Geocaching, QR codes and Local History: Here’s a project for someone…

I’m a big nerd.

I don’t think this blog does a particularly good job in covering up that fact, but I should make it clear: I’m the guy who gets distracted by tourist information plaques. I’ll pick up leaflets about random places and subjects. I can momentarily find myself immersed in the most bizarre subjects. I’m a big nerd.

Okay, now those cards are on the table, why am I wittering about all this?

Well, I may have identified a gap in the market. See, I’m a big fan of wikis, I’ve dabbled in geocaching, and I live in the UK, where practically every wall was sat upon by Elizabeth I or Winston Churchill. And all those facts are coalescing into a project I don’t have the time, resources or know-how to run, so I’m throwing it out there. Heck, it may already be happening, in which case please let me know.

So, my proposal: all those tidbits of local history, folklore, science and religion you know, all those neighbourhood factlets your granny tells you every time you visit? What if there was a way to make them public, not just on a website that no-one remembers to look at, but using QR codes (or whatever smartphone-friendly technology would be most effective and accessible) to put all that information in situ, with GPS coordinates logged to allow individuals to track down interesting looking sites?

The QR codes could link to a wiki giving articles and videos about the place, and this could be added to by whoever feels able to contribute (notice I didn’t say edited – sure, that’s necessary when verifiable historical facts are wrong, but things get fuzzier when talking about, say, religious belief or the liminal world of folklore).

There would be the option to gameify this along the geocaching model, or use it as an educational tool. You’d want tourist boards, libraries, local history groups and websites like Atlas Obscura involved, but not just them, and you’d want a stonking great searchable database/GPS map tracking all this. Add in all the usual social media integration gubbins and you’ve got something that not only tells you the interesting snippets of history that surround us, but that might also generate enough data to explain why so many communities have a ‘Pig on the Wall’ story.

And you’d award points/badges/kudos to contributors, and hopefully inspire local champions who’d be able to visit, say, church coffee mornings and quiet back-street pubs to gather all the stories there. It could provide a handy infrastructure for preserving community memory. Heck, maybe even a way for communities to fight back against tragedy; following the recent school shooting in Newtown, the author of one of my favourite blogs talked about all the other things that defined the town – the place those affected by the shootings know intimately but that the rest of us only get to see when defined by the 24-hour news cycle. If a QR code and a wiki can help support that, then it will be worthwhile.

I know local variations on this have happened in the past – the QR code thing was inspired by a project carried out in Toronto – but it would be nice to bring it all together, to allow every city and every village to make their history and their uniqueness public. And I have no idea how to do this, but if some clever person could find a way to make it happen, I’d be one of the first to sign up and contribute.

Any thoughts?

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One thought on “Geocaching, QR codes and Local History: Here’s a project for someone…

  1. TWWK

    Interesting idea (and one that sounds like a lot of fun!). For five years, I actually worked as a state historian, writing those very plaques and tidbits you’re referring to, here in the U.S. I can say there is no shortage of people who would be willing to contribute to such a project.

    Of course, that’s the big headache. If you want to create something like this, you’d need to think of regulation. Perhaps it would self-police itself in that you wouldn’t have ridiculous or horrendously inaccurate information, but when it comes to what constitutes a fact or which interpretation is correct, people will fight to the bitter end. Trust me – what begins as fun and educational can become bitter and sad! Some rules could be put into place, which would definitely help, but some body would need to oversee it.

    Also, how would this project be funded? I have no idea what it would cost, but I imagine that if it’s to be fairly widespread, costs might add up.

    So perhaps if some group of individuals was absolutely committed to taking on the responsibility and financial obligations of such a project, it would work out.

    Reply

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