Fotopedia Heritage Shows the Web Isn’t Dead—It’s Just Met the App World

8/27/10Follow @wroush

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feature one high-definition image each day, usually related to an item in the news. (Yesterday’s image showed a refugee camp for flood victims in Pakistan.) This app’s main selling point is the quality of the photos, but there’s something else too—the images seem more stunning when viewed in splendid isolation on the iPad than they would if they were stuck inside a Web browser on a PC.

My only real complaint about Guardian Eyewitness is that it shows you just one new image per day. Fotopedia Heritage breaks through that limitation—smashing it to tiny little bits, in fact. The app’s organizing theme is the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s list of World Heritage sites. There are 911 such sites in 187 countries around the world, most chosen for their cultural, architectural, artistic, or ecological value. The Fotopedia app includes more than 20,000 pictures from the Fotopedia website, covering 890 of the sites.

Fotopedia -- UluruMany of the pictures originate from Flickr, just as on the Fotopedia site. But while the Flickr curation formula falls short on the Web, it’s much more compelling on the iPad, thanks to the “clean interface and seamless interactivity” that Anderson rightly cites as the main advantage of the app model. You can’t get much cleaner than a single, screen-filling, high-definition photograph. (The Fotopedia Heritage screen does have an overlay of buttons, but they go away with the touch of a finger.) And in terms of interactivity, you can’t get much more seamless than a right-flick or a left-flick to change images. (There’s also a pop-up filmstrip menu that allows you to jump between photos. You can call up geographically organized collections of photos, as well—just photos of the Sydney Opera House, for example, or photos from all of Australia, or all of Oceania—and you can open Google maps that show the heritage sites as pushpins.)

The “coffee table book” comparison comes from the way the app encourages casual browsing, and from the emphasis on images, unencumbered by loads of text. But if you’re in a reading mood, each image connects to Wikipedia, to the UNESCO writeups on the individual World Heritage sites, and even to the travel planning site TripAdvisor.

I’ve spent hours with Fotopedia Heritage, and I think tech blogger Robert Scoble’s pocket review of the app is dead on: “I love the app. Why? Because it lets me dream about traveling to places around the world…It’s like a new kind of atlas with thousands of photos at your fingertips.” (If you want to know more about the app and how it was built, I recommend watching Scoble’s 30-minute video interview with Hullot, embedded below.)

In the big picture—so to speak—I think the real reason I’m so fascinated by Fotopedia Heritage is that it represents a happy marriage between “Web world,” with its open, sometimes chaotic culture of sharing and voting and remixing, and “app world,” with its emphasis on sleekness, usability, and control. The Fotopedia Heritage app wouldn’t work without the Web’s interoperability and its power to crowdsource tasks like curation. And the Fotopedia site wouldn’t have as much reason to exist without the app, which represents its refined essence. So, in the end, I don’t think we’re abandoning the Web, as Wired argues—we’re just finding new uses for it.

For a full list of my columns, check out the World Wide Wade Archive. You can also subscribe to the column via RSS or e-mail, and you can download Pixel Nation, an e-book version of the first 80 columns, as a free PDF file or a $4.99 Kindle edition.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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