WhatWasThere – Augmented Reality

Caitlin Dempsey


WhatWasThere is an augmented reality application that features a growing online database of geolocated historical photos.  You can search for photos nearby a location or upload and geotag your own historical photos.  The database is in its early stages, there are over 10,000 photos covering the United States and a few spots in Canada and Latin America, and over 1,000 photos covering Europe and the Middle East. The concept of the site can best be envisioned by exploring cities with a significant amount of photos already uploaded.  Click on the “Explore Photos” menu option to access a view of the United States.  Each state has a number count of uploaded photos.  Michigan (where the creators of the web site are based) and Illinois have the highest number with over 1,000 photos each. Click on the orange icons to access individual historical photos.  Of interest, is the Google Street View option that allows you to swipe the photo back and forth to compare the current view of the area and the selected historical photo.  The overlay is a bit hit and miss with the photos not always aligned accurately with the Street View photo.  Still, it’s an interesting way to see a historical augmented reality of a given location.

View of a television studio on Melrose in Hollywood.  From the WhatWasThere site.
View of a television studio on Melrose in Hollywood. From the WhatWasThere site.

The site relies heavily on the crowdsourcing of historical photos:

The premise is simple: provide a platform where anyone can easily upload a photograph with two straightforward tags to provide context: Location and Year. If enough people upload enough photographs in enough places, together we will weave together a photographic history of the world (or at least any place covered by Google Maps). So wherever you are in the world, take a moment to upload a photograph and contribute to history!

Azavea created an augmented reality application for the City of Philidelphia which is described int the article,  “Seeing Philadelphia’s Past in Augmented Reality“.  The application provides online access to over 95,000 historic photos that can be searched for by geographic location, keyword, and date.  The code for the OpenDataPhilly.org project is available as open source software under the name Open Data Catalog, and is freely available for anyone to use at: https://github.com/azavea/Open-Data-Catalog.

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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.

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