110 Stories app: Brian August

Curator: Christopher Sergio
date: October 12, 2011
Categories: Experience Design
Tags: 9/11, App, augmented reality, iPhone, Kickstarter, September 11th

As a native New Yorker and Manhattanite I experienced the attacks of September 11, 2001, firsthand. In the months and years afterward, I often found myself standing on one street corner or another, looking south and wondering: “Could you see them from here...?”

The Twin Towers had been a fixture of the skyline outside of my bedroom window as a child. But my inability to recall their orientation from other points around the city unexpectedly added to and prolonged the sense of loss following the attacks. Now, after 10 years, an iPhone app has succeeded where memory has failed. 

110 Stories began its life as a project on Kickstarter. (Full disclosure: After I heard about the app, I donated to help fund it.) Its creator, Brian August, had experienced the same sense of visual loss that I and so many other New Yorkers had—but for the 10th anniversary of 9/11 Mr. August decided to help repair the skyline of memory, virtually and single-handedly. 

The way it works is simple: First, you take a picture with your smartphone. Next, GPS and compass data from your phone is used to automatically calculate your exact position in relation to where the towers once stood. A wire-frame outline of the two towers then appears and is superimposed over your photo, showing you roughly what the skyline would have looked like on September 10, 2001, from your current location. After you approve your composite image, you can add a brief personal story about your photo or experience. Finally, you upload your image and its attached story to a kind of communal online space—half social network, half Flickr set. People see your post, and you can see whatever they’ve shared. 

The app is free to download and use, and is now available for the Android as well as the iPhone.

There are still a few drawbacks to the app, in my estimation. The placement of the wire frame isn’t always perfect, so the app gives you the opportunity to “shift” the placement of the towers left and right across your image, using your finger. This is an adequate enough work-around solution, and a completely understandable glitch, given the relative youth of “enhanced reality” technology—not to mention the remarkable speed with which the app was created (within mere months).

But the major point of frustration is that you have to upload your image to the communal space, or else you can not save it. Many people, myself included, would be grateful to have the option to keep some of their reflections on 9/11 private. You should have the ability to save the composite image directly to your phone’s memory, rather than be required to upload it for communal consumption. But even this drawback can not diminish the achievement of the app. Bravo to Mr. August and his development team, doPanic and i-NOVATION

As a designer, I wish I had developed something like 110 Stories. But as a New Yorker, I’m just grateful that someone has, and that I get to use it.
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