Last October, I downloaded a beautiful new iPhone/iPad app: Fotopedia Heritage. It features some rather stunning photographs of UNESCO’s world heritage sites. The app is available as a free download for iOS devices and includes information on UNESCO world heritage sites. The pull for users are the “25,000 amazing pictures” assembled by “thousands of photographers” and “hundreds of curators.” The developer touts the app as a “coffee-table book reinvented,” which suggests that users are encouraged to gaze upon and appreciate static images and authoritative information. The application pulls “official information” from UNESCO’s web portal and links data from Wikipedia about each heritage site. The app’s engaging feature, however, are the sharp, arresting photographs contributed by photographers, which can be rated by users. The app also features an interactive mapping feature to navigate through the sites geographically as well as social tagging and sharing possibilities (including Facebook and Twitter). This sort of application encourages interest and curiosity in “world heritage,” and it purports to draw upon a crowdsourced body of information and expertise. At the same time, it also develops a static user gaze and passive appreciation of heritage without direct engagement at a community or local level.
There are a few more nagging questions about the app. While it is undoubtedly visually appealing, to whom does the commercial side appeal? According to one reviewer on Apple’s App Store, the app is little more than a front for professional photographers to revitalize sales of old photos. If so, I can’t say that I’m entirely opposed, but the question of what revenues the app generates and to whom they flow remains. If the app is, as claimed, officially sponsored by UNESCO, does it generate any funds for the maintenance or preservation of heritage sites? Is the purpose of the app to generate interest? Is it possible to learn about similar sites that are not designated as world heritage, of which there are many?