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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Two New Apps Redefine San Francisco Audio Tours

Posted By on Wed, Apr 8, 2015 at 8:00 AM

  • Courtesy Jake Stimpson, Flickr Creative Commons

Walking the streets of San Francisco with headphones in your ears may seem like the perfect way to shut out your surroundings – but two new audio tour apps would have you do just the opposite. Guidekick and Detour, both only a few months old, are pushing the boundaries of what it means to take a stroll through the city. The former uses audio content and 3-D maps to bring San Francisco’s historic sites to life, while the latter guides listeners through neighborhoods via elegantly produced podcasts. According to the creatives behind the two apps, an audio tour revolution is on the horizon – and San Francisco is the testing ground.

For Mark Paddon, Guidekick’s CEO, it all started thousands of miles from home. On a trip to Machu Picchu, the Pacifica native and his friends realized that their exploration of the ruins lacked historical accompaniment. They wanted to be “teleported back in time,” Paddon says, in order to better understand the site's history. There could be an app for that, they decided – and they could create it.

So they returned to their Bay Area base and began an experiment in teleportation. “We want to recreate how San Francisco’s historic sites were in their golden age,” says Paddon. His vision comes across most clearly in Guidekick’s tour of the Sutro Baths, where a combination of storytelling, music, and 3-D maps transforms the weathered stones and stagnant pools into the crowded 19th-century bathhouse. Paddon is working on tours of Union Square, the Ferry Building, and Fisherman’s Wharf – tourist attractions, to be sure, but he sees Guidekick as more than just fanny pack entertainment. “The most rewarding thing is when locals who have been to these places before experience it in a new and transformative way,” he says. “We have plans to expand, but we definitely want to nail it here in San Francisco.”

Ben Adair, Detour’s Head of Content, is similarly convinced of San Francisco’s auditory promise: “It’s a walking city, and it’s small enough not to be completely overwhelming,” he says. Detour also produces audio stories, but in place of 3-D maps, Detour’s visual component is the listener’s surroundings – the stories reference specific buildings and shops at the precise time a pedestrian encounters them. While Guidekick explores San Francisco’s historic sites, Detour has listeners wandering all over the city, with tours centered around themes (trash, architecture), neighborhoods (the Tenderloin), and epochs (The Beat Generation). Veteran audio-journalists from shows like This American Life and Planet Money produce Detour's content, which aims to take podcasting to another level. “Podcasts do a really good job of explaining,” Adair says. “Our storytelling adds another dimension, which is exploration. We consider this a new medium for storytelling.”

Does this mean future urban wanderers will spend their time hunched over their phones? No, says Adair. Like Guidekick's Paddon, he hopes the audio stories will provide a new way for San Franciscans to experience their city.

“The goal isn’t just entertainment," Adair says. "It’s understanding.”
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Sarah Stodder


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