Main Street Meets New Technology


A critical component for all Main Street districts across the country is our ability to tell visitors about the rich history of our communities. Often this is accomplished through historic walking tours or other activities that lead visitors on a tour of local landmarks, buildings and other sites of historic significance. Many of these tours are self-guided, with guests following a map or brochure we provide at visitor welcome centers or through our own Main Street offices. Well guess what? As today's tech-savvy millenials might say: "There's an app for that!"

The Technology

iBeaconIn 2013 Apple introduced an exciting new technology called iBeacon. Beacons (see photo to right) are small Bluetooth low energy transmitters, which have just one function—they broadcast a unique number sequence. They don't have any memory or intelligence—they just silently emit an intermittent signal that mobile devices can detect. Here is where it gets interesting. If we create a platform and mobile application to detect beacons, we can then associate specific information and content with each beacon's unique number, so that our mobile device provides that information when we move in proximity to that beacon.

Here's an easy analogy. If we place a beacon beneath each painting in a gallery or museum, when I approach a painting, my smartphone will alert and tell me everything about that painting—pictures and other information regarding the artist, the type of media used, even an audio narration if I choose to listen. And when I then step 10 feet to the right and in front of the next painting...well, you get the idea. So how can Main Streets take advantage of this exciting new technology?

Application for Main Streets

Beacons are a great way for Main Street communities to provide proximity-based information delivery for visitors in a variety of ways. Returning to historic walking tours, a beacon placed at each building, monument or other points of interest can trigger rich and interesting content as visitors approach. (Beacon transmission strength is easily adjusted.) So a visitor on a walking tour can see and hear the history of the landmark, with historical photos and professional narration. Even better, imagine if the narration was done in character—how exciting to hear from Abe Lincoln, himself!

Photo credit: Orlando Sentinel

As new technology helps bring history to life in an informative and engaging way, our Main Streets send a strong signal that our pride in the rich history of our communities requires us to embrace technology to help us tell that important story. An essential first step in any revitalization is the preservation and communication of that which came before. Storytelling is an integral part of that mission, offering visitors a glimpse into the past to provide proper context for our current projects. And often the press is interested in learning more about how we are embracing technology in our community, such as this article from the front page of a Central Florida newspaper and another featured in an international travel publication.

Other Creative Uses

But historic tours are not the only use for cutting edge technology. Main Street managers have found creative uses for the same technology in scavenger hunts, pub crawls and other interactive fundraising events. Imagine the fun of competing in a contest that requires contestants to visit businesses throughout the community in search of clues, solving riddles that are both fun and informative, learning what our Main Street businesses have to offer. Experience the sense of pride and accomplishment as area residents and visitors alike participate in a quest that leaves them well informed about the issues you want them to know.

What about a pirate's treasure hunt for the kids or a "sip and stroll" wine tour for the adults? A digital Easter egg hunt might interest even the older kids, and maybe we can envision an interactive game to help us avoid the coming zombie apocalypse! Using beacons requires the participant to find a specific location and be close enough to receive the information. There is no way to cheat, and we have reports and records to document successful completion. Bringing everyone together after a quest is completed is surely a cause for celebration!

Photo credit: Havre de Grace Main Street

Creative minds soon realize that buildings, landmarks and historic points of interest are not the only places to attach beacons. What if a costumed historical character was wearing a beacon? What secrets might we unlock when we encounter him during our journey? If the adopted community cat had a beacon on his collar, he could greet visitors with his own unique story.  A car show could beacon each vehicle on display. A festival might offer prizes for visiting a specified number of booths. A concert could communicate the band lineup for the evening, with information on each act, links to the artists' websites and details on future concert dates.

Communicating with Mobile Consumers

Main Street businesses can use beacon technology to share business information and promotional offers automatically as guests arrive at each merchant. We can even create applications that allow businesses to create recurring day-of-week and time-of-day promotions, serving up exactly the right message based on when a customer arrives. Restaurants and bars can advertise daily specials and happy hour promotions, which will be triggered at precisely the right day and time. And with social media such an integral part of our daily lives, the ability of customers and visitors to “like” and share merchant offers is a perfect way to use this new and effective digital word-of-mouth.  Using a combination of GPS and beacon technologies, we can create a warm welcome greeting as visitors arrive at our Main Street, with additional digital handshakes from area businesses.

As with any emerging technology, often the possibilities are limited only by our imagination, and who can possibly be more creative and imaginative than a Main Street team?

Additional Resources