devices has brought forward an opportunity to reach a broader audience in new ways.
Robin Caldwell of BlackWeb20.com, in a recent article on the Huffington Post, wrote about the lack of diversity in technology circles. At the end of article that provided a list of emerging tech thought leaders of color like BlackDigerati.org and Jon Gosier of Appfrica Labs, she states:
“Technology is viewed as an incubator for innovation, but if the same people are always included in that incubator then they are recreating more of the same and reproducing themselves.
Until there is diversity represented in technology, there will be no true innovation in a space that is colorblind to only one thing — money.”
I believe the same goes for museums and cultural/heritage institutions in relation to the world of new media and convergence based content. There currently exists a new and different set of tools to engage visitors(virtual or actual) and use this digital experience to educate, create awareness, and even gain new revenue sources in the way of admission and product sales. Until institutions of culture and heritage use these new tools, innovative opportunities will be missed to aid in our collective journey to learn from the past.