Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Deep South Magazine develops Southern Literary Trail App

The Southern Literary Trail App guides readers
to fun literary sites across the South.
One the goals of SELTI is highlighting connections between tourism, technology, and southern books. That's why I was very excited to learn about Deep South Magazine developing the Southern Literary Trail App. The following is my interview with Deep South Magazine publisher Erin Z. Bass about this innovative approach to highlighting literary tourism in the South. Photos and screenshots of the app come courtesy of Deep South Magazine. Click to enlarge photos. And visit Deep South Magazine for great articles and interactive discussions about the South.

Patrick Miller: Everyone says, “There should be an app for that,” but when it got down to creating one, how difficult was it?

Erin Bass: I did have that "there should be an app over for that" moment and was surprised to find there weren't any Southern lit-related apps out there. I knew of someone in the tourism industry who'd created a Civil Rights Trail App with Sutro Media, known for their travel guides, and recommended them. So, I pitched the idea of a Southern Literary Trail app to them, and they went for it.
Erin Bass, Publisher of
Deep South Magazine 

2. Where did the idea for designing the Southern Literary Trail App come from, and how long did it take from inception to getting in onto the market?

Sutro provides all the backend design and setup, which made creating the app really easy. I just had to write the content, gather the photos and enter all the info into their system. That being said, to help with writing more than 130 entries and gathering what ended up being over 700 photos, I got the Deep South interns and Huntsvillle, Alabama, writer Carol Marks involved. I also contacted the tourism bureaus in most of the Southern states to find out about lesser known literary attractions, sites and resources. It was really fun to connect with people like Lou Bardel, who offers literary tours in New Orleans, and Stephen Hale in South Carolina, who's working on a literary trail in Aiken County. There are lots of passionate people out there trying to get the word out about all the wonderful literary sites located in the South.

As for the time frame, I got access to Sutro's system last April, and the app was live at the beginning of October, so it took about 7 months to complete the whole process. That was longer than I anticipated of course, but researching that many sites takes time. And, of course, almost every site and contact person turned me on to more sites. 

3.  How have your readers responded to use of the app in general?

We're still getting the word out about the app, but I have gotten a few comments. One of our former interns, Annie Bares, who worked on the app, just emailed me with this feedback: "Just wanted to say that it took me a while because of my ancient iphone but that I finally downloaded the app and it's awesome! I also showed it to the librarian here at Rhodes [College, which has an entry in the app for its Southern Literary Garden] (he's a Southern lit history aficionado) and he downloaded it too." 

We set up a page on our website specifically for the app, with download instructions. The Sutro World app is the largest of independently authored travel guides in the world. And the Android version of Southern Literary Trail, which became available Feb. 24, exists on its own, so is easy to find and download for those users. 

4. How difficult is it to add things into the app, like new places to visit?

New sites can be added anytime, and I'm actually about to do a big update. In the next few weeks, I'll be adding some new cities and sites I've visited and discovered since the app launched. Sutro really encourages keeping info up to date and adding more entries to ultimately add value. 

5. Have your readers suggested additions to the app, as in new places to visit that they’ve enjoyed before?

Yes. Readers and people I talk to about the app are always turning me on to new sites. Several of our readers are fans of West Egg Cafe in Atlanta, named after F. Scott Fitzgerald's new money peninsula in "The Great Gatsby," so that's a site that will be added soon.  

6. How did you go about selecting the many places to visit on the app?

That was probably the hardest part. I started by making a list, by state, of places I knew about and had visited. At first, Sutro's requirement of 120 entries or something like that sounded daunting, but by the end, I had gone over that number. I knew I wanted more than just museums and monuments in the app. Categories ended up being bookstores, cemeteries, events/festivals, historical markers, hotels, landmarks, libraries, museums, restaurants & bars, tours and writers' homes, so the app is pretty extensive. I wanted there to be sites that would interest anyone, from the "Gone With the Wind" fan who wants to see where Margaret Mitchell wrote the book to the Poe fan who may not know he/she could be eating a "Gold Bug Burger" at Poe's Tavern on Sullivan's Island to the O. Henry fan who may want to spend the night in "The Gift of the Magi" suite at the O. Henry Hotel in Greensboro, North Carolina. There's just so many fun places like these that celebrate Southern writers, and people don't realize they're located almost in their back yard.

The other thing I wanted to highlight is that literary-related sites don't have to be stuffy and hands-off. Many of the museums, like the Fitzgerald House Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, let you walk around and read or touch most everything. I remember the Eudora Welty House in Jackson, Mississippi, has an area roped off with her books, but other than that, you're in her kitchen, her bedroom and smelling flowers in her garden.

7. Is there a way to embed your app directly into an iBook, say a digital edition of Faulkner or Fitzgerald? That way,  readers of classic works could instantly browse the related travel websites like Rowan Oak or the Fitzgerald House from inside the books themselves and at the same time discover new places?

I'll have to find out about this and get back to you, but embedding the app into an iBook would be really exciting!