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Who's Blogging


Retha Hill is the Director of the New Media Innovation Lab and a Professor of Practice at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Hill joined the Cronkite faculty in the summer of 2007 after nearly eight years at BET.

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Project Blog: Mobile Black History Project

Imagine pointing your mobile phone at a Washington, D.C., landmark and reading about its relevance in African-American history. Layering data over real life is at the center of the emerging field of augmented reality, and this mobile phone application will bring black history to the forefront, starting with historic sites in Washington, D.C. Retha Hill, a recent Knight News Challenge winner and director of the New Media Innovation Lab at Arizona State University, will run the project.

A Start-Up Junkie

Friday, November 05, 2010

Call me a start-up junkie, but it is always exciting to see a project come together.

Six months ago, the Black History Mobile app idea was just that - an idea. What if I could use the Augmented Reality technology to guide people to places of interest and significance in black history in Washington, D.C., and other major U.S. cities? That was the premise. Today, I have the reality in my hand. Looking through the camera lens of my iPhone as I cruise around downtown and central Phoenix, I see a dozen or so significant moments of Arizona black history pop up.  There on the corner of 8th and Washington Streets is where a group of black Phoenicians in 1886 founded what would become Tanner A.M.E. Church back. And here, at Old Main on the Arizona State University campus, Benton James walked across the stage in 1924 to become the first African American to get a degree from this great institution. And right here at LoLo’s Chicken and Waffles, the app tells me I can dine like a Harlemite on some fine southern cuisine. And there in this urban neighborhood, cotton fields grew as late as the early 1970s.

Next week, while I am at the Women’s Entrepreneurs Summit, sponsored by J-Lab, I can’t wait to break out and test all of the augmented reality markers in Washington, D.C., that I’ve put together, from the hotel where Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote the “I Have a Dream” speech to the house where Benjamin O. Davis, the first black five-star general lived and raised the second black five-star general, Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., to the arsenal where the conspirators who plotted and carried out the Abraham Lincoln assassination were put to death by hanging.

Augmented Reality is a new technology that the media industry is only now beginning to tap.  One of my former New Media Innovation Lab students, Chris Cameron, who graduated from ASU in December 2009, just moved to Amsterdam to work for Layar, one of the main companies creating the tools to make Augmented Reality implementation easier. Just a year ago, we knew very little about AR in our lab, but Chris dove right in to figure out how we could make it work for journalism. Wikitude, the other major player in Augmented Reality, is making it easier to integrate into Word Press blogs. Think how easy it now is to have your blog postings pop up when users are viewing locations around town. Yep, that’s your restaurant review next to the new bistro or your warnings about the customer service at a local business.

Today, as I drive around Phoenix, my mind brims over with the possibilities of embedding information over physical places. While startups have done restaurant reviews and crime data, there are so many more obvious applications. Real estate listings that come alive as you drive past houses for sale. Details on what a homeowner will have for sale at that weekend’s garage sale. Info on the local school. Sweet.

The Black History Mobile app’s first phase will be ready for Beta release, following this month’s testing. The native iPhone app will follow.


   • Posted by Retha Hill on 11/05 at 08:06 AM

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