Established on Christmas Day, 1817, the Fort Smith Historic Site in Arkansas is steeped in American history. The park includes the remains of two frontier forts and the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas, as well as part of the Trail of Tears. With about 75 acres of land, the park had 77,014 visitors in 2006 and was the film location for True Grit.
Like so many other organizations, Fort Smith and the National Parks Service (NPS) are trying to figure out how to engage a new, digitally oriented generation that would be just as content watching Old Faithful erupt on a web cam as actually visit Yellowstone National Park. With money tight everywhere, engaging this new generation of park visitors had to be done inexpensively.
Google’s ZXing Project
ZXing (pronounced “zebra crossing”) is an open-source, multiformat 1D/2D bar code image processing library implemented in Java. The focus is on using the built-in camera on mobile phones to photograph and decode bar codes on the device, without communicating with a server.
The Problem in Depth
It was not that Fort Smith had a problem, per se. It was more that Bill Black, the park superintendent, continuously seeks ways to interact with park visitors and a new generation of visitors to the historic site. However, he faces certain limitations on how he can use technologies such as social media. “We pride ourselves on trying to keep on the cutting edge of equipment. … We jumped on the internet bandwagon years ago,” says Black.
He sat through a few conference sessions held by the Arkansas Parks and Tourism Department about information technology, where he heard about QR (or Quick Response) codes—which are two-dimensional bar codes that can be used in a variety of ways. A company can choose from any number of sites that will generate a QR code for free and put that code almost anywhere—on a website, a postcard, or even a T-shirt. Then smartphone users use the camera on their phones to scan the bar code—some phones have the scanning technology built in, but older iPhones and the like will have to download a free app—and are instantly taken to whatever content is linked to the bar code.
“On the drive home I got thinking about how it might work for interpretation purposes,” Black says, and he began to consider how this technology might be deployed to provide information to park visitors.