Explore 9/11 through the eyes of your iPhone

@CNNMoneyTech September 7, 2011: 5:52 AM ET

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Ten years ago, on 9/11 -- one of the most devastating days in United States history -- the world had never seen an iPhone, sent a tweet, or updated a status on Facebook.

Smartphones and social media now play a vital role when tragedy unfolds, often shaping the way we remember events. Jake Barton, the lead media designer producer for the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, wants to use those newer technology tools to help people understand what happened a decade ago.

"The big challenge for us is, how does it allow you to tell a more human story?" Barton says, "How does it allow you to take 9/11 -- which is such a big event that so many people have personal experiences with -- and create a more authentic narrative, so that people are getting closer to the event itself and feeling like they're actually understanding what really happened on 9/11?"

Barton helped create Explore 9/11, an iPhone application that uses a technique called "augmented reality" to let users aim their phones at Ground Zero and see it as it looked on September 11, 2001.

"What you're doing essentially is capturing photos from around the area, and it basically overlaps them with the different landscapes around you," he says."You can call up something like 'firemen,' 'smoke,' '9/11' itself or 'the World Trade Center,' and it will capture all of the photographs that are geo-located in this area and allow you to actually overlay them on top of what you're looking at."

Another developer, Brian August, has been building 110 Stories, an app that recreates an outline of the Twin Towers when it's aimed at the location where they once stood. Users can snap a photo of the skyline with the towers' outline, write a note, and post it to a map on which others have shared their images.

"They were there for 30 years," August says of the vanished towers. "There are lots of people whose stories about the buildings precede 9/11 by years, by decades."

And for those who never knew the old New York skyline, August hopes his creation will illustrate the buildings' significance: "This app is allowing me to show my grandson, my child, my nephew a view that they would have never been able to see."

Developers are also using technology to extend oral tradition and storytelling. An app called Broadcastr teamed up with the National September 11 Memorial and Museum to let users listen to stories pinpointed to locations around Ground Zero.

Walk near Vesey Street and you'll hear the voice of Adrienne Walsh, an FDNY first responder.

"All of a sudden I just looked up and there was this explosion of confetti in the air, and I thought that was just the strangest sight I've ever seen," she recounts. "The radio came on and said there had been reports of a plane going into the Trade Center."

Author and filmmaker Steven Rosenbaum wanted to use the iPad as a medium for storytelling. His creation, "The 9/11 Memorial: Past, Present and Future," provides access to more than 40 videos and 400 images. It was released Monday as a free download in Apple's iTunes Store.

"There's something about the personal nature of the iPad," Rosenbaum says. "As an author, you can't get to say 'here's the beginning, here's the end.' There are different journeys for different people. This story is not only appropriate for that, but demands that."

Rosenbaum says his project is less of an app and more of a book, one that viewers can flip through as they curate their own path through the memorial.

These innovators say technology is a natural way to fuse narrative and history.

"It's really important to basically meet people where they are in their daily life. You don't think about history as just ending up on books or in encyclopedias," Barton says. "Whether it's 9/11 or any other incredibly important historic event that happened to us, it's critical that we use new technologies to connect people to the meaningful aspects of the past, so they can apply them to the future." To top of page

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