Chris Whalen is bringing history to life with Historik, a software platform that preserves the past while creating an immersive experience for its users.
“We’re a technology company that is creating tools to empower communities to tell their story and share history with the world,” said Whalen, a Coeur d’Alene resident.
Historik, which is an open-source, centralized database of historic sites, initially began as a passion project, Whalen said.
“It started from a problem – why can’t I connect with history anywhere in the world from my phone?” Whalen said.
Historik allows museums and other organizations to create digital stories about historic buildings and sites that users can view on the platform’s mobile app.
It leverages geospatial data to mark each site within a user’s proximity. Each landmark has a story of its history, fun facts, photos and a text-to-speech option for information to be read aloud.
The app also brings history to life by using augmented reality to view a 3D model in real time of historic landmarks, if organizations have enabled the feature.
“If you pull up the Red Collar Line, hit the AR button and if your phone is compatible, you can actually see the Idaho steamboat in your office and walk around it,” Whalen said.
Eventually, the app will allow users to view 3D models of historic buildings at their former sites, he said.
“You could go to the empty lot, pull up the story and you could use AR to walk around the building as if it was still there,” he said.
Users can choose what type of notifications and historical points they see on the map within Historik.
“We pass by history every day, but we have no clue because there isn’t a way to connect with that history,” he said.
Historik features more than 80 stories of historic landmarks in North Idaho, some of which include the Wilma Theater, formerly located in downtown Coeur d’Alene and sites throughout Wallace, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“Right now, it’s hyperlocal in the Coeur d’Alene area until we expand it,” Whalen said. “Our hope is people see the value of what we’re building and they naturally want to be a part of it.”
Whalen, a UX designer who has worked for Microsoft, IBM and Coeur d’Alene-based Continuous Composites, began designing Historik’s app about 1½ years ago. The free app is available for iPhone users. A rollout of an Android version will follow in the near future, he said.
Organizations and museums can create up to 20 stories on the app at no cost. The app has tiered pricing for organizations wanting to add more than 20 stories.
Organizations receive attribution for stories they share and a badge to show the information is coming from a verified source. With a paid account, organizations can add information about their facilities, operating hours and websites.
“Our goal is to market museums and institutions to draw more people to them,” Whalen said.
Whalen is looking to add guided and curated tours to the app in the future – a feature that museums could also make available to users for a small fee.
The Museum of North Idaho uploaded about 60 stories to the app via a group of volunteers and help from Whalen, said Britt Thurman, executive director of the Museum of North Idaho.
“We are a smaller museum and we don’t have the opportunity to invest in some of the digital platforms,” Thurman said. “We don’t have our own app. We don’t have photos on our website, so this app and working with Chris has allowed us to have a virtual presence for our community.”
The museum had more than 36,000 digitized photographs that were previously only accessible by visiting in person, Thurman said.
“Now, we have the opportunity to get those photos to the public and get our community to care about local history and appreciate it,” Thurman said. “Hopefully, tourists can learn about it too.”
Historik is an asset to travelers and residents looking to be more engaged with their communities, she said.
“Our area is at this important stage of where we are experiencing so much growth in such a short amount of time and our local history is at risk of being written over,” Thurman said. “I think this app is absolutely essential to make sure our history doesn’t exist in just our memory and that we have a tangible connection to it, and we don’t lose it to progress.”
Whalen is continuing to partner with organizations nationwide to add content on the app.
He’s also planning to raise funding for Historik via an early stage investment round, allowing the startup to expand operations and marketing within the next year.
“Our hope is this becomes a tool that allows history to become accessible to the community and the world,” Whalen said. “We want this to be something where you can go down the street, pull your phone out and see incredible pieces of history and why it mattered.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox
Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.